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Accounting Education: an international journal Essay

ABSTRACT

This study into the perceived importance of oral communication skills in accountancy included the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data from a national survey of New Zealand accountants, followed by a series of semi-structured interviews. Survey and interview data reveal agreement with existing literature: New Zealand accountancy employers find all oral communication skills somewhat important and a number of specific skills extremely important, but employers also report seldom finding the required level of oral communication proficiency in new university graduates. The study produced an inventory of 27 individual oral communication skills that will be useful to similar investigations in different national contexts. Additionally, the findings of this study may be useful to curricular development both in the New Zealand and international contexts.

KEY WORDS: Oral communication, workplace communication, listening, presentation skills, telephone skills

1.Introduction

Academics and practitioners do not always concur but, in the case of communication skills in accountancy graduates, these two sets of stakeholders are in firm agreement: both written and oral communication skills are extremely important in the accountancy work- place (Albin and Crockett, 1991; Albrecht and Sack, 2000; Borzi and Mills, 2001; Hock, 1994; Johnson and Johnson, 1995; LaFrancois, 1992; McDonald, 2007; Morgan, 1997). This agreement extends across international boundaries, as a number of studies around the globe have reported the high value placed on communication skills, for example in the UK (Morgan, 1997), USA (Smythe and Nikolai, 2002), and Australia (Tempone and Martin, 2003). In New Zealand, the site of the present study, academic studies into the importance of communication skills in accountancy and the challenges of teaching those skills (Gardner, Milne, Stringer and Whiting, 2005; McLaren, 1990) have multiple corollaries in the workforce.

Accountancy job advertisements regularly request both oral and written communication skills; competency in oral communication is emphasised on the website of the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA); and oral communication is an explicit component of the assessment structure of the PCE2 examination, which concludes the second (and final) stage of training towards becoming a Chartered Accountant in New Zealand. However, both formal studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that new accountancy graduates often do not possess communication skills sufficient to meet the demands of the workplace, particularly in the area of oral communication (Adler and Milne, 1994; Courtis and Zaid, 2002; Gray, 2010; McLaren, 1990; Zaid and Abraham, 1994).

Students in New Zealand may graduate with a university degree in accountancy after three years of full-time study. (Accountancy may also be studied in less rigorous programs at polytechnics and institutes of technology.) The intensity of the university programs of study, which are accredited by NZICA, means students have a challenging workload of technical study and very limited opportunity to take elective or ‘liberal’ courses. Of course, limited class time and the resultant curricular pressures and inadequate skill mastery are not unique to the New Zealand accountancy classroom (Pittenger, Miller and Mott, 2004; Wardrope and Bayless, 1999). The globally-recognised problem of insufficient oral communication skill in accoun- tancy graduates leads to a series of questions that need practical answers:

. How should university educators respond, strategically and pedagogically, to this reported lack of oral communication skills in new graduates?. What approaches and assessments within university courses will best meet the needs of students aspiring to successful accountancy careers?

. To what extent is the development of such skills in students the responsibility of the university and what is the role of the workplace in developing oral communication skills?

Before university educators can make any meaningful decisions concerning pedagogy or curricula, and appropriately teach the oral communication skills needed for a successful accountancy career, they need concrete information regarding exactly which specific skills are most valued and most needed in accountancy. Thus a research question was formu- lated: to ascertain the value of specific oral communication skills in new graduates, as perceived by New Zealand accountancy employers. It was hoped that answers to this research question would provide educators with specific information with which to consider their optimal pedagogical responses. The research question led to the construction and implementation of this longitudinal study. Initial research objectives were:

. To determine how much importance New Zealand accountancy employers place on oral communication skills in the new graduates they hire. . To determine what specific kinds of oral communication skills are required by New Zealand accountancy employers in new graduates.

. To determine the degree to which accountancy employers are finding the required oral communication skills in newly-graduated accountancy students.

The study included the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, from a national survey of New Zealand accountants, followed by a series of semi-structured Oral Communication Skills in New Accountancy Graduates 277

interviews. Initial findings from the first-phase survey have been reported elsewhere (Gray, 2010). Overall, survey and interview data revealed that accountancy employers find all oral communication skills somewhat important and a number of specific skills extremely important, but that the required level of overall oral communication skill was seldom found in new graduates. Accountancy employers agreed that the possession of strong oral communication skills improves a graduate’s chance of succeeding in the hiring process and also of progressing in his or her career.

