Category Archives: Relationships

Money, relationships and physical survival

As children we are socialised into connecting money with physical survival. This is culturally specific – other cultures connect physical survival with the community and/or the land or spiritual beings. But in Western cultures (and many other cultures too) having no money brings up deep fears about not being able to survive.

In the West money is a key index to the distribution of physical resources. In many cultures, people live within networks of gift and obligation, where physical resources are distributed according to the web of obligation relationships which ensure the whole community’s wellbeing. Continue reading Money, relationships and physical survival

Being a Good Debtor

debt burdenPart of being in business is that clients owe me money. And part of being an accountant is acting for clients when they owe money.  So I regularly get to play on both sides of the debt equation: being both Creditor (they owe me) and Debtor (I owe them).  This piece is about how to manage  things well as a debtor – how to be a Good Debtor.

For most people being in debt is incredibly stressful. Our culture sees debt as bad: we talk about the ‘debt burden’, and the ‘debt trap’. Having a mortgage is seen as a kind of moral negation: signing the mortgage is to “sign one’s life away”.  Understandably in this cultural context, not being able to pay your bills brings up feelings of shame, anxiety, embarrassment and fear.  These emotions can make it really hard to act simply with self-compassion and clear communication. Continue reading Being a Good Debtor

I’m so successful, my business is disappearing!

As my third tax season in London kicks off, I’ve just had a run of established clients emailing me saying “I’ve done my 2014-15 figures; can you just have a look over them?”

Success!

I’ve been working with these clients for 2 or 3 years doing Tax Coaching – working with them around their records, bookkeeping and tax.  And, hey – they’re really getting it together!  It usually takes 2-3 cycles of doing something to really learn it, and so it makes sense that my more established clients are building competencies and starting to stand on their own feet. Continue reading I’m so successful, my business is disappearing!

On “Closing the Sale”

01-pushy-salesmanRecently I was on the receiving end of the sales technique known as “closing the sale”.  This is where a seller elicits several “yes” responses from you and then keeps narrowing the conversation to the point where you say “yes” to whatever they are selling.

Ironically, they were trying to sell a program of coaching around business development, marketing and – yes! – selling.  At the start of the conversation I was very open to their program and what they had to offer.  By the end I was fuming!

You might say this conversation was simply an example of a poor salesperson.  But what else is “closing the sale” than an attempt to shift a potential buyer from “maybe” to “yes”?  This is of course a quite legitimate shift to make – but one that needs to be made by the buyer and not the seller!

But more interestingly, is what the technique of “closing the sale” says about the seller’s attitude to their product and to their clients.  All or only some of these may be true side by side:

  • a deep ambivalence on the seller’s part about the value of what they are selling.  They believe that the value is not apparent, or perhaps not really there at all. Closing down the conversational space reduces the buyer’s scrutiny of  the product.
  • overriding anxiety about issues internal to their business: meeting sales targets, or keeping busy, or pleasing a supervisor, or simply paying the bills.  These things are not the buyer’s business.  They could be very real for the seller, and the seller could potentially share them simply as a human being – but not by smuggling them in to the buyer/seller conversation!
  • the seller views the potential buyer as not fully capable.  The seller often sees their role in the sales conversation of “assisting” the buyer to make the key shift to “yes”.  In other words the seller believes the buyer is not capable of making this shift unaided, not able to make a clear decision for themself – an incredibly insulting belief.
  • the seller views the potential buyer as an object.  The seller really has no interest at all in the buyer as a real person, and simply wants the buyer to comply with the seller’s agenda.

Of course “closing the sale” works fine when you are just selling widgets, or a one-off experience – like a fairground sideshow for example.  You take the buyer’s money, they get the goods, and you never have to see each other again.  The value of what is sold is only momentary anyway, and who cares if the transaction is interpersonally messy?

“closing the sale” is closing off the path to real connection, and thus shutting down an opportunity

But I am selling an intimate service.  Although accounting is not generally seen as intimate, in practice it involves the client disclosing things that sometimes they don’t even tell their spouse, and on occasion have never told anyone.

