The Most Important Question Every Accountant Needs To Ask, Every Day
What if I told you that a seemingly simple question could be the key to unlocking your full potential as an accountant? Are you curious?
Good! Because today, I’m going to unravel the mystery behind this important question that most of us accountants tend to brush aside.
It’s a question that can change your career, how you work with colleagues and clients, and ultimately, how good you are at your job. But first, consider this:
- When was the last time you noticed that your emotions affected your work, whether it was a big decision or a routine task?
- Have you ever wondered why some days you’re super productive, while other days it’s a struggle to concentrate on the numbers?
- Do you think that understanding and managing your emotions could make you a better accountant?
Get ready, because today, I’m taking a deep dive into an area that can make or break your career in accounting, reduce stress and overwhelm, help you get more done in less time, and make it possible to have a sustainable career..
So, stay tuned as I explore the science behind this question, share stories, and provide strategies that will change the way you approach your role as an accountant.
The most important question
Let’s start things off by addressing the most important question every accountant needs to ask, every day, and it’s this: “How am I feeling?” Yes, you heard that right.
Whether you realize it or not, emotions matter in the world of accounting. Why? Because our emotions play a crucial factor in our daily work. In fact, emotions are a bigger deal in the world of accounting than you probably are aware of.
First, think about what makes a good accountant truly exceptional. Is it all about your accounting knowledge, or is there something more going on?
Well, here’s the surprise: in the world of accounting, where we often think of everything as numbers and spreadsheets, emotions play a vital role. Yes, you heard me right—emotions. They’re truly like the secret ingredient that makes a good dish extraordinary.
For example, imagine two accountants, both equally skilled in accounting. One is in tune with their emotions, while the other doesn’t pay much attention to how they’re feeling.
Now, let’s say a stressful situation arises. The emotionally aware accountant pauses and asks themselves, “How am I feeling?” This simple self-check helps them pause before they take action.
It gives them a moment of choice to choose to feel calm and make better decisions or stay stressed and spin in confusion. Because they checked in with how they were feeling before taking any action, they’re better able to handle their work and their interactions with clients and colleagues with ease.
The second accountant, however, doesn’t pause to consider their emotions. Because they’re stressed, they might react impulsively, complain, procrastinate, or make choices driven by unchecked feelings, which leads to ineffective action and results.
What this means is that our emotions aren’t just fleeting sensations. They’re like the gears we’re putting the car in, influencing how we work, manage our time, and make decisions.
It’s also not about pushing emotions away; it’s about understanding them and using that understanding to our advantage.
The truth is that studies have found that accountants with higher Emotional Intelligence tend to outperform their peers in client satisfaction, problem-solving, time management, productivity, and job satisfaction.
In fact, the AICPA offers a course on Emotional Intelligence, which they describe as “teaching competencies and strategies to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others, greatly increasing your chances of personal and professional success.”
Here’s the thing – how you react, and everything you do or don’t do is only ever because of an emotion.
In other words, the work you get done when you’re stressed and overwhelmed will be vastly different than when you’re focused and determined. How you handle things like tax season or client demands is directly related to how you feel.
I promise you that if you’re not asking yourself every day how you feel, you’re not as effective as you could be.
Before I move on, I want you to think about the last time you were stressed or overwhelmed. Whether it was 10 minutes ago or last week, I guarantee you weren’t as effective as you could have been if you had been managing your emotions.
The brain’s impact on emotions
I’ve talked about how our brains work in previous episodes, but if you’re new to what I teach, here’s a super quick synopsis. We have a lower, primitive brain that I refer to as the “Toddler” and a higher brain that I refer to as the “Supervising Parent.”
Our lower, primitive brain has been with us since humans lived in caves. Our higher brain developed over time and this part of the brain is only present in humans.
Understanding these two parts of your brain is essential if you want to become a Smarter Accountant.
Now consider this – have you ever wondered why you feel the way you do in different situations? What’s happening in your brain when emotions come into play?
