• Alexandra Bond Burnett

The big communication problem with being a supportive accountant

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

"Can't you just...?"

There's been a lot of "can't you just" conversations the past six months. The whole world is feeling the pressure, and for accountants the workload and learning volume has exploded.

Daily changes, New rules. Unchallenged rules. Foggy guidance.

Businesses are clambering for financial help and looking to the accountant to steer them through the COVID storm, and accountants have on the whole, responded heroically.

When service support goes too far

Accountants to the rescue! Jumping in to aid businesses with cloud first aid, cash flow forecasts, and CBIL solutions.

ut, the nature of a professional services can, and often flips from nurturing to unappreciated.

The relationship dynamic here is a very powerful one.

Accountants haven't just been supportive, they have been stepping up and stepping into the business advisor role, or have they?

the common behaviour trap for service professionals is that we can often fall into an all too common trap: parenting our stakeholders... and then being surprised when they take all that help for granted.

How to Un-PAC your relationship dynamics

Often, playing the part of the supportive rescuer can lock the relationship into a parent-child dynamic, and this behaviour can act like a slow dry rot to productivity.

Transactional analysis (TA) is a psychological theory, developed by Eric Berne which helps to explain why we react to certain people, or situations the way we do, and also why our relationships can get stuck in a unhealthy dynamic.

Berne surmised that our 'transactions' with people flit between the following PAC ego states:

  • Parent

  • Adult

  • Child

Our ego states are fluid, we change between them all the time in reaction to our emotions, environment and engagement.

Your communication transaction

A transaction is a connection from one ego state to another. Effective transactions are:

Parent > Child "Don't worry about a thing, I'll help you sort it all out and everything will be okay"

Adult > Adult "Tell me more about the problem, and let's see what the options are."

Child > Parent "What? Why are you asking me now?!"

One or more of those might be familiar to you and be cropping up in the day to day. It's not bad per se - but there is a really common trap that I see accountants falling into all the time.

What a lot of people don't realise, is that we are subconsciously influencing our relationships And how people react to us.

The Parent Trap

The most common transaction I see from accountants is that first one... Parenting the client or stakeholder.

The nature of being an accountant, or any profession really, puts you in a position of knowledge, experience and guidance, very much a supporting parent ego.

The problem is that when we communicate with a parent ego, we are more likely to get a child response back.

A child comes in two forms:

Adaptive: compliant to parent wishes OR tantrums and rebellious

Free: playful, curious (great for innovation )

Usually the adaptive child is the one that responds, it’s the way we learned to react to parent behaviour when we where children.

Yes, Nurturing is a essential leadership tool at times, BUT it’s so often confused with empathy. We communicate with empathy and we understand, but if we are always nurturing in our communication they will never stand on their own two feet

When you communicate from a parent state over time (“let me take care of this for you” ) the stakeholder becomes complacent, unappreciative and ends up in an “efficient transaction” by responding automatically in child state.

Getting stuck in a rut

The even bigger problem when this continues to happen, and the relationship gets stuck in a “dynamic rut”.

We’ve all suffered from dynamic ruts.

A dynamic rut is when when a relationship gets stuck in a routine which doesn’t grow with the relationship.

For accountants it’s then the case of having communicated in Parent for so long, the relations gets in a dynamic rut, with the stakeholder is conditioned to react in Child.

Unconsciously you’ll be nurturing and supportive... and they’ll in turn expect you to carry all the weight of responsibility.

Even if they are a compliant child, it means that they could take little ownership of their actions over all.

Adult is the most productive ego state to aim for. When we speak in Adult, we speak with facts, cool logic, we are rational and empathetic.

Break out of the rut

If you have read this and recognised a rut in your communication, the answer is to create a dramatic shift in the communication with these three questions:

1) Look at the language used in communications... are you communicating in Parent, Adult or Child?

2) Which PAC ego state do you need to respond back to you?

3) How do other people‘s language and tone influence your reactions?

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you cannot control people’s reactions, but you can help to influence them.

If you would like to see how your or your team’s communications skills rate, take the Accountant’s Communication Scorecard and receive my free ebook; How to connect and affect in accounting