Over the course of your career as an internal auditor, you will eventually encounter a difficult auditee. In these instances, emotional intelligence can help diffuse any swollen egos. But if these difficulties occur with any frequency, you may want to audit your own body language and behavior.
We’ve all encountered difficult auditees at one point in our career. Whether they were stubborn, angry, apathetic or withdrawn, many of us have seen it all. Oftentimes, emotions overrule logic. This is especially true when it comes to our jobs. As auditors, we’re looking for compliance and nonconformities. When we find the latter, we may trigger our auditee’s ego.
Humans want to believe we are smart, eloquent, flawless creatures. When a mistake is made, a shortcut is taken, or a glaring error is discovered, egos make it hard to accept the truth. Often, excuses and explanations bubble to the surface to protect the ego (and sometimes the integrity of the company). This behavior is rooted in childhood. When we’re younger, we’re taught we should avoid making mistakes as much as possible. But as we grow older, we learn the value of teachable moments brought on by mistakes.
But our auditees sometimes don’t see things that way. There are a few things you can do to mitigate difficult interactions during an audit.
Awareness and Rapport
A surefire way to develop your skills as an auditor is to focus on awareness. When you interact with others, what do you see, hear and feel? Notice body language, tone of voice, and the meaning in between words. How does the auditee make you feel? Can you determine what he or she may be feeling? These soft skills matter because you will build a profile of awareness based on your findings. Auditees are constantly giving you hints, cues, and even ammunition to diffuse the triggered ego and develop a fruitful professional interaction.
You may notice they seem stressed about a family member or even distracted. While you’re not there to serve as their therapist, you should try to build rapport as best as possible. Listen to what they say and try to respond in a thoughtful way. Good personal relationships can foster better professional relationships.
This awareness goes both ways. When you’re faced with a situation during an audit that causes your stress levels to rise, pause for a moment and check in with your own feelings. For example, perhaps a client says you cannot do your job because he or she is upset with your findings. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” and “Why does this upset me?” By processing these feelings, you’ll give yourself a buffer of time to respond instead of reacting emotionally.
The Human Side of Auditing
Why did you get into this profession? It may be to evaluate and analyze systems, processes and products. Perhaps the social interaction of the job was not the main draw for you to enter this field. And that is okay! Another way to channel the human side of auditing is to strengthen your emotional intelligence, specifically, your empathy. Empathy can pacify negative emotions instantly. Can you imagine the other party’s side of things? Can you remind yourself that the auditee is a partner, son/daughter, brother/sister, friend? What does the business mean to the client? Perhaps he or she wants to pass it down to a loved one in the future. Instead of pointing out the flaws, use the areas of improvement and nonconformance as steps to enhance the business for a better future. When you focus on the positive, your clients will be inspired to do the same.
If they are not, be sure not to lose your temper as this won’t get the desired result. It will in fact ignite their ego and cause further conflict. As the old saying goes, treat them as you would like to be treated. Let your client know your intentions behind what you are doing. Sometimes they might be resistant because they think you are being difficult with them! Giving the full background of why you are doing something, why something is needed by a certain date or why something is happening, might help them empathize with your situation. Showing your vulnerability is a great way to get people on board.
Be Aware of Yourself
One of the things you are in complete control of is yourself! In addition to the dialogue that occurs in your mind during auditing interactions, what do you feel in your body? You probably ignore subtle signs of discomfort, triggered ego, anger or impatience, and focus on responding to the conversation. When presented with information, do your shoulders tense? Is your brow furrowed? Are you absentmindedly clenching your fists? The entire body is engaged in a communication exchange so take care to watch these aspects. If you tend to scowl (whether meaning to do so or not), you may appear unapproachable to your clients. You could think you are portraying intrigue and concentration, but your body language is perceived as hostile.
We’re also often unaware of the tone of voice we have during conversations. After all, the way we think we sound in our heads and the way our voice actually sounds to others is quite different. For example, you could think you are delivering news or feedback in an even and neutral tone, but you actually sound annoyed or angry. Likewise, you may believe you sound confident and assertive, but your voice sounds soft and uncertain. If you always have this vocal intonation, you may be difficult to work with because others don’t trust your judgement or trust you to speak up when necessary.
Taming the Ego
The ego is so focused on the self, it tends to make you forget the bigger picture. When we’re focused on the bigger picture, our ego-driven feelings become irrelevant and trivial. In fact, our minds suddenly forget our egos exist for a moment. Think about team sports. All the members of the team want to do well, but it doesn’t matter who scores or who blocks. What matters is that the team works together to win the game. But sometimes the ego is too bruised and too focused on the self. This may lead an auditee to become difficult to work with.
You can do everything in you power to ensure you are in control of your ability to respond instead of reacting. Be aware of your body language, your emotions, and your vocal tone. But there will always be instances where the reaction and perceptions of others are completely out of your control. We all draw upon our past experiences, our personality types, and our current mood and state of mind when interacting with others. Sometimes all we can do is work on ourselves and hope modeling that self-awareness will inspire our clients to do the same.