The process of preparing financial statements may also required you to provide accompanying reports or recommendations. Below are some principles that should be followed when preparing this written communication.
Principles of good writing and formatting
Proper grammar and correct spelling are the underpinning elements of any written communication. Other writing and layout skills contribute significantly to the communication and acceptance of any document. Here are some principles that provide evidence of good writing.
Principles of good writing
Audience – Always design with an audience in mind. Where possible, state up front what the reader profile is. Aim at a specific reader and assume that the reader is intelligent but uninformed.
Purpose – Before writing your document, determine the exact purpose of the report.
Language – Use language that is simple, concrete, and familiar.
Structure – When preparing explanatory notes follow the standard speaker’s approach “First tell your readers what you are going to tell them, then tell it to them, and finally tell them what you told them”
Culturally appropriate communication
According to the website of the Department of Families, Community services, ‘culturally appropriate’ communication means:
Finding away to communicate effectively that also respects and accepts cultural differences. Communication is a two-way process, so all parties need to work together to achieve culturally appropriate communication. It’s about discovering, recognising, understanding and working effectively within the influences of each other’s culture.
Effective communication is an important component of any job. Effective communication ensures that ideas, instructions and information are shared in a way that ensures the organisation achieves its objectives. For communication to be effective it needs to be understood and interpreted by the person receiving the message in the same way that the sender intended. So, effective communication becomes a challenge when the person you are communicating with is from a different background, has different values and perhaps has a different language to your own. In these situations you need to deliver your communication in a culturally appropriate way if effective communication is to be achieved.
Some important points to consider to ensure culturally appropriate communication are:
Remember that you are communicating with individuals. Beware of the assumption that all people from a certain cultural share the same values and beliefs.
All cultures are equal – A different culture to your own does not mean a lesser one. While you are most comfortable with your own culture, this does not mean it is the ‘the best’ or ‘the only’ way people should behave.
Speak clearly and concisely – Sound words out properly rather than slowly, which can sound patronising. Shorten your sentences and convey one idea per sentence. Add visual support like charts, images and diagrams to your text or verbal communications.
Check for understanding – Ask the person to repeat your communication back to you to ensure they understood the message how you intended.
Be aware of non-verbal communication – Not all communication is verbal. Some studies report that up to two-thirds of the meaning of a message is interpreted by the non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, hand gestures, posture and tone of voice. Take care not to allow your non-verbal communication to be misinterpreted by people from by other cultures.
Language for report writing
Be precise: Use short sentences and be simple and direct. Avoid using excess words and cumbersome phrases. Express your meaning clearly and do not use clichés, jargon or ambiguous terms.
Be objective: Present data impartially and without bias. Present facts and avoid using emotive terms. Clearly distinguish opinion from assumptions.
Be accurate: Ensure your report is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Proof read your work carefully before finalising and presenting it.
Be impersonal: Avoid the use of personal terms like “I”, “my” and “me”.
Organisational requirements for producing reports
Your organisation may have templates or style guidelines that direct how documents are to be produced. This may include directions for use of company logos, headers and footers, page numbering and file naming protocols.
You should ensure your report follows all necessary guidelines, contains all the relevant information and is presented professionally. Have a colleague check your work for details you may have missed.
Communication and Interpersonal skills
Interpersonal skills are a necessary component in the process of preparing financial statements. You must be able to effectively confirm the requirements for reporting in order to produce useable statements and recommendations.
Some useful communication skills are outlined below:
Third-personing – This technique can be used to normalise a client’s feelings. Example ‘Many retirees are looking for ways to get a better cash flow option’ This technique allows the client to respond to the statement and talk about the statement if they choose. It also allows the client to correct advisor’s assumptions.
To the Nth Degree – This skill allows the client to define their own priorities and needs. ”You are concerned with many different financial issues. What concerns you most?’ This technique shows respect for the client’s needs and allows the client to control the interview’s direction.
Offering Options – When a client is struggling with a decision, an advisor can offer a range of options, which allows the client to choose which options might work for them.
Paraphrasing – Paraphrasing lets the client know that they have been heard and understood by the advisor. This technique uses different language to reinforce what the client has said. It also allows the client to give an advisor feedback if they have been misunderstood.
Acknowledge/normalise – Acknowledge or normalise a client’s feelings to reassure them. This helps builds trust, openness and self-respect. Example ‘That’s a pretty common reaction.’
Affirming Statements – Genuine affirmation improves the client’s sense of well-being and builds on client strengths and past successes. Examples: ‘Thanks for your input today. It was very informative’
Things to avoid – There are ways in which communication can be interrupted or blocked unintentionally by the listener’s response. Some of these responses to avoid include arguing, lecturing, moralising, preaching, judging, withdrawing, distracting or ridicule.
Learning activity: Interpersonal skills
Identify and describe three benefits that you think that a person charged with the responsibility of preparing financial statements would secure by possessing good interpersonal skills to deal with clients.
Become an active listener – There are five key elements to this to help ensure you are really listening to what the person has to say:
Pay attention – Give the client your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognise that what is not said also speaks loudly.
Show that you are listening – Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
Provide feedback – Ask questions to clarify certain points. ‘What do you mean when you sayâ€¦?’ ‘Is this what you mean?’
Defer judgment. Allow the client to finish. Don’t interrupt with counter-arguments.
Respond appropriately. Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
Learning activity: Active listening
Am I being an active listener when I …
Argue my point
Look around the room
I am honest in my response
My body is facing away from the other person
I ask them to clarify a point
When confirming reporting requirements, you will need to liaise effectively with relevant stakeholders. Gathering information, answering queries and resolving difficulties rely on good communication skills and your job will be made easier when you can deal with everyone efficiently and effectively. Most problems hindering project outcomes are tied back to communication difficulties. To make this liaising process easier, consider implementing the following;
Firstly have a clear idea about what you’re supposed to be doing. Clearly outline the terms and conditions under which you’ll be operating. Knowing who is responsible for what and how things are going to get done, makes later disagreements less likely. Some tax agents use a standardised contract to establish and manage this relationship.
Secondly don’t report to multiple people. Insist on one constant point of contact throughout the process. Requests for changes or updates should come from one person. This way there is less chance that you’ll end up chopping and changing as different people express their opinion.
Thirdly, keep your client abreast of your progress on a regular basis. Maybe it’s a regular email just to let them know that you have everything under control. This will stop the client checking in on progress at times that may be inconvenient and disrupt your work flow.
Learning activity: Client liaisons
Identify different situations where you may need to liaise with a client when providing financial statement preparation services, and describe how this might be done. In particular, note what trigger points there are in the process that may require you to liaise or clarify information with a client.