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Strengthen Your Communication Skills for Ongoing Success

January 24, 2022


By Jonna L. Martin, president of AdvanceMe Associates in Victor, N.Y.

Before the outbreak of the coronavirus made such gatherings impossible to conduct, students at my son’s school were asked at an assembly to raise their hands to indicate if they would rather talk for two hours or listen for two hours. The group was fairly evenly divided, and it struck me that the foundation of great communication existed in that room. Speaking and listening sound like simple tasks that anyone can do. However, mastering the art of communication is far from easy.

Enhancing communications skills is one of the topics that I am frequently asked to speak about in my work with accounting firms and organizations around the country. People who are good communicators have more opportunities, no matter what role or industry they work in. To become a better communicator, try to incorporate the following tips that I’ve found to be helpful.


Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” If we approach each conversation wondering what we will learn about someone, the stage is set for a better flow of conversation. In the book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman describe how career success can be attributed to being curious and asking questions that allow people the space to reveal who they are and what matters to them.


If each interaction is entered into with the idea that the person has positive motivations, it provides us with an opportunity to communicate without being defensive. Th is manner of conversing is outlined in Roger Fisher’s and William Ury’s book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. They say, “real listening can’t happen unless we have a sincere desire to understand what we’re hearing, and it requires suspending judgment.”


Many studies suggest that when we believe someone has positive qualities, we treat them better, and they in turn respond better. One such example is in the book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman. They cite research done with soldiers who qualified for advanced training. The psychologists running the study provided recommendations for a group of high-potential soldiers. In fact, it was a randomly selected subset of the class list that was given to the trainers. The result was that the soldiers selected ended up being at the top of the class as determined by the trainers’ assessment of their skills. Positive anticipation set the selected individuals up for success. To apply this to our communications eff orts, anticipate or attribute positive qualities to the person with whom we are conversing. Two outcomes will occur: we will have a more favorable mindset going in and the person will rise to meet our expectations.


When my office was outfitted with new blinds, one of the parts was missing so the installation could not be completed. The person coordinating the purchase and installation called me to apologize for the inconvenience and then proceeded to keep me in the loop as to when the part was ordered, when it would be delivered, and when to anticipate installation. At no time during this less-than-ideal process did I experience frustration. Because of the frequent contact, I was empowered with information. Even when she did not have good news, she called to update me about what was happening. As a direct result of the high-touch communication, when I needed additional blinds I worked with the same company. In the Brafmans’ Sway, they describe an analysis that was done to determine how a group of investors viewed the success of capital investment. When queried, the investors who indicated a greater degree of trust, less necessary oversight, and more confidence were the ones who worked with entrepreneurs who checked in with them more frequently.


When looking at the correlation between personal power and rate of speech, Amy Cuddy, in her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, found that “speaking clearly in an unhurried way allows us time to communicate clearly, without runaway social anxiety inhibiting us from presenting our true selves.” One of the most powerful tools we have available to us while in the midst of communication is the conscious pause. By pausing, we are able to stop and consider the words that we want to use next to express our point. Another benefit of pausing, say the authors of Getting to Yes, is that “we have to give people space and safety to be honest – and we can’t respond defensively when we’re listening. We need to overcome our fear of silence-of-space.”


A colleague described a trend that she had noticed at her workplace. Several people in her group who were excellent at communicating in person and on the phone would rarely respond to her emails. Instead of getting frustrated, she began using their preferred forms of communication, and her relationship with them improved. One of the best ways to determine whether to use email, phone, or text messaging is to take note of the last communications you had with the person and their choice to initiate contact.


I once saw a sign posted as I waited for a meeting to begin that said, “Before you speak, consider the following: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” While there are certainly nuances to effective communication, when you peel away most of the layers, the idea of running your expression through these three filters covers the most important points. Authenticity and kindness serve as powerful elements of truly connected communication. The end result is communication that flows smoothly and effortlessly, allowing the participants an opportunity to be truly heard.

This original article was published in the Pennsylvania Society of CPA's Special CPA Careers edition of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal, (2020).