Talking through adversity

By Samantha Mansfield and Tamera Loerzel

During a crisis, a CPA’s clients need guidance to move from uncertainty to hope and anticipation. This four-step approach can help you initiate and navigate the sometimes difficult conversations your clients need.

State your commitment. Open the conversation by sincerely communicating your concern for your client's physical, mental, and financial well-being. Empathy is a powerful tool to connect and earn trust. By being empathetic, you give your clients the space to share concerns they have been too afraid to admit to partners, staff, family, or friends. If your client seems stuck in a hopeless state of mind, advise him or her to focus on the future.

Explore the crux of the issue. Have the courage to ask tough or awkward questions even if you do not have set answers. Make the questions open-ended and then listen to the answers for cues (and clues) about where to take the conversation to reach the crux of the issue and begin developing a solution. Discuss short-term strategies and also speculate about what the "new normal" will be when the crisis passes.

Analyze the data you've gathered. During times of great uncertainty, it is extremely important to separate the facts from the stories that clients may be developing in their minds and subsequently telling you. Lean on your financial systems, data analytics, outside sources, and critical-thinking skills to get an unbiased view of the current state of the business — and its future projections. Know that you may not have the answers to all the challenges or opportunities clients present to you in that moment.

Deliver solutions to the client. Through the various questions, research, and conversations with your client, you will likely have a few options to explore. It can feel easier to come back with recommendations that do not reduce revenue, affect team members, or pause investments, but your job is to help each client confront reality and make sometimes difficult decisions. When you are faced with this, convey the same empathy and courage you demonstrated initially by confirming the facts of what you heard from your client and the additional data you were able to uncover; presenting your ideas and sharing how you came to those options or recommendations; discussing pros and cons of each option and any other considerations that can impact the client's decision; and being open to changing your approach as you listen and gain new information from your client. Once your client chooses a path forward, develop a plan with specific action items to support their decision, including steps to get started, who should own or give input on the various steps, and contingency plans for when things change.

 By Samantha Mansfield, a Michigan-based consultant, public speaker, founder of Samantha Mansfield LLC, and a contract consultant with ConvergenceCoaching LLC; and Tamera Loerzel, a partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and management consulting and coaching firm. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.

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