By CPA Derrick Majani, [email protected].
Career progression in any field is dependent on many factors, including skill and experience and, often, being in the right place at the right time. In the audit and risk management profession there are many high-quality people vying for the same roles. Additionally, the progression of many managers up the proverbial audit ladder is stymied due to one significant distinguishing factor: communication skills. In the audit world, some auditors tend to use fear, uncertainty and doubt as methods of enforcement. When speaking to non technical oriented team members, it is easy to generate fear, which may inadvertently lead to rumors that can damage the credibility of the auditors and/or the audit departments.Such negative methods by auditors will not contribute to success in building long-term relationships with auditees.
For auditors, the focus is on oral and written communication. To be successful, auditors must establish face-to-face relationships with auditees and develop a level of trust. Furthermore, complete and accurate work papers in addition to compelling audit reports are important throughout the audit process. Auditing skills and ability are extremely important; however, without a high level of communication, all ability is for naught. It has been said that interpersonal skills are more important than auditing skills in this profession. Internal audit is comparable to the sales group inside an organization, in that, audit must constantly sell its value and role. The need for auditors to constantly sell their value highlights the importance of refined communication skills. Some best practices and key areas of communication include;
The 7 C’s of communication
• Mode of communication
• Conflict management
• Active listening
The 7 C’s of Communication Communication, via emails, meetings, phone conversations and instant messaging, for example, is the foundation of all business. The 7 C’s of communication provide a checklist for making sure that all forms of communication, including meetings, emails, conference calls, reports and
presentations, are well constructed and clear.
The 7 C’s of communication are:
1. Clarity/coherence—this may seem obvious, but clear and coherent communication is not as easy as it
seems. Communication should be focused— with no question about the intention or the objective. Irrelevance should be eliminated, and logic must be embraced.
2. Concise—many people are familiar with people who like to use long words and sentences to project intelligence, often producing the opposite effect. The elimination of space killers and a focus on useful words is key. Concise communication keeps audiences engaged and interested.
3. Complete/correct—Communication is a fine art; it is important to paint a complete picture so that all facts and circumstances are understood. Communication should be accurate and honest. It is okay for people to admit that they do not know something—admit it, attempt to find the answer and move forward.
4. Captivating—Communication must be interesting and engaging at all times. Comprehension and listening significantly decrease if people do not see how they are personally involved in the communication. Compelling language that encourages action should be utilized. This commands more attention and better
5. Conversational—An adult’s comprehension tends to decrease significantly (during training) when
a speaker talks to the audience rather than with the audience. People must be engaged and feel comfortable enough to speak.
6.Courteous—Communications are most effective when they are two-way, not one-way. Communication should be professional, but friendly and approachable.
7. Concrete—One should communicate with specifics and certainty, eliminating as much ambiguity as possible and keeping communications direct and to the point.
One of the major issues with inter office communication is the separation of personal and professional points of view. Emotion tends to weigh down healthy and straight forward communication and the comprehension of what is being communicated. Communication should be kept at a professional level; personal feelings should not affect communication. It is important to remember that communication should not be taken personally in the workplace. In certain instances, auditees may take audit findings or recommendations personally. For auditors, communication must be kept on a professional level and emotion must be eliminated as much as possible. The auditor should remain focused on the issue and the root of the problem.
Miscommunication is the number-one cause of unnecessary conflict. Assumptions can take on a world of their own. People who assume let the assumption take over the conversation and, thus, do not fully comprehend the communication. Auditors must not assume anything, must keep an open mind and must be open to conversations. Many miscommunications are bred from assumptions and are affected by the mode of communication. Auditors should ensure that communications to auditees are clear, and they should avoid miscommunication as much as possible.
Mode of Communication
The mode of communication can significantly change the tone and meaning of communication. Generation Z3 is well take on a world of their own. Confronting issues head-on breeds confidence and trust in management. When discussing an audit issue, lay out the facts and be straightforward.
• Make the initial statement, then stop talking—When confronting an issue, make an initial statement and then stop talking. This is against human nature; during confrontation, many want to state their case and not stop until they believe they have sufficiently made their case. On the other hand, the other party in the conflict feels that they are being railroaded and belittled. Conflict is healthy when there is two-way communication. One-way communication will never resolve an issue. After the initial statement is made, give ample opportunity for the other parties to discuss the statement and give their viewpoints. This creates a back-and forth communication that is more effective in resolving a confrontation.
•Avoid arguing during the confrontation—No matter what is said during a confrontation, regardless of how personal a statement is, arguing is never valuable or effective. Silence is preferable.
•Know the desired resolution prior to the confrontation— Many pointless confrontations occur because the parties do not know before the confrontation what resolution they want. Without a known resolution, confrontation is meaningless and tends to be emotional. The best way to convince auditees that change is necessary is to present the idea as theirs. Via significant dialogue with the auditees, and through showing an understanding of their perspective and ideas, the auditor can lead auditees in the direction of the recommendation.
•Focus on the real issue of the confrontation—Many confrontations become emotional when there is a lack of focus on the real issue. It becomes a blame game with a multitude of excuses. If the conversation deteriorates into a blame game, take a break or a deep breath and eliminate blame. Refocus on the primary objectives of resolving the issue and alleviating concerns that the issue will reoccur at a later date.
Listening is a major part of communication. It takes effort to listen and comprehend. Auditors must be good listeners and must focus on the content and meaning of a conversation. When participants lack strong listening skills, audit interviews lose their value. The following points can enable more optimized listening:
• Ignore phone calls during a conversation, and abstain from multitasking; ensure that the conversation is the primary focus. Conversations can become relatively meaningless and devalued when combined
• Look at the other person, and focus on the words and meanings. Eye contact is important because it breeds trust and confidence. Maintaining eye contact keeps the focus on the conversation at hand.
• Avoid interruptions.
• Resist jumping to conclusions. It can be difficult not to jump to conclusions. The listener may hear something that takes comprehension away from the remainder of the conversation. Regardless of what is said, keep an open mind and follow up on any concerns when the opportunity arises
• Concentrate on the flow and back and-forth of the conversation rather than focusing on bits of information or past parts of the conversation.
Communication is key to an organization’s success. In general, audit skills and talents are very important, and not everyone is capable of becoming a good auditor. On the other hand, interpersonal and
communication skills are as, or more, important than general audit capabilities. If an auditor cannot effectively communicate a finding or recommendation, the solution will fall on deaf ears. All the internal and IT audit talents in the world are deemed relatively useless when the auditor lacks the ability to effectively communicate the goals and findings of an audit.
Auditors who strive to advance into managerial roles need strong communication skills to take the next step. This is the missing piece for many auditors, but it can be achieved with training and effort. Auditors must become optimized communicators, and should not assume that the people with whom they interact are not optimized communicators.