The study produced an inven- tory of 27 individual oral communication skills, of which listening skills were most highly valued by accountancy employers, and formal presentation skills were considered least valuable, although there was disagreement on this point. It is hoped the oral communi- cation skill inventory will be useful to similar investigations in different national contexts. Additionally, the findings of this study may be of use both in the New Zealand and inter- national context in the long-term planning of curricular development.

2.Literature Review

Studies of communication in accountancy agree broadly on the importance of written and oral communication skills. Many formal and informal studies to this point have tended to use general terms such as ‘communication skills,’ or the even vaguer term ‘generic skills’;1 it is difficult to ascertain
the precise meaning of such all-encompassing terms as they apply to chartered accountancy. For example, Zaid and Abraham (1994) studied the problems encountered by accountancy graduates early in their employment careers, and reported a primary area of difficulty to be in ‘communication with others.’ Baker and McGregor (2000) compared the importance perceived in communication skills by a number of accountancy stakeholder groups; this study, too, only uses the broad term ‘communication skills.’ De Lange, Jackling, and Gut (2006) surveyed Australian accoun- tancy graduates and found that students reported themselves to have a significant skill deficiency in the specific areas of ‘interpersonal skills’ and ‘oral expression’; these two broad categories, however, were no more closely examined or defined.

Within the smaller number of studies that have examined a particular set of communi- cation skills in accountancy, most have focussed on written communication skill (Albrecht and Sack, 2000; Ashbaugh, Johnstone and Warfield, 2002; English, Bonanno, Ihnatko, Webb and Jon; Ng, Lloyd, Kober and Robinson, 1999; Webb, English and Bonanno, 1995). Very few studies have examined oral communication specifically, or identified individual oral communication skills. Morgan (1997) is an exception: in a study of accountancy professionals in England and Waleses, 1999; Hall, 1998 he identifies 13 individual skill areas within oral communication activities in accountancy. There is no agreement on a classificatory inventory of such skills. One study into oral communi- cation, by Maes, Weldy and Icenogle (1997), surveyed American business employers from a broad array of industries on graduates’ possession of another 13 distinct oral communication skills.

Maes et al. (1997) and McLaren (1990) both specifically list ‘listening’ as a desirable communication skill and, more recently, Goby and Lewis (2000) have examined listening as a specific business communication skill. Other research has variously investigated a number of individual oral communication skills across a range of business industries, including conveying expertise through spoken communication and giving intelligible explanations (Smythe and Nikolai, 2002), delivering formal presenta- tions (Wardrope, 2002), and participating in a range of more informal presentations (Crosling and Ward, 2002). The first phase of this study drew together the foci and findings of previous studies in relation to the production of a comprehensive list of oral communi- cation skills (Gray, 2010). 278F. E. Gray and N. Murray

Ascertaining the particular requirements of accountancy employers in regard to specific communication skills should be of assistance to university educators planning the curricu- lar content and assessments of university courses, as academics and practitioners agree that written and oral communication skills are two major areas needing more attention in the university accountancy curriculum (Albrecht and Sack, 2000; Henderson, 2001; Simons and Higgins, 1993). However, the relationship between workplace demand and classroom instruction is not necessarily simple. While a considerable body of scholarship has recommended a variety of curricular improvements for university level accounting education (see, for example, Henderson, 2001; Sin, Jones, and Petocz, 2007; and Usoff and Feldmann, 1998), the literature reflects a significant concern in relation to the transferability of taught communication skills from the university classroom environment to the ‘real-world’ environment of the accountancy workplace (Beaufort, 1999; Cooper, 1997; D’Aloisio, 2006; Davies and Birbili, 2000; Kemp and Seagraves, 1995; Thomas, 1995).

A number of academics and employers suggest that universities should not bear the entire responsibility for developing ‘workplace-ready’ communication skills in students. They argue that organisations employing new graduates—and graduates themselves— should share the responsibility for developing contextualised and discourse-specific com- munication competencies (Ford, 2009; Hayes and Kuseski, 2001; Muir and Davis, 2004; Triebel and Gurdjian, 2009). Such competencies, after all, are developed by means of a number of contributing factors, including age and maturity, as well as familiarity with and length of exposure to a specific discourse community. University training, however comprehensive, cannot encompass all these variables.

