Communication that builds a team

June 26, 2018  |  Faye Hayhurst, CPA

Communication that builds a team

Imagine a small CPA firm with one partner and six staff. The partner hosts a weekend Christmas party at his large new house. Staff and their significant others are all in attendance and a fantastic time is had by all. Great food and wine, storytelling, gag gifts, and lots of laughter lead to unity that has been lacking in recent weeks. Everyone leaves the party feeling close, feeling good about life.

Flash forward two days to the next weekly all staff meeting, where staff assemble still living in the party afterglow. The partner starts the meeting abruptly, arms crossed, and proceeds to drill each individual about their current projects. His tone is accusatory, his attitude demeaning. At the end of the meeting, each staff person slinks out of the conference room. One is thinking about whether it is too late to update her resume and get it out before tax season, and another is formulating a plan to deliberately delay a project on which the partner just grilled him. The rest are just defeated or resigned.

Farfetched? Hardly. It’s a story that did happen and has probably happened in many variations. While it may be easy to spot the mistakes made by the partner, it’s helpful to understand why those mistakes had the effect they did.

Tom Borg of Tom Borg Consulting, LLC, who advises in the areas of team performance and customer experience, spoke at the MNCPA’s recent Management and Business Advisors Conference about creating crystal clear communication. Among the foundational concepts he shared, Borg said that the people with whom you work have four questions for you that they will never verbalize:

  1. Do you like me?
  2. Do you care about me?
  3. Can I trust you?
  4. Do you know what you are doing?

If any of those questions is answered in the negative, your team is much less likely to hear what you say or to apply their best efforts to achieving the company’s goals and objectives.

For questions 1 and 2, achieving a “yes” answer is relationship 101. Smile, make eye contact, ask questions about the other person’s life and well-being, and listen intently to responses.

Reaching a “yes” answer on question 3 is more challenging. Trust is built every single day and relies heavily on following through on your promises. Trust levels can take a heavy downturn with one word or action. It takes many deposits in the bank of trust to offset one withdrawal.

Question 4 requires an ongoing commitment to competence on the part of a leader. Employees are much more likely to listen to and follow a boss who demonstrates competence and confidence.

Borg shared another communication statistic: When the words you say are inconsistent with your tone of voice and body language, the words account for only 7 percent of the message received. Thirty-eight percent of meaning comes from how the words are said, and 55 percent from body language. Understanding this is vital to any relationship you want to maintain on the best of terms. Don’t ever pat yourself on the back for saying the right words if they don’t agree with the other 93 percent of the message you send.

So, what did the partner do wrong? At the Christmas party, nothing. He was thoughtful, caring, funny and established an atmosphere where his employees could relax and be vulnerable with each other. He made a big deposit in a trust account that was near zero. But rather than building on that in the office, he undermined the goodwill by treating everyone as subordinates rather than colleagues. His words may not have been out of line, but he used a cold tone and negative body language. As a result, the employees concluded that the boss they experienced at the party was an aberration. Trust was gone once again.

If you’re in a leadership position, end each day asking yourself these questions:

  • What did I do today to strengthen the yes answers?
  • Am I keeping my promises?
  • Do my words, tone and body language align?

There are many components to good team communication, but a strong foundation is the most important. Don’t undermine your effectiveness by neglecting the critical basics.

And, you can learn more from Tom Borg directly at “Professional Success Course for CPAs,” coming to the MNCPA on Nov. 29.

Topics: Personal Development , Supervision

Faye Hayhurst, CPA

Faye Hayhurst is the MNCPA director of finance and administration. She is committed to using numbers to tell relevant stories, although she also employs words, charts and occasionally clothing to communicate a message. While some have questioned her about the pressures of being the CPA for the MNCPA, Faye considers presenting financial information to fellow CPAs a dream job. Outside of storytelling with numbers, Faye enjoys directing her church's handbell choir, visiting national parks and other scenic places, and checking out the chocolate products at Trader Joe's. Faye can be reached at 952-885-5540 or

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