Empathy is defined as – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In a therapeutic situation this is quite a useful skill, and one that should be honed if you truly want to understand what is going on across the other side of the table.
This is not a facility that we naturally develop and use as tax advisors. After all, we offer advice on tax issues.
But should we? In conversation, we are drawn to respond as soon as we realise that we have an opinion. Being specialist advisors, this is what we are paid to do, sit forwards and wax lyrically, about how smart we are, and usually with language that defies comprehension.
Empathy is the ability to place yourself in the others position: what are they thinking, how can I help. In an advisor client relationship, surely, this is the nub of any interaction? Who is this person and what are their problems, anxieties, why have they decided to come and see me? And then, how can I help and communicate this response once the client/prospect is clear that you understand what they are trying to say.
Generally speaking, the business community assumes that an accountant is qualified to do their job. In some respects, any time you spend trying to reinforce that assumption is wasted. So next time you are meeting a client after time has passed, or meeting a new prospect, make your first task asking questions; what you need to discover is what are their perceived problems. With that knowledge, you can then start a conversation about providing solutions.
Provide a solution and two magical events occur: your client will feel understood and amazed that you have a cure for his concerns, and, you can bill for your advice, which you should do whilst the tears of appreciation are flowing…