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Why Emotional Intelligence Matters for Accountants

Jul 14th 2015
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With new pressures coming at accountants from all directions in the early 21st century, many are beginning to realize that dealing with change is a fundamental part of their working lives.

One of the most uncomfortable realizations is that technical expertise is no longer enough to guarantee your professional success in this environment. Whether they are working in practices or companies, accountants have got to learn and apply emotional intelligence – using intangible skills to empathize and influence colleagues and clients.

This article sets out why it's important to devote more time to these soft skills. The next instalment will offer more practical pointers and links to help you incorporate some of the lessons into your personal development plans.

The soul of a trusted advisor

Emotional intelligence means being able to sense other people's emotions, and adapting your behaviour to them.

David Maister, who wrote the book on ‘The Trusted Advisor', told workshop 15 years ago that accountants make the mistake of thinking businesses exist in the rational realm.

In truth, business is much more about emotions. If you create the impression that your business relationships are all driven by money, you risk losing the trust of clients or colleagues; they need to feel that you put their interests first.

According to Maister the way to get another person to give you what you want starts with being interested in them. But few accountants have the social skills to do that.

“I wish someone had taught me more about what works in winning trust and engaging with people, essentially how to be a better friend,” Maister said.

And your behaviour needs to be consistent: “New staff must learn from your role modelling. When they hear you talk about clients, do they hear you being supportive, sensitive, caring. Or do they hear you talk about jobs, money, receivables and resented demands?” Maister asked.

As Maister developed his relationship-based approach to professional services, he placed increasing importance on the need to feel genuine empathy for your colleagues and clients – a core element of emotional intelligence.

To be able to influence and persuade other people, you also need to be aware of your own motivations and goals. This will enable you to prevent your emotions taking charge when you encounter stressful situations. As well as recognising your own behaviours, it can also help to be more mindful of your state of mind and to focus on one thing at a time. This is one of the principles that Google examines in its online training project, Search Inside Yourself.

Within a professional practice environment, devoting time to clarifying your own requirements as well as your clients' will pay back by ensuring you know exactly what you want to achieve.

Then take the time to consider the situation from the perspective of the people you want to influence. That will help you plan ahead how to open the discussion and how they are likely to react; you should be able to anticipate the boundaries they perceive around a task and prepare for potential objections they may have.

Further reading

For Today's Leaders, EQ Beats IQ 

Train Yourself For Change (

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