Well, it all starts with the lower, Toddler part of our brain. This part of our brain is like an emotional alarm system.
When something happens—say, a surprise deadline or a challenging client meeting—it sends signals to your brain, saying, “Hey, pay attention! This matters!”
Now, here’s where it gets interesting: your lower brain not only sounds the alarm but also stirs up those familiar emotions we all experience, like happiness, anger, fear, or stress. These emotions feel great or not so great, impacting how you perceive and react to situations.
So, why is this relevant to accounting? Imagine you’re tasked with solving a complex financial puzzle. Your Toddler brain senses the challenge, and suddenly, you’re feeling the pressure.
This heightened emotion can either help you stay laser-focused and sharp or, if not managed well, overwhelm you.
Thankfully, you also have the higher, prefrontal cortex part of your brain. I refer to this part as the Supervising Parent and it is like the brain’s logical center.
It helps you think rationally, make decisions, and plan. It’s what you rely on to keep things organized and on track.
But here’s the thing – when strong emotions, especially the negative ones, take center stage, your prefrontal cortex can sometimes take a back seat. This can lead to impulsive decisions, difficulty concentrating, or even forgetfulness—all of which aren’t ideal in the world of accounting.
For example, imagine you’re working on a crucial financial report, and suddenly, you receive an unexpected email from a frustrated client, complaining about an error in a previous report. Your lower brain registers the urgency and triggers feelings of stress and frustration.
In this emotional state, your higher brain may struggle to focus on the task at hand, making it more challenging to review and correct the report accurately.
Or imagine you’re in the midst of tax season, juggling multiple clients’ tax returns with upcoming deadlines. The pressure is heavy, and your lower brain is on high alert due to the mounting workload and client expectations so it sends signals of stress and urgency throughout your brain.
During this time, your higher brain, the logical thinker, should ideally be in the driver’s seat, ensuring every tax return is reviewed and accurate. However, the emotional storm triggered by the lower brain can sometimes overpower your logical thinking.
When this happens you might find yourself rushing through calculations, missing out on potential deductions, or making data entry errors. It’s not because you lack the skills; it’s because your brain is contending with the emotional turbulence of tax season.
So, what’s the key takeaway here? Understanding how your brain processes emotions can be a game-changer for accountants in two significant ways: First, by recognizing when your emotions are taking the wheel, you can step back and regain control. Second, knowing how your brain operates emotionally can empower you to work more effectively with it.
Before I move on, think about this: can you recall a situation at work where your emotions had a clear influence on a decision or action you took? How do you think your brain was functioning during that moment?
Take a minute to consider your answers to those questions.
The power of self-awareness
Now let’s talk about the incredible power of self-awareness and how it can transform your career as an accountant. But let’s start with a simple question: What does it mean to be self-aware, and why does it matter, especially for accountants like us?
Being self-aware is like having a mirror inside your mind, reflecting your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It’s about understanding yourself—your strengths, weaknesses, and the impact of your emotions on your decisions.
So, why is self-awareness essential in the world of accounting? Think of it as a superpower that enables you to navigate challenges, but also makes it possible to have an easier career as an accountant.
For example, imagine you’re working on a complex financial analysis, and you notice a wave of frustration welling up. That’s where self-awareness kicks in.
The first, most important question to ask is, “How am I feeling?” and name the feeling. For example, let’s say the feeling is frustrated. The next step is to pause and ask yourself, “Why am I feeling frustrated?” This simple act of reflection can unlock valuable insights.
But here’s the key – the only reason you felt frustrated was because of a thought your lower brain is having, not because of anything or anyone. In other words, it’s not the complexity of the financial analysis or the workload that’s making you feel frustrated because your feelings are never created by circumstances.
The only reason you feel frustrated is because of your thoughts about the financial analysis or the workload.
Unfortunately, if you don’t make the connection between the fact that your thoughts create your feelings, you’ll either stay stuck in frustration or try to take action to fix the feeling. The problem is that you can never change a feeling by taking action.
