Internal audit is in a unique and challenging position; while responsible for providing assurance on the organization's ability to achieve its objectives, practitioners effectively have no authority over any of the operations and people it reviews. Without this authority, auditors face increased challenges to obtaining buy-in while managing conflict inherent in the process. Understanding and use of emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), can help internal auditors smooth these waters throughout the audit process.
A key to successful buy-in is ensuring that internal audit's motivations are in alignment with the customer's. It begins with internal audit understanding its own motivations — from the broad goal of organizational improvement to more specific goals such as helping customers understand internal audit's value, putting customers at ease with the audit process, and even something as basic as getting the audit plan completed on time. A focus on the personal competence skills within EQ — including accurate self-assessment and commitment to aligning group and organizational goals — can ensure internal audit has an accurate understanding of its own motivations.
Internal audit must then understand and react to the goals and motivations of its customers. The shared goal of achieving organizational and departmental objectives is important. But customers will also have their own underlying motivations that internal audit should work to discover throughout the audit process. Social competence skills such as understanding others' perspectives, service orientation through anticipating customers' needs, and communicating by listening openly will help internal audit learn about and manage these responses.
These underlying motivations are often the cause of conflict escalation. Conflict, in and of itself, is not bad. Healthy conflict can help generate creative solutions and ensure that one individual's ideas and suggestions do not dominate others' opinions. But the trick is ensuring that healthy conflict is promoted while unhealthy conflict is kept under control.
Once again, the social competences of EQ come into play. Rather than responding to what the customer is saying, the internal auditor should try to understand why the response is occurring. Practicing empathy skills such as understanding the feelings and perspectives of others, service orientation through anticipating and recognizing customers' needs, and the political awareness of a group's emotional currents and power relationships will help the internal auditor gain a perspective on the motivations behind the customer's response. Emotional intelligence social skills such as influence, communicating openly, building bonds by nurturing relationships, and collaborating and cooperating by working with others toward a shared goal can then be used to bring the conversation back to the topic of working toward an effective resolution.
To learn more about how EQ can help internal auditors maintain positive, productive relationships throughout the organization, read "How's Your EQ?" or watch "Emotional Intelligence for Internal Auditors."