Stressed? (Yeah, we know, silly question)
For Stress Awareness Month, we asked Alison Edgar MBE to run a webinar on managing the causes of stress. See how colour-coding your clients’ behaviour and Alison’s ‘big balls’ can help.
At AM, reducing stress is a big part of what we do, but until we develop mind control for the people around you (and HMRC) – a little knowledge of psychology can’t hurt.
Alison Edgar MBE works with businesses to ‘enhance performance by improving communication and motivation’. She was awarded an MBE for entrepreneurship and business in 2020 and has authored two books: Secrets of Successful Sales and SMASH IT! The Art of Getting What YOU Want.
She also runs one helluva webinar.
Ask yourself: Can I control the situation?
Alison began by asking attendees what causes them the most stress. ‘HMRC’ was the quickest reply, followed by: clients, family, workload, emails, staff, colleagues, client expectations, getting information and the delay that causes, childcare and working hours.
What jumped out most was how many of these relate to people and behaviours. Before getting into that, Alison spoke about how you think about stressful situations.
“A lot of the time we focus on things that we can't control. Can we control HMRC?” she asked. “No. So the trick is to focus on the things we can control.”
“Some of you put workload, work-life balance, client emails… you can control that. You just need to have a strategy in place.”
Believe that you are, in fact, in control
Next, it’s all about having a growth mindset, says Alison, turning that negative into a positive in your brain. “Take a few minutes to write down the thoughts that are happening: I'm overwhelmed. I'm stressed. I'm tired. I'm struggling to make people happy...’”
“Getting them out of your head and onto the piece of paper helps you understand your thoughts and feelings. It sounds easier said than done, but it's got to start from there. Then you gradually feel more positive, more capable, more organised and, ultimately, you’ll be smashing it.”
The colour of your clients’ behaviour (and why it matters)
Returning to the causes of stress specifically driven by people, Alison asks: “What if people don't send books in on time?” One attendee responded: ‘Automation helps a lot but I’m still making more calls than I want to.’
“A lot of this is how you manage your clients and how you communicate with them,” explains Alison. “This comes from a psychology background. I'm a practitioner in DISC, which is based on Carl Jung's psychology.”
This cross will give you a deeper understanding of why some clients are late, some are half-a-job Harry, and some are really frightened of MTD.”
“Everyone has a blend of different types of behaviours, but I’m going to isolate the colours so we can explore each one.”
Red behaviour – task-focused extrovert: “That'll be clients that go: ‘I'm finished first! I've got my VAT tax return done…oh, but I forgot to add some recent receipts.’ So it's fast, it's done, but the detail isn't always there.”
Yellow behaviour – relationship-focused extrovert: “These are the ones you're chasing all the time. ‘Oh, is it that time of the year again? I forgot. Maybe I should look for that bundle of receipts in the car...’ They talk and talk, but they're not focused on the task.”
Green behaviour – relationship-focused introvert: The green behaviours hate change and they don't like conflict. So when you're chasing them and chasing them, they don't want to let you down and they're scared of any confrontation.”
Blue behaviour – task-focused introvert: Right up to the last second, checking their work, double-checking their work, "Did I cross my T, did I dot my I?" Because they strive for perfection.”
These behaviours, it's not just your clients, it's you as well.”
Conflict comes from the diagonals
“If you've ever met someone you don't get on with, usually it's the diagonal opposite. If you're here in red and you want everything now, now, now, it's the greens that procrastinate, they can't make decisions, it takes them ages and that drives you mad. If you're in the yellow, leading the Disney parade, it's those blues that need all that detail and that’ll drive you bananas."
How to adapt and communicate with different behaviours
“This is about: How do you get the best out of this relationship?” Alison explains. “And it works for communicating with clients, colleagues, even your family.”
“When you’re speaking to a red, be direct and certain, "I’m contacting you for this purpose or this reason." They might communicate in bullet points and your natural would be, ‘How was your weekend? How's the dog?’ They don't even listen to that. They just want to cut to the chase.
"If you’re a green speaking to a red you might prepare yourself: ‘Right. Before I have this call, I know this guy can be quite abrupt, so I'm going to lead the dance.’ That'll make you feel more in control, you'll get the results you want and that reduces your stress.”
“With a yellow behaviour type, they'll go: "Well, you don't understand, I've been on holiday, I've been in such a flap." And you just really want the detail." So, try and condense the way you ask a question and add the answer "So, you're going to have that to me by Friday. Is that correct?"
“Don't give them too much detail, give bite-size chunks – and tell them stories to give context and warn them of consequences.”
“Don't push them. The more you drill harder, "Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it," they just shell up. You'll be asking them for information and they'll ghost you because they don't want that conflict.”
“Give them reassurance and genuinely listening if you ask about their dog or their business. Be friendly and care: "How about we work together? How does that sound?"
“For blues, be prepared. This must be music to the blues' ears. Slow down, listen and provide lots of detail – especially if you’re naturally a yellow.”
“Now, I segmented everything because it gives you an overview, but everybody has all the colours. We usually have some colours higher than others. We usually blend on an axis.”
Alison’s Big Balls (trademark actually pending)
When you need records from a client and the deadline is looming, it’s very important to you that you get those records. From your client’s perspective, however, sending records might pale in comparison to the other tasks on their plate.
Alison has created her own method for understanding this misalignment of priorities, based on the Eisenhower Quadrant. This also helps you to be able to prioritise your own work.
“If anybody's ever had a basketball in the face, it’s very sore. If anybody has tried to juggle more than one basketball, you can't. Tennis balls – those are things that aren't as urgent, but if you leave them, they will become a basketball. And then, the ping-pong balls are the smaller tasks.”
“People getting that information to you at the right time is what causes your stress. Your basketball is to get everything filed on time, but sending that information to you is your client’s ping-pong ball.”
“So, clients supplying information for Self Assessment in November – it's not the end of the world, it’s a ping pong ball. By the end of December, beginning of January, it’s a tennis ball and by the end of January, it’s a basketball in the face.”
“You can influence your clients by educating them on techniques like this. Show them that how they manage their time will affect how you manage your stress and theirs. You can apply the same technique for responding to client emails too, so educating your team on my Big Balls.”
Knowing when to walk away
Alison broke into song a few times through her webinar. Her final rendition came from Kenny Rogers. "You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away. I know when to run."
“We know from my very first question that clients and their emails are key causes of stress. So, I believe that if you do cull clients, that's not a bad thing. Not every client is a good client.
Now that you've got this knowledge on the behaviours and balls, that if they're really not complying to how you are running your business, you've got to play The Gambler. Work out who are the good clients and who you need to walk away from.”
Have the confidence to make a change
“Confidence is something that is really important when it comes to making changes. And it's not just your confidence, but working with clients on their confidence to change.”
“You're in this room for a reason, you're looking for coping mechanisms to reduce stress. That coping mechanism comes from beating that fear of change and making that change.”
Let AM take away your admin stress
AccountancyManager is a huge help in prioritising your work – automatically generating your Task List around your clients’ deadlines. There’s even a traffic light system that reflects Alison’s Big Balls idea.
That’s not to mention the many ways that AM automates tasks before they even become ping pong balls…
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