In fact, it’s your feelings that drive your actions, not the other way around. Whatever actions you try to take from the feeling of frustration will be ineffective actions.
It’s also important to look at the power of self-awareness in dealing with others. As an accountant, you’re not just dealing with numbers; you’re also interacting with clients and colleagues.
Understanding your emotions and how they affect your communication can be a game-changer.
For example, imagine you’re meeting with a client to discuss their financial strategy, and they’re expressing concerns about their investments. Your self-awareness helps you recognize that their worries are triggering your own anxiety, as you want to provide the best guidance.
In this moment, your self-awareness allows you to take a step back. You can acknowledge you’re feeling anxiety and remind yourself that it’s only being caused by a thought, not by the client.
By choosing to intentionally think something like, “I can help this client” or “I can put their mind at ease,” those thoughts would create a feeling like compassion instead of anxiety. By doing so, you can communicate more effectively, addressing their concerns and providing valuable guidance.
Another example where self-awareness is crucial is during tax season. I’ve had over 30 tax seasons in my career and I can tell you this – the truth is that when deadlines loom and the pressure mounts, self-awareness can help you stay on top of your game.
When you make it a habit of checking in and asking how you’re feeling, then if you start to feel overwhelmed, you can do something about it before it derails you. Pause, recognize that the feeling of overwhelm is coming from thoughts in your brain, decide how you want to feel instead, and then choose a believable thought that creates that feeling.
This is one of the reasons I now have stress-free tax seasons – I know how to handle stress and overwhelm as soon as I’m aware of their presence..
It’s also important to understand that the power of self-awareness extends beyond the confines of your workspace. It also enhances your relationships.
As you understand your emotional triggers and reactions better, you can build trust and foster a positive working environment.
Take a second and think of a situation at work where being self-aware did help or would have helped you make a better decision or navigate a challenging interaction more effectively? Based on what you’ve learned so far in this episode, what could you do differently next time?
Emotional Intelligence in accounting
Whether you’ve heard of the term Emotional Intelligence or not, I’m telling you that you should get more familiar with it, especially as an accountant.
Think of Emotional Intelligence as your compass in the world of emotions. It’s about understanding, managing, and using your feelings effectively, both within yourself and in your interactions with others.
So, why does Emotional Intelligence matter in the accounting world? Because it can make you a better accountant and colleague.
Consider this: Emotional Intelligence is composed of several key components. One of them is “self-awareness,” which I just discussed. It’s about recognizing your emotions and their impact on your work.
Another vital component is “self-regulation.” This means managing your emotions, especially when the pressure is on. It’s about staying cool under fire and not letting stress or frustration dictate your actions.
“Social awareness” is the next element. It’s about understanding the emotions of those around you—your clients, colleagues, and even your boss. This skill helps you navigate challenging conversations and build stronger relationships.
Last but not least, there’s “relationship management.” This is all about using your Emotional Intelligence to influence, inspire, and collaborate effectively. It’s about turning those accounting numbers into connections and solutions.
But how does all this translate into the accounting world? Let’s simplify it with an example:
Imagine you’re working with a team on a complex financial audit. The project is running behind schedule, and tensions are rising. You notice that one of your colleagues seems particularly stressed.
Your Emotional Intelligence kicks in. You recognize their anxiety because you’re exhibiting social awareness, and you approach them with empathy. You offer support, whether it’s helping with their workload or just being a listening ear.
By doing so, you not only ease their stress but also contribute to a more collaborative and efficient work environment.
Now, let’s delve a bit deeper into how Emotional Intelligence can make your work as an accountant even more manageable.
Consider a scenario where you’re dealing with a demanding client who’s frustrated with a financial report error. Your Emotional Intelligence toolkit, honed through self-awareness and self-regulation, allows you to remain calm and composed.