Research into accountancy education has also recognised the particular problems faced by English second language (ESL) speakers striving to develop written and oral communi- cation competency as well as the technical proficiencies required in accountancy work- places (Andrews, 2006; McGowan and Potter, 2008; Webb et al., 1995). Several studies in New Zealand and internationally report on the difficulties that ESL accountancy gradu- ates face in a competitive hiring environment (Birrell, 2007; Jacobs, 2003; James and Otsuka, 2009; Kim, 2004).

With regard to the specific question of developing communication skills within univer- sity-level accountancy instruction, scholars have suggested an array of learning and assessment approaches (Adler and Milne, 1997; Milne, 1999; Milne and McConnell, 2001; Tempone and Martin, 2003). This study recognises that developers of curricula must balance data regarding workplace demand with institutional and accreditation- related demands and a number of other pedagogical considerations. Notwithstanding, educational responses to the challenges of developing oral communication skills in students may be usefully informed by empirical data identifying the particular skills most highly valued and most pressingly needed within accountancy, as perceived by employers themselves. This study provides such data.

3.Method

The project was conducted in two stages over the course of approximately six months. In phase one, a questionnaire was mailed to all New Zealand chartered accountancy firms, and this was followed in phase two by a series of telephone interviews with accountancy professionals. Prior to data collection, ethics approval was sought from and granted by the Ethics Committee of the authors’ institution. Questionnaire and interview respondents were provided with a written description of the project, were assured of confidentiality, and granted permission before their responses were recorded. Oral Communication Skills in New Accountancy Graduates 279

3.1Questionnaire

In the first stage, a questionnaire was sent to all New Zealand chartered accountancy firms, containing a series of questions concerning the quality of oral communication skills pos- sessed by new accountancy graduates, the specific oral communication skills which employers desire, and the role of oral communication skills in the hiring process (Gray, 2010). The majority of the questions were designed to be answered on a five-point Likert scale, but the questionnaire also included several short-answer questions. The questionnaire instrument was developed through a series of iterations. The findings and design of previous New Zealand and international research studies that had identified specific communication skills were consulted (including Gray, Emerson and MacKay, 2006; Maes et al., 1997; McLaren, 1990; Morgan, 1997; Smythe and Nikolai 2002), and the individual oral communication skills collated.

The catalogue of individual skills was further extended through conversations with university colleagues in the communi- cation and accountancy departments, and then the input of New Zealand accounting prac- titioners was solicited from a pilot study. The aim of these iterations was to create the fullest possible inventory of oral communication skills, and to reflect the unique aspects of the New Zealand accountancy context. A foundational study was McLaren’s 1990 investigation into communication skill in New Zealand accountancy. One important construct borrowed from McLaren was the distinction between listening attentiveness and listening responsiveness. Constructs were also adapted from studies conducted by Morgan (1997), Zaid and Abraham (1994), and De Lange et al. (2006). Smythe and Nikolai’s oral communication concerns model (1996, 2002) proved particularly useful in the construction of this questionnaire.

This model identifies three categories of concern as a framework for grouping oral com- munication skills: self-concern, task-concern, and impact (or outcome) concern. Smythe and Nikolai postulate that a progression takes place from one category of concern to the next in line with a person’s career progression and his/her growth in experience and confidence in communicating orally in the workplace. Since the target population for this study was a constituency at a mature career stage within chartered accountancy firms, Smythe and Nikolai’s ‘progressive’ divisions were not retained (although a number of their questions were incorporated, particularly in the areas of task concern and impact concern). Instead, divisions between questions were created in relation to different audiences, building on the finding of a related study (Gray et al., 2006) that New Zealand employers report new graduates to significantly lack audience awareness in their communications.

After a comprehensive list of specific oral communication skills was generated, the questionnaire draft was piloted on four accountancy professionals, and their feedback enabled questions to be refined. A number of skills that were initially individually ident- ified were modified and condensed into a smaller number of broader and more inclusive skills: for example, ‘Building audience confidence in recommendations’ and ‘Projecting an image of sincerity and commitment’ (both ‘impact concerns’ from Smythe and Nikolai’s taxonomy) were combined into the one, more inclusive skill category, ‘Convey- ing a knowledgeable and confident demeanour.’

Additionally, feedback from the pilot study led to the second of the two specified listening skills being more fully explicated, thus: ‘Listening responsiveness: (that is, acting appropriately on messages received).’ Again building on feedback from the pilot regarding usability, the questionnaire as a whole was divided into three sections. Section A captured introductory information including the size of the organisation and the qualifications held by new graduates hired in the last three years. Section B listed the full, final inventory of 27 individual oral 280F. E. Gray and N. Murray

communication skills, collected into the following audience-related divisions: I. Listening skills; II. Collegial communication skills; III. Client communication skills; IV. Communi- cation skills with management; and V. General Audience Analysis Skills. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of each skill, as well as the frequency with which this skill is found in new accountancy graduates.

