How to communicate with purpose

By Dawn Wotapka

What you say at work — the words you choose, the context you frame them in, and how you say them — makes a difference. Communicating well is an essential skill for professionals who work with clients, colleagues, and managers.

That includes accountants and finance professionals.

"As an accountant, communicating clearly and concisely with your clients may be one of the most important things you do on the job," said Caren Rodriguez, chief marketing officer of DMJPS PLLC, a tax, assurance, and business advisory firm with several offices across North Carolina. "Many clients may not have a lot of experience in speaking finance, so it's up to you to figure out how to explain it all in a way that will help them understand."

Communicating well with co-workers and managers is just as important. It fosters collaboration, prevents misunderstandings, and can lead to more success and advancement.

Four accountants and professionals working with accounting firms explain tactics they use to be an effective communicator:

Be direct and concise. In every conversation, Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner, CPA, CGMA, maximizes her impact by being strategically direct and concise. "Being direct is a good thing," said Pittelkow Kittner, vice president of finance and human resources for GigaOm, a US engineering-led technology research, evaluation, and industry analysis firm.

This directness does not mean you need to come across as blunt or sarcastic. Instead, she said, "you are to the point, and you express yourself efficiently."

Consider the audience. There is no one-size-fits-all method for communication, which is why Pittelkow Kittner develops her gameplan for every conversation based on who she's speaking with. Peers and clients usually want to make small talk for a few minutes, but the time-starved C-suite needs actionable intelligence quickly.

"If you are talking to someone in a higher position than you, give them the bottom line first," she said. "Then feel them out to see if they are interested in hearing more detail."

That approach might not work with everyone, however. "There are situations where you want to soften or warm up the message" before diving into the news or main points, she said. This could include direct reports, team meetings, or feedback situations.

When possible, research the recipient or client ahead of time to help determine your communication strategy. Rodriguez suggested finding out their business interests, what they know about accounting, and what services they receive.

Craft takeaways. Before you have a meeting or give a presentation, think about the key takeaways you want the listener to remember and be sure to hit those points, said Dean Quiambao, CPA, a partner with Armanino LLP, a US accounting and consulting firm. His general rule is no more than three points. "Less is more," he said. "Accountants love to get lost in the detail, and the second you do that you've lost the person you're communicating with."

Consider using phrases such as "The things that I want you to leave with today are" or "This is the direction where we're going," Quiambao said.

Avoid jargon. Remember that not everyone knows what many accounting terms mean, and using them in a conversation could alienate the listener.

"Accounting is an inherently complicated and technical field. Accountants have their own language, and while it mightbe necessary for communicating with other accountants, it's not necessaryto use it" with nonaccountants, said Kimberley Tyler-Smith, a vice president of strategy and growth with Resume Worded, a tool for job seekers. "Try to use terms that are clear and easy tounderstand for all parties involved."  

Analogies can be an effective tool.

Consider the delivery. Effective communication goes beyond words. If you can, avoid background distractions for both in-person and digital meetings, Pittelkow Kittner said. Is preexisting writing on the whiteboard going to catch your listeners' attention or be a distraction? Is the background  for your Zoom meeting going to provide a positive or neutral environment or divert people away from your message? "Ensure you control what you can," she said.

Don't rush your words. "Sometimes people talk real fast," she said. "You exude more confidence when you slow down and pause so people can absorb your message."

When it comes to answering questions, "stay away from really long-winded explanations, as they tend to do more harm than good by confusing your listeners," Rodriguez said.

Seeking engagement

Remember that accounting is a human business, so don't communicate like a robot. As you talk, monitor the listener. Are they visibly engaged in what you are saying? Or are they sitting there with a deer-in-headlights look? If they seem lost, take a break to ask if they have any questions or if you need to go over something again, Quiambao suggested.

"You have to be genuinely interested in the person you're talking to," he said. "You have to care. I know that sounds so simple, but it is true."

— Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at

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