When a rude accountant calls your character into questionby
Following a professional clearance request, an "impatient and rude" accountant threatened to report an AccountingWEB reader to his professional body.
The real test of a person’s character is how they deal with adversity. It’s easy to be amiable and principled when the going is good. But when the going gets tough you find out what lies beneath.
One of the most common triggers of our dark side is conflict with other people. A vibrant discussion recently on Any Answers is a case in point. AccountingWEB reader GlobalTax was giving professional clearance to an accountant but “The new accountant was very condescending, impatient and rude throughout the process including threats to report me to my accountancy body”.
The conflict quickly escalated, as GlobalTax explained: “[The new accountant] mistakenly copied me on an email to my client saying my charges were too high as well as other accusations.”
Irritated, the reader kept their cool and didn’t respond. Then out of the blue, the client returns on the scene pleading with the AccountingWEB member to stay. Understandably, the reader didn’t want to cross paths with that accountant again. But they have since received a call from another potential client wanting to flee the same accountant for a number of reasons including false filing of his accounts.
AccountingWEB's resident forensic accounting expert David Winch flagged the possibility of serious tax irregularities and encouraged the reader to ask themselves: "Is this accountant being dishonest to earn fees, or is he merely incompetent? If you suspect that he is earning fees dishonesty, then you have a reportable suspicion."
But aside from the suspicious activity report, what do you do when a fellow professional implies that you are overpriced, speaks to you in a condescending way and then repeats further accusations in an email you were not meant to see?
Seek wise counsel
The author of the post did not, as some of us might, fire off an angry reply in the heat of the moment. Instead, they asked for guidance from the community here. Wise move.
This would have been my first piece of advice. When we find ourselves under some kind of threat the limbic area of the brain, the bit which regulates the emotions and triggers the fight or flight response, takes charge. It is not as sophisticated as the cortex, which is the part of the brain that enables us to perceive and to reason. In those moments we can ‘flip our lid’ and resort to ungentlemanly or unladylike behaviour.
Giving ourselves a moment to step back and allow the chemicals in the body to rebalance themselves means our thinking becomes clearer. Rather than simply reacting we are able to seek advice, feedback and wise counsel. Especially where there is no right answer and our response is a judgement call. This is the time to reflect, take on board the opinions of others and then filter that advice to find the right solution for ourselves in alignment with our values. We are then likely to respond in a way that we won’t be ashamed of later.
You can’t guarantee that you’ll get the outcome you wanted or that the outcome will be fair. But at least you will know that you acted intentionally and with consideration. Basically you did your bit. The rest was up to the other person.
Which leads to my second piece of advice. How people respond to you is, in part your responsibility. You do have some influence over how you come across and the impact you have on other people. This is why I get frustrated when someone says “What you see is what you get. I’m just being myself. If other people don’t like it that’s their problem”. Sort of. But also not really.
Bringing our emotional intelligence to human interactions is what separates us from robots. We are able to adapt and flex our style, to make compromises, to find ways to work with people who are different from us without expecting them to do all the bending.
However, we cannot be fully responsible for how others respond to us. We are 50% of the interaction. They are the other 50%. It’s worth remembering that a large part of how someone responds to you is not about you. It’s about the way they perceive the world, their assumptions and judgements, their past experiences and their needs and drivers.
If you’re spending nights awake worrying about how someone else feels about you, how to say things just right to guarantee they will land a certain way with another person or how you can pretzel yourself into a weird contortion so that you don’t ever ruffle feathers you’re probably taking more responsibility than you need to.
Seek to understand
There is one piece of advice I regularly give coaching clients who find themselves in conflict or potential conflict with colleagues that they need to collaborate with – to first, seek to understand.
In a conflict situation, the other person always seems like the unreasonable one. After all, if they were reasonable they would behave like you do. You know what your agenda is, what drives you and what you are trying to achieve. Your opinion seems well-informed and justified. The other person must be stupid, crazy, have a warped idea of what we are trying to achieve or some secret agenda otherwise they would see it as you do.
I remember years ago working with a finance team who claimed that they were the only ones in their company who really had the success of the business at heart. They were the only team who cared. Everyone else had another agenda and HR were the worst/
At the same time I was working with the HR team who felt the exact same way except that for them, finance was the worst. They couldn’t both be right.
The solution was to get the teams together to listen to each other. To really listen. To listen so hard they were willing to put themselves in the shoes of the other team, to see the world as the other team saw it.
I asked them to seek first to understand before seeking to be understood.
It was a revelation to both teams. It turned out they both cared about the same thing but came at it from a different angle. In seeking to understand first before expecting the other team to understand their perspective they were able to find a way forward and work together in much greater harmony. They also built trust which meant they could have the tough conversations, challenge each other and even have an outright conflict of ideas while still listening.
Some people aren’t worth the effort of course. They simply shouldn’t take any more of your time. But if you have to work with someone you find challenging or you think that the mutual benefit is worth the upfront investment, seeking first to understand could make a huge difference.
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Blaire Palmer is a leadership coach, author and conference speaker. As CEO of That People Thing she works with senior executives to help them rethink how to lead in these fast-changing times. Blaire is a judge in the Investing in People category of the 2020 Accounting Excellence Awards...