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When a rude accountant calls your character into question

Following a professional clearance request, an "impatient and rude" accountant threatened to report an AccountingWEB reader to his professional body.

27th Jul 2020
CEO That People Thing Ltd
Columnist
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Illustration depicting a mouth a shouting swear words
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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.

Take responsibility

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.

Replies (8)

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Stuart Walker Yellow Tomato Copy
By winton50
28th Jul 2020 10:31

Some very good points there.

If you are ever tempted to fire off an angry response my suggestion is that you write the email then save it to drafts and come back to it at least 24 hours later. 99% of the time I find that I rewrite in much more professional tones.

Never descend to their level you will not be the winner!

I have always found that people that are very aggressive and rude in this way are using it as a method of disguising their own failings. It took me years to work this out as I always thought it was my fault but invariably people who are confident in the quality of their work are the most polite.

I learned this when I worked with a client who had had a 'bad experience' with a former accountant and was trying to get me to report her to her professional body.

9 months later I had a call from the person who had replaced me who was threatening to report me to my professional body 'because the client told me to'. I told her to go ahead and never heard another thing.

Thanks (2)
Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
28th Jul 2020 11:00

Wow. Good advice.
Reminded me of the worst such example in my career. About 25 years ago I was speaking at an event. The speaker after me was arrogance personified. He rubbished my advice from the platform and implied that the audience shouldn't be swayed by my cautionary views re tax avoidance schemes.

I didn't have a problem with him having a different view but was shocked by his rudeness and lack of professional curtesy. Not sure exactly what happened immediately afterwards but I'm pretty certain I kept my cool and didn't challenge him. Best ignored.

He had a distinctive surname which I recognised when, some time later, I saw he had been struck off by the Law Society, pleaded guilty to fraud and that his tax avoidance advice wasn't exactly covered in glory. I shed no tears.

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Replying to bookmarklee:
By Ray051
28th Jul 2020 13:04

Good advice indeed. It can also apply to troublesome Clients. In the last few months I found our work being nitpicked by a (£1,600 per month) Client. He was always in the wrong but kept going, taking lots of my time dealing with his apparent issues. Probably had too much time on his hands during lock down. Eventually he insulted my professional competence and that was unacceptable to me. It also meant that his trust in us was now gone. I consulted with my other Director, created a draft email which was mulled over for 24 hours, as suggested by Mark, and asked him to find another Accountant. It was a hard decision as he owed us £10k at that point. However by tempering my language I succeeded in agreeing a payment plan in return for help moving to another firm.

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Replying to bookmarklee:
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By Mrbailey
29th Jul 2020 02:23

I salute you for your fiscal integrity probity and diplomacy unlike that speaker who was fiscally unfiscal and who needed fiscal therapy .
You are a paragon of fiscal integrity

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Replying to bookmarklee:
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By Rammstein1
29th Jul 2020 09:40

If this gentleman had a double barrelled surname, it was probably the same person I had a telephone conference with along with a client and my old boss. He was supposed to be answering questions about his avoidance scheme and his attitude was the worst I have ever come across in a professional capacity.

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By Mrbailey
29th Jul 2020 02:17

Think before thy act and remember the pen is mightier than the sword ( and the axe).
Heated fiscal neurons need fiscal cooling down to obviate the need for violence. Then the calm fiscal neurons become judicious

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By Mr J Andrews
29th Jul 2020 10:49

I must be so thick skinned. Situations like this do little to my limbic cortex. I prefer the Brian Clough approach and get on with life.

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By AndrewV12
04th Aug 2020 11:48

"Is this accountant being dishonest to earn fees, or is he merely incompetent?

What a question, a lot of Accountants around here are either, their both.

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