“If one goes into a strange society and can do these three things, ask a question accurately, give a command accurately, and gloom and exclaim and enthuse at the proper moments, most of the rest of what you have to do is listen.” — Margaret Mead
Why is it so hard for internal auditors to stay quiet? Why do we move from step to step in our process without providing the silence that allows others to fully communicate? It’s not that we’re nonstop prattlers, constantly running off at the mouth. But we seem to have a fear of silence — an inability to quietly sit back, allowing communication and information to flow without interjecting our own thoughts and ideas.
We are not the only ones; people everywhere seem to believe proof of their existence requires constant verbalization. But success in our profession can only be achieved when we develop a metaphorical quiet place — a time and space that allows for uninterrupted flow of communication from the person with whom we are working.
In the earlier quote, U.S. anthropologist Margaret Mead details our role in allowing sufficient space for silence. And while what follows primarily relates to interviewing, it is applicable to all audit activities, including meetings, testing, and even report writing.
Give a command accurately. No, we are not literally giving commands when we perform audit work. But we do provide direction — specifically or by inference — that helps the client focus, move forward, and provide the communication we need.
Gloom and exclaim and enthuse at the proper moments. Successful communication requires empathy. Not to be confused with sympathy, or feeling sorry for someone, empathy is the unfeigned ability to recognize and relate to another person’s emotions. And showing that empathy by responding with gloom, exclamation, or enthusiasm, as appropriate, builds the rapport necessary for effective communication with audit clients.
Ask a question accurately. Mead listed this item first, but I saved it for last because of its importance. In our profession, we ask a lot of questions. But do we truly understand what we are asking, why we are asking it, and what we hope to gain? Before we begin any step in the audit process — before we open our mouths or begin a test or even place our fingers on the keyboard — we should pause to think about what we are about to express. We need to determine how it relates to what has happened before, how it applies to what’s currently happening, and how it will impact what happens next.
We have to know what to share, how to respond, and what to ask. But most importantly, we have to know when to say nothing at all. Silence is the opportunity we give others to provide the information we need.