Finance and accounting professionals must develop proficiency with a wide variety of laws, policies, accounting standards and technology. No one needs yet another New Year’s resolution, so the following tip is more a timely reminder – the rest of the year provides an opportunity to implement it – than a resolution. It is this: build your “soft” skills even as you work on your “hard” or technical skills.
Critical soft skills include communication, collaboration, project management, emotional intelligence, and a personal favourite – empathy. Soft skills can determine success or failure, and “hard” outcomes. In medicine, one study found that when medical residents are low in empathy they make more errors. Another study found that a doctor’s tone of voice can impact the likelihood that patients sue for malpractice. In finance and accounting, our ability to negotiate for scarce resources is often less about how much we know and more about our ability to communicate our needs and understand the other departments’ positions and needs. The ability to understand non-verbal cues during negotiations can strengthen our bargaining position. When we communicate financial results to departmental managers, their receptiveness may depend less on our ability to calculate financial ratios and create PowerPoint presentations recommending staff cuts, but may instead depend on our ability to communicate that we understand the impact of these types of decisions on their teams.
Soft skills are increasingly valuable as technology becomes more disruptive. As routine jobs and skills are outsourced to robots and artificial intelligence, soft skills will differentiate man from machine.
To build soft skills, participate in courses or training programs, find a mentor who can help, and model the behaviour of others with enviable soft skills.
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