Communication is a key soft skill that FP&A professionals should master. Getting it right the first time enables FP&A professionals to be more effective and efficient. Effective communication enhances their integrity and credibility.
Communication is a two-way process. This sounds a cliché but it is true. Communication is not a monologue, even when you are using the written form as I am here. There are the sender and the receiver of the message.
Here are some key considerations for effective communication that I’d like to share
1. Be prepared
It is common practice to prepare before going into a major meeting or presentation. However, you should always prepare when communicating. This is not only about the physical environment or the technical aspects of the delivery. You should prepare yourself by learning about your audience, understand what is the purpose of your communication and what you want to get out of it. In an informal context, try to use a few moments to think about what you want to say and why. You will discover that you are likely to take a slightly different approach to delivering your message.
You know when you need to present the monthly results or a forecast.
However, when you have important information that is outside of the normal meeting schedule, have you considered the element of “when”? A communication creates more impact if this is carried out at the appropriate time. There was an occasion when I was on holiday abroad when I received a message to reduce the budget target. Two options were available to me: to wait until the budget was finalized before communicating this change or to inform the business partner in the earliest possible instance. As I was away for a week, on the morning I received the change request, I emailed a brief message to my business partner this adjustment and also a point of contact with whom she can refer to in my absence. This allowed my business partner to change the campaign activities in good time in line with the reduced budget. This also enhances a trusting relationship with the business partner.
When you request information, you should consider the availability and the priorities of our audience. The element of “when” comes into play. You should not leave it until the last minute before making the relevant requests. This does not only create unnecessary stress and frustration. It also creates a sense of distrust which can damage business relationship.
3. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Developing empathy and respect can lead to good working relationships. Empathy helps with effective communication. This requires you to understand your audience, to put yourself in their shoes and understand that there are cultural differences, knowledge gaps and differences in experience that lead to different worldviews and how a message is interpreted. With empathy, you are more likely to use an appropriate gesture and choice of words to get your message across. You are also less likely to offend the other party. Without empathy, what may be intended as a harmless joke in an informal conversation can be interpreted and lack of sincerity and respect. Regular communication with your business partners can help you to learn about them and through this develop empathy.
4. Don’t multi-task
How often are you responding to an email, text message or instant message while on the phone or video conference? Multi-tasking means you are not concentrating on the message that is delivered or only hear what you want to hear. This can lead to misunderstanding. It also shows a lack of respect and disinterest in the message.
5. Listen (and observe)
Communication is not all about you delivering a message. A one-way communication can lead to frustration as the sender can be making assumptions that may or may not be correct about the recipient. You should not interrupt but give time for the others to speak. I was attending a team meeting via video where the leader was constantly interrupting me when I was speaking so the others could not hear me. This led to frustration on both sides and a valuable opportunity to communicate effectively.
Listening is not the same as hearing. You can hear every word that is said to you but not necessarily listening and therefore retaining the message. You can demonstrate listening through body language such as leaning forward and reflecting such as “Let me see if I understand you correctly. You mean ... “
6. Eye contact
Appropriate eye contact promotes a sense of interest and confidence. This is not only true when you are physically speaking to another person but also when you are meeting using video technology. I was once on a video call where a director was looking down the whole time. He did not once look up to the video camera or make eye contact with the other participants. The participants in the meeting were not sure if he was multi-tasking or was disinterested in the meeting or was not listening at all. This does not promote trust in a business relationship. Eye contact should be natural.
7. Take advantage of technology (but choose the right one)
Technological advancements provide us with various forms of communication: nonvideo phone, video phone, mobile phone, email, text messaging, instant messaging, video-conferencing. Each has its benefits and disadvantages. It is important to choose the right form to deliver your message. If you want an instant or quick response, you may choose phone or instant message. Be aware that instant messaging can be intrusive. Email can be more appropriate for messages that require the audience to take some time to consider a response or for multiple recipients. Video conferencing can promote a sense of closeness as a form of face to face communication.
8. Do not overload
Try to be concise and focus on one or two key points in the message. Also, try to avoid message fatigue by sending too many follow up emails.
One of my previous employers promotes this by limiting the length of emails to fit within a screen size, including a digital signature. This discourages lengthy emails. Employees have to think about what they really want to say and put the essential information first.
For presentations, it is best to keep the number of slides to a minimum and use them as an aide-memoire. It is best to avoid the pitfall of “death by Powerpoint”. Sometimes less is more. It is advisable to present one idea per slide. This means the audience is more likely to listen to your presentation rather than reading the slide.
9. Drop the emotional baggage
Emotion can distort the true meaning of a message. Emotion creates an invisible filter lens, much like the ones applied to cameras. Emotion can also lead to miscommunication. It is, therefore, important to take the emotion out of the equation. If you are frustrated and want to respond immediately to what is meant as a constructive criticism, try to visualise a traffic stop sign and take a deep breath. This will allow you to think more clearly and respond in a professional and courteous manner.
10. The bag that is behind you – get feedback
You have sent your email. You have presented the results. However, do you know what your audience thinks? You know what you want to say. However, how do you know if your audience understood you?
During face to face communication, you can see the feedback instantly by observing body language, gesture, eye contact and listening to questions and comments from the audience. However, it is not advisable to directly ask “Do you understand?” The audience is more inclined to say yes rather than admit the opposite. One can try asking for their opinion or some kind of straw poll if appropriate.
It is harder to obtain feedback when you are not carrying out face to face communication. One way to do obtain feedback is to carry out follow-up through other channels of communication. For example, for me to obtain feedback on this communication, I can check with the administrator on the number of reads and some of the comments posted by readers. In other situations, you can carry out follow up via instant messaging or a phone call. However, it is a fine balance when carrying out follow up so that not to over-communicate.
I hope these key considerations will help you with effective communication.
Simone da Silva Collins is an FP&A professional working in Polycom, an industry leader in unified collaboration solutions.
She provides business partnering to various departments of Polycom in EMEA. She was previously the Group Finance Analyst supporting the Executive Team at Intec (now part of CSG), a provider of Business Support System (BSS) software and related services, primarily for the telecommunications industry. She also worked for Telewest (now part of Virgin Media) for over 7 years providing commercial and financial support to the Interconnect team.
Simone is originally from Macau in SE Asia. She gained her Masters at Manchester Business School. She has also recently achieved FP&A accreditation.