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AFP 2021 Blog

AFP 2021 Blog


Communication Rehab: Seven Tips from a Recovering Accountant

Sep 8, 2021

By John Sanchez

I have been referred to by some people as a “recovering accountant” because the reason I initially started working on my own communication skills was that I realized they were lacking. I have been metaphorically recovering ever since. The irony is, I had good people skills as a kid, but I put them on the shelf in many situations mainly because I let stress get me off track.

Here is a quick cheat sheet of tips summarized in the acronym RAIL and bolstered by three principles to use with all your communication. RAIL stands for rapport, awareness, inquire and listen. Applying these tips while keeping three core principles (more on these later) in mind and you will do well.


Rapport is one result of using your awareness, questioning and listening skills, but there is also a shortcut quickly building rapport — displaying open body language. Start by smiling and putting your arms at your side, bent at the elbow, with your palms facing up. Use your arms to illustrate your open body language by moving them as you speak, but do it casually, not as if you are trying to swat a fly.


To communicate effectively, we must use our self-awareness to understand how our messages are being received. We then need to be aware of other’s communication preferences. Once we understand these two things, we can effectively adapt our communication so that it is well understood.

Inquire/Ask Questions

Common ground is the path to rapport, and asking questions is the best way to find commonalities. The key to questions is varying the way you ask them and keeping it simple. Ask questions based on who, what, when, where and how. “Who inspired you to become an accountant?” is a good example of a who question that can lead to some common ground when you explore the answer.

“Why” questions are powerful, but they can make people feel guarded. If you want to understand someone’s “why,” word your question in a what instead. For example, to learn why someone chose their current profession, ask a what question like, “What is it about your profession that attracted you to it?”


The key to effective listening is to first get your mind focused on listening to understand, not listening to reply. The most common barrier to great listening is focusing on thinking of what you will say when the other person finishes talking, and that is a big mistake. I have taught entire workshops just on listening skills, so there is a lot more to learn about effective listening, but start by eliminating this most common barrier and you will notice the difference.

The Platinum Rule

Most people are familiar with The Golden Rule that basically says, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” The Platinum Rule says, “Do unto others as they would like done unto them.” In other words, everyone is unique, and they do not necessarily like their communication the way you like yours. For maximum impact, communicate the way they prefer, and you will be more effective.

Pareto Principle — 80/20 Rule

Focus on the small number of things that create the most impact. Find out what the most important things are to the person you are communicating with and focus on them. It is usually a short list.

Priorities — Big Rocks First

Once you know the most important things in the communication at hand, start with the most important priority. If you are in a conversation and the other person makes it clear that they have three main things they need from your communication and brevity is the most important, focus on keeping things as brief and focused as possible. The same goes for whatever their top priorities are.

Seven simple tips will go a long way if you actually implement them. Communication is a contact sport and the more contact you make, the better you get. Get out there and use these tips to see results quickly.

Don’t miss John Sanchez’s AFP 2021 session, “Communication Rehab: Seven Tips From A Recovering Accountant,” and check out all the sessions on the AFP 2021 SESSION EXPLORER. Register for the conference HERE.