At the end of Section B respondents were invited to add to the questionnaire any other oral communication skills that they con- sidered important for new accountancy graduates. Section C, Final Questions, asked respondents whether oral communication training was available in or through their organ- isation, whether oral communication training should be included in university accoun- tancy education programmes, and finally to estimate the hours per working week a new accountancy graduate would be engaged in communicating orally. At the close of the questionnaire, respondents were given the option to volunteer for a follow-up interview.

3.1.2 Respondents.The questionnaire was sent to all chartered accountancy firms listed on the New Zealand online business directory, and was addressed to the Practice Manager as the individual most likely to have in-depth knowledge of the process of hiring new graduates. New Zealand’s professional accountancy body, the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA) reports that 40.7% of its members work in the private sector, while the second largest percentage, 27.5%, are employed in Chartered Accountancy practices (2008 annual report). Working on the assumption that CA prac- tices hire a percentage of new graduates proportionate to their sizeable percentage of NZICA members, CA practices were chosen as the focal population for this study as they represent (in contrast to the private sector) a readily identifiable and readily contact- able group of employers.2 While the New Zealand online business directory listed 1,111 chartered accountancy firms as of 1April 2008, a number of listed organisations had ceased operations or were uncontactable, and the questionnaire was eventually mailed to 760 firms.

Of 760 mailings, 146 questionnaires were returned, producing a response rate of 19.2%. While this response rate was higher than the 15% usable response rate reported by McLaren in her 1990 study of New Zealand accountancy professionals, it remains margin- ally lower than the typical response rate for postal-based questionnaires (20 – 40%, as given in Frankfort-Nachmias and Nachmias, 1996). Possible reasons for this relatively low response rate include the fact that time and funding did not permit follow-up mailings, and also the fact that the target population is frequently time-poor and frequently surveyed. While non-response bias is an unavoidable concern when the response rate is less than 100 per cent, a low response rate does not necessarily equate to a non-response bias (Gendall, 2000).

A degree of representativeness was observable in the geographical spread of respondents, the positions held by respondents (see below), and the types of businesses responding, suggesting generalisation across a range of accountancy business types is viable. The questionnaire was mailed to separate groups of potential respondents in six post- ings, each approximately 10 days apart. The order in which responses were received generally mirrored the order in which postings were mailed: that is, the first group’s responses were received before the second group’s questionnaires began to be returned, and so on. As a record of receipt for each individual survey was not kept, early versus late response bias cannot be checked. As a single mail-out technique was used for each individual, it may be argued that differences in respondent type are not as applicable as may be seen in a survey where some participants responded early, whereas others received several reminders and mail-outs before responding.

Analyses were undertaken treating the six postings as separate groups to determine any potential differences by respondent type. All groups were similar in claiming that oral communication in general was either ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ in the accountancy profession. Furthermore, oral communication skill was ‘always’ important as a hiring factor for all mail-out groups. When comparing each group on importance and frequency of communication skills using a Kruskall-Wallis test, only one significant difference was found for frequency of listening skills seen in new graduates, x2 ¼ 11.60, P ,0.05. Post- hoc Mann-Whitney U tests subsequently revealed no significant differences in frequency of listening skills seen in new graduates between any of the six groups (using a Bonferroni correction). While the questionnaires were addressed to the Practice Managers of each organis- ation, respondents revealed a degree of variability. The majority of completed question- naires were anonymous, but the respondents who identified themselves ranged from partners in large firms, to senior employees in very small firms, to Human Resources directors.

3.2Interviews

The second phase of the study involved employer interviews. Forty-five questionnaire respondents volunteered to be contacted for follow-up interviews, and 19 volunteers could subsequently be contacted by telephone for complete interviews. The interviewee sample size was considered adequate due to its purposive nature and the recent finding that, within such samples, data saturation (including metathemes and subthemes) occurs within the first 12 interviews (Guest, Bunce and Johnson, 2006). It was intended that the qualitative data from interviews would triangulate and extend conclusions arising from analysis of the quantitative data.

