Gobbledygook

by Pamela Taylor-Barnett

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“Oh, you just need to write out the cheques to pay the bills,” they said. “It’s easy,” they said. Well. Well. Well. This was a year ago, when I signed up enthusiastically for the treasurer role at my daughter’s kindergarten. And would you believe, as of the AGM a couple of weeks ago, I’m treasurer for 2014 too? Something about not being able to say ‘no,’ I suppose… and a topic for another day.

I bumbled my way through this role this last year – with my pigeon hole being the only one that is never empty. I even took on extra non-treasurer tasks, like re-writing the whole constitution. But I digress, I want to tell you about how I ended up at an accountant. I asked the committee to approve an audit, which they did. Suffice it to say, I now have a greater appreciation for the frustration that some lawyers’ clients must feel.

I dropped in to collect the audit; it didn’t include the commentary yet, just the financial reports and an official certificate-thing saying that they approved of the 2013 books (Whew!). They handed it to me, without explanation, like it’s all so obvious. So, there I sat, in my car, giving it a quick skim over. I had questions. How did they arrive at that figure? And that one? And that one?! So, I hopped out of my car and went back in. An accountant, who I had not met before but appeared quite experienced, explained some things to me – but mostly I was confused.

I went away, feeling silly. Then I went back. And went away and came back again. My accountant (the young grad) tried to explain something to me – in big words like ‘carried forward,’ ‘receivable’, and ‘accrual’. I had a pounding headache and needed simple and clear words. It felt like gobbledygook was drivelling out his mouth. And the worst part? The more I tried to concentrate on working out what he was saying, the more lost I got. The more lost I got, the more stressed I became about being lost. It was cyclic. And I needed to understand the answers for the AGM that night. Yeek.

And I still don’t fully understand, so I’m waiting for his written report to shed some light on it for me. Here’s the thing. He was talking in ‘Accountantese’, much like our ‘legalese’. Clearly, it was obvious to him. I was not surprised with the experienced accountant slipping into these bad habits but I thought that maybe the young grad would have been through business school with ‘plain English’ shovelled at him by wheelbarrow loads, like most emerging lawyers are these days. I thought that when I said ‘sorry, it just doesn’t make sense in the Pamela brain!’ that he may have said it in a different way, rather than repeating the same thing again. But he didn’t.

Why didn’t he say it differently? In fact, the sooner he could make it ‘make sense in the Pamela brain’, the sooner he could get this crazy nagging woman out of his office and get back to work! It was to his advantage to articulate it clearly.

What do I think that he, and his senior needed to do? I think they needed to ask some non-money-minded people (who love them enough to tolerate their accountant nerd-factor) a pop-quiz of some common accounting phrases. They need to work out which words aren’t in everyday language. And then they need to work out how to explain the concepts – with all those usual words being banned from their vocabulary. I think they need to reflect, and ask themselves how often these words are used in everyday language. I think they need to ask their client (me) to explain it back to them to see that the client fully understood, and they need to pause and think before they spoke, to work out the clearest explanation.

Lawyers must do the same. It’s the fastest way to get the crazy nagging woman out of your office, and the best way to make sure she comes back.