Dealing with difficult personalities & situations

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The scandal surrounding News International executives has brought to the fore a number of issues that accountants face day-in and day-out: how to deal with strong personalities and difficult situations, explains Jack Downton.

One can only imagine the temperature of the meetings that have been taking place internally and with external advisers at News International as executives try to piece together what occurred in the past and agree on a strategy for the future. While it is (hopefully) rare that accountants are required to deal with suspected illegal activity, confronting thorny issues, dealing with dominating personalities in meetings and handling angry clients or colleagues is not.
The first lesson that the Murdoch example teaches us is that the truth will come out eventually.  Whether as a result of tenacious (honest) journalism, or increased transparency as a result of digital communications, whatever unpleasantness you try to bury will find a way to the surface. It is far better to be straight about bad news right from the start.
Coming clean about a mistake, informing a client about a change in personnel, or breaking the news about a poor result is like holding a hand grenade. Tossing it from one hand to the other in front of the client or the board, and trying to lead into the topic in a disingenuous way, won’t stop it exploding. You demonstrate greater integrity by tossing the grenade in an up-front and honest way, and then working hard to pick-up the pieces.
If you try to hide facts or lie, then very often your body language will throw doubt on the logic of what you say, undermining your arguments and creating subconscious uneasiness in the minds of your audience.

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By chatman
03rd Aug 2011 14:01

Don't agree with "the first lesson"

"The first lesson that the Murdoch example teaches us is that the truth will come out eventually"

I disagree. I think the lesson is that the truth might come out sometime, probably years after the objective has been achieved (policemen bribed, governments changed, laws changed etc).

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By ericfok
04th Aug 2011 04:35

In Murdoch's case

"Aggressive overbearing characters can dominate meetings by winning the noise war, making it very difficult for accountants who may have less assertive and punchy personalities, to be heard."

I agree and disagree. I believe nowadays accountants should be more assertive than being just the technical persons elaborating technical points. CFOs, accountants are the gate keepers, the controllers of assets and liabilities of corporations which include the intangible assets - the image and goodwill of the firm. In this case, a soft and lobbying approach usually does not drive home the seriousness of the issue, especially up against some overbearing person who thinks he/she can railroad everybody for some decisions and let somebody else to face the consequences later. In IFAC's Code of Ethics, integrity is the first and foremost professional quality required. Accountants are required to assert it at all time even when their current jobs are at stake.

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