The interview data incorporated into the study an ethnographic element, ‘thick description, a rich, detailed description of specifics’ (Neuman, 2003, p. 367), which helped produce more robust and credible conclusions. Telephone interviews were conducted between October and December 2008. Intervie- wees ranged from accountancy practice managers to sole practitioners, to partners in large firms. The semi-structured interviews ranged in length from 15 to 45 minutes and sought clarification of a number of issues arising from the questionnaire data, including the impli- cations of globalisation for oral communication in accountancy, the impact of new technologies and the importance of telephone skills, the centrality of listening skills, and the desirability of presentation skills for graduates new to the accountancy workplace.

3.3Data Analysis

Once the data from the questionnaires was collated, statistical analysis was performed using SPSS. Mean and median scores were calculated with regard to the importance scores given to each individual oral communication skill, and to the frequency scores (how often each skill is observed in new graduate hires). Each mean was the product of the addition of all the individual importance or frequency scores for each communication skill, divided by the sample size.

The standard deviation (SD) of each mean score, as well as the inter-quartile range for the median, was also calculated to indicate the relative spread of responses, with higher figures equating to wider ranges of scores. Owing to a number of missing responses, the denominator of responses to each question shows some variation. As the skill variables violated the assumption of normality (expected given the general level of agreement in employers’ perceptions), non-parametric tests were used. Where relevant, all assumptions of the named tests below were met. 282F. E. Gray and N. Murray

As mentioned in 3.1, Section B of the questionnaire invited respondents to write in any further oral communication skills which they felt were important for new accountancy graduates to possess, distinct from the 27 skills listed. Comments identifying additional skills were received from 36 respondents; these comments were recorded and analysed for thematic consistency. Once the interviews were transcribed, themes were also identified and analysed. Grounded theory was applied to analyse these themes, that is, inductive analysis in which data produce meanings, rather than meanings being applied from exterior theory (Strauss and Corbin, 2000).

4.Findings

4.1Research Objective 1: How Much Importance do New Zealand Accountancy Employers Place on Oral Communication Skills in the New Graduates they Hire?

The questionnaire data presented a clear answer to the first research question. Oral communication skill in general was considered to be ‘essential’ in a new graduate by 49.6% (n ¼ 133) of respondents; a further 41.4% reported it to be ‘very important’. On a rating scale from 1 to 5, where 1 was ‘not important’ and 5 was ‘essential’, the overall mean for oral communication skill in general was 4.39 (Md ¼ 4.00). A Kruskal- Wallis test found no significant difference in the importance value assigned to oral communication skill depending on the size of the organisation, x2(4) ¼ 5.48, p . 0.05. During the second phase of the study, interviewees strongly reiterated the perceived importance of oral communication skill: CL called oral communication ‘a career divider,’ meaning it was indispensable to success within accountancy, and EK labelled strong oral communication ‘a distinguishing factor’ setting good accountants apart from the mediocre.

SWS stated: ‘Being able to communicate is a number one priority .. . [and] it’s going to get more and more important.’ Interview data also supported the signifi- cance of a theme that emerged from written-in comments in the questionnaire: the impor- tance of oral communication skills in accountancy is perceived to be increasing rapidly as a direct result of globalisation, and an increased speaking flexibility and cross-cultural adaptability are considered particularly important in this context. Reporting that they ‘always’ take oral communication skill into account in hiring decisions were 64.1% (n ¼ 131) of questionnaire respondents (a total of 90.8% reported this to be a hiring factor either ‘always’ or ‘often’). RT stated that strong oral communi- cation skills often proved the decisive factor in a hiring decision:

The person who presents well … verbally, if you had to toss a coin between two of them, same grades and all that, the one who can communicate better, you’d give it to that person I think. [.. .] It has to be one of the most powerful strengths or powerful weaknesses that people have.

No questionnaire respondents reported ‘never’ taking an applicant’s oral communi- cation skills into account in the hiring process, and several interviewees reported incorpor- ating specific checks of a candidate’s oral competency into their hiring process. For example, TB stated that he telephones all job applicants prior to an in-office interview, in order to gauge their skills in speaking on the telephone.

4.2Research Objective 2: What Specific Kinds of Oral Communication Skills are required by New Zealand Accountancy Employers?

Figure 1. Perceived importance of communication skills by perceived frequency of new graduate ability importance of the individual communication skills against the perceived frequency with which these skills are seen in new graduates. Figure 1 shows that the importance and fre- quency measures follow a similar pattern. This may reflect the influence of the workplace in focussing on developing certain communication competencies in new graduates, or hiring based on those competencies being present to a certain degree. However, there is still an obvious gap between the importance of each skill and the degree to which it is seen in new graduates.

