How Listening Makes You a Better Storyteller and a Better Manager

by JoAnna Dizon Billete, CPA, Wiss | May 21, 2024

Storytelling is a timeless skill, pivotal not only in our early learning but also in complex fields. The ability to transform abstract numbers into compelling narratives is crucial for an accounting professional. This skill is often underestimated, yet it’s vital for conveying complicated information in an understandable way to both clients and staff.

The Narrative of Numbers

Numbers tell a story. Beyond their quantitative truths, they detail a company's annual highs and lows while also illustrating strategic decisions made throughout the year. For example, a sudden dip in revenue in the third quarter might reveal a need for strategic realignment, while a peak in the first quarter could indicate successful campaign launches. As accountants, by interpreting these patterns, we not only present data but also provide actionable insights, transforming raw numbers into valuable narratives for our clients.

Teaching through Tales

Effective managers transcend basic instruction; they embed lessons within stories drawn from personal experiences and past challenges. Consider a manager using their personal experience to explain tax optimization strategies through a story about navigating a complex tax return. They could share how, by strategically leveraging deductions and credits, they significantly reduced a client's tax liability, demonstrating the direct impact of thoughtful tax planning. This narrative not only educates but also connects emotionally, highlighting the tangible benefits of expert tax management. This approach does more than just instruct, it connects and inspires. By sharing such personal narratives, we can accelerate professional development, making the learning process both more relatable and impactful.

Listening: The Heart of Effective Storytelling

The cornerstone of effective management and storytelling is active listening. This involves more than just hearing words; it's about understanding the underlying emotions and non-verbal cues. Active listening builds a foundation of respect, empathy and trust, which make it easier to convey ideas and necessary feedback in a manner that resonates personally with the audience. For instance, by truly listening to a staff member's feedback on their preferred learning style, a manager can tailor their guidance to better suit that individual's preferences in a way that works for them and, in turn, set them up for success.

At the core of great leadership in accounting is the ability to break down complex concepts into easily digestible narratives. Our effectiveness as leaders and advisors hinges not just on our expertise but on our capacity to convey this knowledge compellingly. Great leaders are not just directors; they are also listeners, learners and storytellers.

Storytelling for Managers

Incorporating storytelling into management isn't just about keeping one’s audience engaged. It’s about being approachable, relatable and translating professional lessons into practical, actionable guidance. This narrative method does not merely make our guidance relatable; it makes it impactful, ensuring that our teams and clients not only understand our advice but are also influenced by it.

In the language of business where numbers are the script, accountants are the best-suited storytellers to bring these numbers to life, aiding in the development of their teams and the success of their clients. By enhancing listening and storytelling skills, we can become more than just trusted advisors; we can become integral narrators of the business world and turn data into stories that inform, persuade and guide. 

Jo Anna Dizon Billete

Jo Anna Dizon Billete

JoAnna Dizon Billete, CPA, is a tax manager of Trusts & Estates at Wiss. She is a member of the NJCPA and can be reached at

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