Instead of reacting defensively, you actively listen to their concerns, again displaying social awareness, and respond with empathy. You acknowledge the error, take responsibility, and reassure the client that steps will be taken to rectify it.
In this example, your relationship management skills come into play as you work collaboratively with the client to address the issue. The outcome? The client not only appreciates your professionalism but also continues to trust your expertise.
So now it’s your turn – can you think of a situation where your Emotional Intelligence played a significant role in a work-related scenario, making a positive difference? How did it affect the outcome?
Or can you think of a situation where your Emotional Intelligence was low and things didn’t go as well as you would have liked?
No matter where you lie on the spectrum of Emotional Intelligence, just know that it’s an incredibly beneficial skill for all accountants, no matter how long you’ve been an accountant.
Becoming a Smarter Accountant: Practical tips
Becoming a Smarter Accountant isn’t just about crunching numbers or studying tax code—it’s about mastering the art of managing emotions, making better decisions, and nurturing productive relationships.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Cultivate Self-awareness: Take time to reflect on your emotions regularly. Ask yourself, “How am I feeling?” as often as you possibly can. Recognizing your emotional state is the first step towards using it to your advantage. No matter what is happening at work, your feelings are always going to drive your actions so make sure you cultivate self-awareness to ensure you’re using the best feelings to take action from.
To become a Smarter Accountant, start by setting aside a few moments each day to check in with yourself. Ask questions like, “What emotions am I experiencing right now, and why?”
2. Practice Self-regulation: When the pressure mounts, and the deadline looms, don’t let your emotions run the show. Self-regulation is about being intentional with your feelings. Take deep breaths, pause, and think before you react. This can prevent impulsive decisions and maintain your focus on that work at hand.
When faced with high-stress situations, use techniques like mindfulness or a meditation app like Calm to regain your composure. Remember, it’s okay to take short breaks during the workday to reset and refocus. Avoid knee-jerk reactions and strive for a calm, measured response.
3. Develop Social Awareness: Pay attention to the emotions of those around you without making them mean anything about you. Understand that your clients, colleagues, and even your boss might be experiencing their own emotional rollercoaster based on thoughts in their brain. By recognizing their feelings, you can navigate conversations and relationships more effectively.
Enhance your social awareness by actively listening to others. During client meetings, pay attention not just to the words spoken but also to the tone and body language. Empathize with their concerns and ask open-ended questions to gain deeper insights into their emotional state.
4. Master Relationship Management: Building strong relationships is at the core of being a Smarter Accountant. Use your Emotional Intelligence to inspire, influence, and collaborate with others. Turn challenges into opportunities for growth, and transform the work you do as an accountant into an opportunity to be an example of what’s possible. .
Hopefully, these practical tips, coupled with a solid understanding of emotions and Emotional Intelligence, can elevate your career as an accountant.
So before I end this episode, think about this: How do you envision applying these tips in your accounting career? Can you see yourself becoming a Smarter Accountant by integrating Emotional Intelligence into your daily work?
Hopefully you now see that the most important question every accountant needs to ask, every day is, “How do I feel?” Until you’re willing to acknowledge how you feel, and choose more helpful and useful emotions, you will not be as effective as you could be.
Remember, becoming a Smarter Accountant isn’t just about mastering numbers; it’s also about mastering yourself.
Well, that’s what I have for you. Thank you for joining me as I shared the most important question every accountant needs to ask, every day. I hope you’ve gained valuable insights and practical tools.
If you are struggling with any aspect of being an accountant, you can simply go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com/calendar and book a free session with me.
I’ll explain The Smarter Accountant 6-week Program and how you can apply it to whatever you’re struggling with.
That’s what I have for you, but make sure you check back each week as I help you go from being a stressed accountant to a Smarter Accountant.
Make sure you go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com and take The Smarter Accountant Quiz. You’re going to want to know if you’ve been underutilizing your accountant brain so that you have a starting point for becoming a Smarter Accountant..
Also, I would appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast. The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.
The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.