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66 HASKINS & SELLS September Answering Questions " H O W much are you short?" asks the surety company representative who detects irregularities intuitively, or by walking through an office and looking a cashier in the eye. "What is the amount of the shortage?" queries the employer whose employee has confessed to having misappropriated funds. "What did you find?" asks the client of the accountants who have investigated some matter for him. It is but natural that these questions should be asked; that they should be abrupt, short, and pointed. The seeker after information wastes no time or words in phrasing his questions. He is not concerned with the niceties of expression. He even may sacrifice grammatical construction as long as no doubt may arise as to the meaning. The chances are that answers to such questions would meet with high favor were they equally terse, provided they were to convey the specific information sought. Every question requires some kind of answer. A direct question calls for a direct answer. An implied question may not be ignored if satisfaction is to be accorded to the privileged party in a relationship. How often does a client receive a direct answer in reply to a direct question asked of a lawyer or of an accountant? Seldom. The reply usually is hedged about with qualifications and protective phrases such as, "We are informed," or "It appears," or equally non-committal statements. This all may be necessary if the statement is a matter requiring proof but it must be fairly unsatisfactory to the client. How many times is a layman able to understand a legal document because of the "whereases," "said parties," and so on? Is it not tiresome to be obliged to read page upon page of legal verbiage and study at length certain passages in order to understand the terms of a simple contract? Put yourself in the place of a client who asks you to investigate some matter for him which he has neither the time nor technical ability to penetrate and when he receives your report is unable to tell what your conclusions are without reading thousands of words and searching out the conclusions for himself. Is he likely to be pleased? He is not. Every engagement carries with it a question either expressed or implied. If the question is expressed, so much the better. If the implication has to be read out of the engagement, the question is none the less present. In either event an answer is required. The question is the prevailing thought in the client's mind. He is entitled to expect an answer. He is entitled to have the answer conveyed to him with a minimum of effort on his part in order to grasp it. He is entitled to the substance of the answer immediately upon picking up the report. It is surprising the extent to which accountants ignore the simple principles of service relationship. The perfectly obvious requirements of successful contact in business are sacrificed to form day in, day out. Instead of telling a client immediately in a few well chosen words the particular thing he wishes to know, pages are devoted to discussion which is involved, technical, filled with formal detail, and qualified to a high degree. A review of twenty-five reports dealing with special investigations will not show one which summarizes the findings in the opening paragraph of the presentation or the comments. In most instances the conclusions appear, if at all, in the last paragraph of the comments, to be found only after reading pages of detail ranging from two to forty-seven. Scarcely ever will the reports where shortages are involved disclose the amount of the shortage until the reader has searched through five or six pages.
Haskins & Sells Bulletin, Vol. 07, no. 09 (1924 September), p. 66-67
|Source||Originally published by: Haskins & Sells|
|Collection||Deloitte Digital Collection|
|Digital Publisher||University of Mississippi Libraries. Accounting Collection|
|Identifier||HS Bulletin 7-p66|