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Self-management Can Save Even the Most Contentious Internal Audits

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To be an effective leader and internal auditor, it takes mastery of emotional intelligence (EQ), including all four of the EQ domains defined by psychologist Daniel Goleman. A broad, well-balanced embrace of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management is critical for internal auditors to be able to communicate in challenging, high-stress situations and be successful. (I stressed the importance of self-awareness in the blog "For Internal Audit, EQ Trumps IQ.")

To master the second domain of self-management, we in internal audit must embrace four capabilities: self-control, adaptability, achievement orientation, and positive outlook. All of these are specific, learned competencies that set the best performers apart from the average.

An engagement from early in my career offers a great example of the benefits of self-management. I was part of a team that investigated accounts payable fraud. Someone had mistakenly placed a stop payment on a check by a simple keying error. When the angry manager of the payday loan center where the check had been stopped called the company, red flags were raised and internal audit was called in to figure out what was going on.

Through our investigation, we quickly learned the check was part of fraud scheme involving sending checks to family members and narrowed down the suspects to a single person. Well-prepared, the experienced internal audit manager and I sat down with the suspect to ask questions. When it became clear to the individual what was going on, she became increasingly angry and ultimately verbally abusive. As a fairly new auditor seeing this for the first time, I was stunned by the reaction and angered by the individual's behavior. The manager, on the other hand, stayed incredibly calm throughout the confrontation.

I later asked the manager how he had remained so calm throughout the verbal barrage. His response taught me a great lesson: "If I hadn't remained calm and focused on listening rather than arguing, I would have missed that she confirmed almost everything we found."

During her tirade, the individual covered a lot of ground beyond her personal attacks: "My daughter is not part of this." She was. "I never mailed any checks." She did.

The investigation had uncovered that checks ranging from $500 to $20,000 were being sent to a person in another state. The internal audit manager had been careful not to mention several details during the interview, so when she did, he knew he had her. In my own frustration and impulse to defend us from her verbal assault, I had completely missed her near-confessions.

As I thought about the remarkable restraint my manager showed, I realized not only did he demonstrate EQ, he specifically showed the ability to balance the competencies that make up the EQ domain of self-management.

The manager showed incredible self-control by being prepared, listening, and then walking away. He kept his impulses and emotions in check.

He adapted when the suspect flipped the conversation to personal accusations. He handled the change by staying focused on his purpose.

His achievement would be corroborating the evidence we had already obtained with statements from the perpetrator. He stayed positive by not giving in to the hurtful commentary and instead listening to determine his next step in the conversation.

While this case involved fraud and was a bit more extreme than our normal day-to-day interactions, we must always ask ourselves: How do we self-manage when it comes to EQ? How can we learn to better practice self-control, be adaptable, strive to improve, and stay positive? Here are a few simple tips:

  • Listen. I mean truly listen. Don't start crafting your next sentence. Listen to what the person is saying and let that guide where you need to go next.
  • Stay silent. Silence is a powerful tool. First, because it allows you to think and craft the right message; second, because people holding something back can't stand silence and will often say anything to fill the void, including exactly what you are hoping to hear.
  • Stay calm and don't focus on defending yourself. If you do, it is unlikely you will take in everything that is being said.
  • Be adaptable and willing to admit you are wrong. Conversations can take interesting turns and reveal new information. Sticking to your script and not adapting to the changing circumstances can drive a wedge between the auditor and the audit client.

The key to success includes self-control, adaptability, and staying on a positive path to achieving your desired outcomes. Otherwise, it is easy for internal auditors to get caught up in the disarray we are trying to address.

That's my point of view. I'd be happy to hear yours.

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