Real Talk: How to embrace conversations that matter

Written on Nov 14, 2019

By Nicole Fracasso, OSCPA communications intern

Think back on one of your more difficult conversations from the past few weeks. Wherever it took place, it might have been awkward, uncomfortable and sometimes painful. But also, memorable.

CrosbyTnameline“When I think about that conversation, I can still feel the emotion, I can still feel the weight of it,” said Tiffany Crosby, CPA, MBA, CTP, CGMA and OSCPA’s director of learning.

Crosby’s presentation at the Columbus Accounting Show on Nov. 8 focused on how to participate in powerful conversations, and techniques for engaging in productive conversation in any situation.

You might try to script these discussions to reach a positive outcome, but sometimes that isn’t an option. When this happens, the tendency is to run through every possible outcome and overthink.

Crosby said when she first began working for OSCPA, she found herself in a heated conversation with an upset member. Being two weeks into her new position, she had little background of the situation. This person spoke angrily at her for 45 minutes, while Crosby listened.

To diffuse the situation, she simply paused, took a breath and paid attention to what the member had to say. Knowing that emotions operate faster than reasoning, she knew she had to let the person’s anger subside.

“This can be one of the hardest things we have to do because we want to rush to a resolution,” Crosby said. “It’s uncomfortable, and we want to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.”

In situations such as this one, Crosby recommends a leadership competency model to help reach a positive conclusion. This begins with self-awareness and consists of attributes such as self-resiliency, emotional strength, empathy to motivate and trust. Then she suggests leading with a business acumen. In this circumstance, critical thinking and having a customer focus are beneficial. Lastly, Crosby says to collaborate with others. In this situation, communications skills play a large role in the outcome.

“It needs to be very clear what’s been agreed upon and what the next steps are,” Crosby said.

One of the most important aspects of any productive conversations is listening. But there’s a difference between basic listening and active listening. Basic listening is non empathetic, you listen so you can reply. Then you filter and evaluate, you decide whether you agree or disagree. Next, people attempt to give advice based on their own experience, and they interpret the conversation in their own way.

“Active listening is not intending for a reply,” Crosby said.

According to Crosby, when somebody is actively listening, they’re present and attentive. They observe the reaction and emotions of the individual, they’re judgement free and they ultimately confirm that they understand.

Active listening also helps cut out internal noise. Like basic listening, internal noise is when the listener gives their own meaning to the situation. They place blame and come to subjective conclusions instead of determining what the issue is and how it can be fixed.

At the core of every conversation should be an active listener. We shouldn’t be scripting these conversations or rushing to conclusions. Instead we should be listening to understand, asking relevant questions to help reach a positive conclusion.

“Listen first, understand,” Crosby said. “It’s one of the basic principles.”

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