As with lawyers, doctors, and the sacred professions*, my service works best when the client feels safe to be entirely authentic.  This safety is generated partly by me being appropriately open and boundaried in the interaction myself, and partly by according the client the respect that they are fully capable, that their process of living is fully legitimate as it is, and that their decisions are entirely right for them in the moment.

Of course I don’t always measure up in practice to this standard I set for myself – I, like everyone, am on the path of growth.  But it is my intention to move towards appropriateness and respect with clients at all times.  It would be impossible for me to commence working with a client on anything less than that basis.

“Closing the sale” is the antithesis of what works in my business. Were I to pursue it I would feel obliged to continue my distant, disrespectful or inappropriate stance with my client, because that is what they signed up for.  Or I would need to put a lot of effort into cleaning up the mess left by ‘closing the sale’ – apologizing, and establishing a new basis to proceed. Either path involves an enormous amount of energy which needn’t be spent if one simply doesn’t use the “closing the sale” technique.

What DOES work is simply having a chat.  In that conversation it becomes clear what is the quality of connection between me and the potential client. And then if the connection supports it, we sort out what we can go forward with, and how to do that.

In contrast, “closing the sale” is closing off the path to real connection, and thus shutting down an opportunity for me to help empower others around money and thus to contribute to my community’s social capital.

* The Sacred Professions are “… professions in which the value delivered is something
intangible.  Musicians, artists, prostitutes, healers, counselors, and teachers…” Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics, p203

The Pleasures of an Intimate Accountant

me in conversationAs your accountant I get to know the intimate details of your financial situation. But there’s also another type of intimate connection I enjoy even more with my clients.

One of the richest aspects of accounting for me is that being someone’s accountant brings me into a very intimate connection with that person.  In British (and Australian) culture, talking about personal finances is often uncomfortable – it’s not a topic of polite conversation.  Money is something we usually only discuss in detail with one’s spouse, or perhaps one’s parents or adult children.

In this way an accountant is in a similar position to a doctor: the professional examination involves revealing “warts and all”.  Obviously the accountant can’t do their job without all the relevant information – but I always feel a little frisson at the moment when the client starts to tell me the detail.  It is, in a psychic sense, very much a moment of “undressing”.

I deeply value my clients revealing themselves to me in this way. I feel it is a very vivid demonstration of trust.  Even though I know most people routinely interact with professionals of many sorts who require us to share our “secrets”, each time a client does this with me I feel it is special, and deserves acknowledgement, and respect.  It really is a relationship of vulnerability: my client is vulnerable to the extent to which I caringly respect what they have confided.

But in my approach to my work this intimacy and vulnerability is not just one way.  All my clients are people for whom their work or their business is a creative expression of their soul – just as my own business is for me.  Thus although there is a client-practitioner relationship, there is also another level of deep mutuality:  we share values around authenticity and creativity, and around the challenges involved in being true to ourselves and earning a living.

Sometimes this comes out in snippets of conversation where we discover a shared passion around some element of business operations.  Sometimes it comes out in drawing on personal growth principles to help us address an issue in the business. Sometimes I need to tell them I am triggered by aspects of their profession or their business.  Sometimes it will come out in what appears to be a rambling natter about something else – which then suddenly and unexpectedly crystallises for the client a vital aspect of their business focus.

I share with my clients a vigorous belief in disclosing all this personal stuff, in allowing the emotional and the seemingly-unrelated.  Often the wisdom of our lives comes out to affirm the other, to support the other and to validate the path we are already on. Together we hold a trust that the connection between us is right, that it is powerful, and that our connection generates what is of mutual value to us no matter what it’s content looks like.

This is what Kimaya Kroller-Younger calls Radical Intimacy. The attempt to accept all of what is there in oneself enables us to be more deeply with ourselves.  This in turn enables us to be deeply with others.  Of course we get scared, of course the acceptance is never complete.  But the edges where we stop are also moments to honour the courage it takes to go right up to the edge.  And often that edge can shift simply when it is accepted – by ourselves or by another.

Having created an intimate openness, our work together can then proceed as a collaborative project. They need their tax done, or their admin dealt with, or to know how their profit is going – whatever it is.  I ask if they want to get skilled up themselves, or whether they just want it taken care of.  The project can be anything, and of any duration.  Then we discuss what needs to be done to complete the project, what our skills and respective time constraints are, and then decide who does what and when.