4.2.1Listening skills.On a rating scale from 1 to 5, where 1 was ‘not important’ and 5 was ‘essential,’ the two skills considered most important were those of listening attentive- ness and listening responsiveness, valued respectively at 4.81 (Md ¼ 5.00)—82% of respondents ranked listening attentiveness as ‘essential’—and 4.80 (Md ¼ 5.00)—a further 82% of respondents classifying listening responsiveness as ‘essential’. In sub- sequent interviews, KC described listening to another person as being a more important skill than that of articulating one’s own thoughts:

Sometimes, speaking less is better than speaking more. Sometimes you have to have more listening ability. That listening ability will give you the timing of when to say things and when not to say things.. ..

A number of interviewees linked listening skill to a related set of competencies concern- ing a speaker’s ability to create rapport and adjust to audiences’ needs. These interviewees spoke of the need for accountancy professionals to communicate with others (clients, colleagues, and managers) ‘in their own language.’

We learn to use sometimes slightly different language in order to be able to communicate to different people and that’s certainly part of our job when we’re in a service industry like 284F. E. Gray and N. Murray accountancy. We need to talk to people in their language and us[e] words and conduct that they are comfortable with (BR; emphasis added).

It’s important to understand your client so that … you’re speaking almost in ‘like language’ so that you know who you are talking to [and] you know they are understanding (SWS; emphasis added).

I think it’s a horses for courses [principle], you’ve got to know… your clients or the people you’re dealing with. If you happen to know someone didn’t like a certain style or you could pick from their responses … [then] you reply with like with like (DW; emphasis added).

JC mentioned adjusting vocabulary and PW mentioned adjusting message channel, in relation to the particular needs of the audience. MT emphasised the importance for accountancy graduates to gauge appropriateness of language:

They’ve got to realise that when they’re dealing with clients, or senior members of organis- ations, that they’ve got to communicate it appropriately and not in a manner that they may always communicate with their friends or colleagues.

Interviewees agreed that this kind of reflective adjustment to an audience’s preferred register is dependent on a speaker’s ability to listen and make appropriate communicative changes.

4.2.2 Vocabulary and slang. Several individual oral communication skills identified in the questionnaire concerned engaging in dialogue and using language and channels preferred by the communication partner. These included ‘explaining or making a topic intelligible’ to colleagues (x ¼ 4.28, Md ¼ 4.00, ranked ninth); ‘giving feedback’ to clients: (x ¼ 4.17, Md ¼ 4.00, ranked 13th); and ‘using appropriate vocabulary for the audience’, a general audience skill: (x ¼ 4.21, Md ¼ 4.00, ranked 10th). Follow-up inter- view questions seeking more information concerning the importance of explanatory and vocabulary skills elicited a number of specific concerns with the use of slang by new accountancy graduates. TO stated: ‘A lot of them have devolved into .. . use of a lot of colloquialisms that may not be acceptable to the older generation.’ According to NM, overly casual language destroys credibility.

It’s hard enough for a young person to break in and to be heard, I guess in a business sense when you’re trying to sell to, I guess older people or experienced people. If you come out with schoolyard slang, you don’t stand a chance.

Interviews emphasised the desirability in new graduates of a wide-ranging and flexible vocabulary (described by one interviewee as a mental ‘drop-down menu’ of words), oper- ating in tandem with the ability to access the correct level of spoken formality. After listening attentiveness and listening responsiveness, questionnaire results ident- ified the next five most highly valued individual oral communication skills as being: ‘Con- veying professional attitude of respect and interest in clients’ (x ¼ 4.68, Md ¼ 5.00);

‘Asking for clarification or feedback from management’ (x ¼ 4.57, Md ¼ 5.00); ‘Speaking on the telephone/making conference calls with clients’ (x ¼ 4.53, Md ¼ 5.00); ‘Describ- ing situations accurately and precisely to superior(s)’ (x ¼ 4.47, Md ¼ 5.00); and ‘Convey- ing a knowledgeable and confident demeanour to clients’ (x ¼ 4.45, Md ¼ 5.00). Please see Table 1 for a complete record of the average and median importance values accorded to each oral communication skill, as well as the reported mean and median frequency with which each skill was found in new accountancy graduates (see also, Gray, 2010).


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