Knowledge and traditional skills are essential to success, but they can only take an auditor so far. Even for the most adept practitioners, objectives cannot be achieved merely with intelligence, technical proficiency, and expertise. To work effectively with clients, internal auditors need strong soft skills — many of which fall under emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ). Emotionally intelligent people understand, accept, and manage their own emotions, and they can read the emotions of others. Internal auditors with high EQ treat people with empathy and can manage feelings and relationships just as well as objective, quantifiable engagement goals. Emotional intelligence is vital to fulfilling our professional responsibilities.
Perhaps most importantly, having a high EQ enables practitioners to communicate effectively. Assessing the organization’s risk management framework, developing a risk-based audit plan, obtaining management agreement in response to audit results, and reporting to the audit committee all require extensive, careful interaction with stakeholders. Internal auditors need to communicate well across all levels of the organization, ensuring a robust understanding of their value proposition.
To ensure communications are well-received and acted upon, internal auditors also must be able to build relationships — another area requiring high EQ. Audit engagements are a team effort between auditor and client, requiring practitioners to balance professional skepticism with the need for rapport. They must ask probing questions related to risk and controls but avoid putting clients on the defensive. Taking the right approach requires empathy and social skills — key elements of EQ.
Delivering quality work, and maintaining engagement schedules, also requires auditor EQ. Multiple deadlines, heavy workloads, and other pressures can take a toll on audit performance — and even lead to burnout if not managed correctly. But according to The Impact of Emotional Intelligence on Auditor Judgment, published by Virginia Commonwealth University, auditors with a high degree of EQ manage pressures and timelines better, exercise superior judgment, and maintain professional skepticism. The result is a better experience for both auditor and client, and a superior outcome for the organization.
The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Future of Jobs report ranked EQ among the top 10 high-demand skills for organizations; just five years ago, it was absent from the ranking. High-EQ professionals are sought more than ever for the value they can deliver to stakeholders. And in an era of increasingly sophisticated technologies such as artificial intelligence, the ability to manage and respond to emotion is a key trait separating the work of people from that of machines and automation. EQ-related competencies need to be an integral part of every role in an organization, and they must certainly be a top priority for internal auditors.