The work proceeds well because we have created an intimate connection.   We have each brought ourselves present – not necessarily in our entirety but very much authentically in the moment.  Our beings resonate intimately with each other – and this enables a smooth working-together.

Last week I had several days which seemed to be a continuous dance of wonderful encounters with clients interspersed with work on collaborative projects.  By the end of the week I felt so full, so blessed to be in connection with such rich beings, and blessed that I have the opportunity to use my abilities in our mutual service.

Truly – the pleasures of an intimate accountant.

Relationship wisdom we can learn from Accounting

Accounting systems make the very sensible assumption that we are human – which means that mistakes are inevitable.  No real human ever does things perfectly. Entry errors, mis-readings, absent-mindedness, distraction all actually happen – not because anybody intends to make mistakes but just because Life is Life and shit happens.

So one of the most powerful steps in the accounting cycle is to check for errors.  The process of “reconciling the accounts” or “doing a reconciliation” involves using a third party’s record of transactions to cross-check your own records.  Most commonly the third party’s records is a bank statement, but accountants will also use the records of customers, staff and suppliers – any party which has dealings with the business and which has a separate or ‘third party’ accounting system.

The reconciling process allows us to locate mistakes, identify how they arose and then fix them.  Because accounting systems get reconciled there is no penalty for mistakes. People don’t get blamed.  Mistakes just get located, identified and fixed.

The same pattern is relevant in relationships as well.  Relationships involve humans, and so inevitably mistakes will be made.  I will hurt you, you will invade me, I will disregard you, you will insult me. Very seldom are these things intended. Mostly we intend to do the best by the other person.  So when I make a mistake it’s not because I’m stupid, or I intended to hurt you, or I don’t really care about you, or any one of the million reasons you can make up.  I made a mistake because I’m a human.

What Accounting teaches us is it’s not important that the mistake has been made.  That’s just inevitable.  What’s important is that there is a system in place to catch the mistakes and fix them.  In other words what’s important is doing the reconciliation.

The reconciliation process involves a third party to me – which in the case of our relationship is you.  You, or your actions, alert me to a mistake having happened. Something’s off in our interacting, and that’s a signal that stuff needs to be attended to.  So we need to identify what the mistake is, and then fix it.  We can do this without blame for the mistake happening in the first place.  Removing blame is a hugely freeing step, which allows us to have much more clarity, and to work together to identify the mistake and to work out ways to fix it.

There’s another possibility here, though: it might not be my mistake.  I’ll use Accounting again to clarify.  Those third parties whose records we rely on to reconcile our own accounts also have their own accounting systems, and so they also make mistakes.  Most banks put a little notice somewhere on your bank statement saying something like “please check all these transactions to make sure you agree with them.”  This is not just marketing fluff – it’s a core part of their own accounting system.

So when I’m doing my bank reconciliation I’ll find a mistake. I check and re-check my own system, using the bank’s records, and after a few iterations I find that the mistake is not mine but the bank’s.  Bingo – I have to tell the bank.

The same possibility occurs in a relationship.  I may feel you’ve done something terrible: I feel really hurt, and so on.  But the only thing we can say with certainty at first is that a mistake has been made.  If I’m reconciling my accounts I tend to assume that the mistake is made by me.  When I’m feeling hurt in a relationship I tend to assume the mistake has been made by you.  But this may not be so.  It takes the first step of a reconciliation process – a back-and-forwards of active listening without blame – to identify exactly what the mistake is.  Only then is it possible to agree on how to fix it and carry out the fix.

Not only does Accounting show us that mistakes are inevitable.  It also shows us that reconciliation is normal.  It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong in a relationship. Reconciliation is just a normal, routine and standard part of any good relationship.

I love it that there is such similarity between accounting systems and human relationships.  It affirms to me that The World is a fractal pattern, which occurs everywhere.  We are inside the pattern, the pattern is inside us, and the pattern occurs in its entirety in every single aspect of what exists.  Everything is intimately connected.