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Building a Better Auditor: The Funny Thing About Humor In Internal Auditing

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There is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: "If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide."

No, I am not saying I would do that, but my life would be insipid without a sense of humor. It is a weapon against troubles, a valuable tool for conflict management, and an integral part of my life.

Well, you might ask, "But, what should we do with your weapons and tools? Why should we waste our valuable internal audit time on reading this?"

OK, have a little patience, dear friends. The thing is, I not only use humor in my personal life, it also is an integral part of my internal audit practice, and I highly recommend you use it in yours.

So, when and how might internal auditors use their sense of humor? For sure, the first and main application is communicating with audit clients.

Unfortunately, conflicts are inevitable in audit work. Audit clients sometimes disagree with the findings reported, and even more frequently, they disagree with the wording used to describe the observations. In that case, auditors definitely need our good old "diplomacy and assertiveness." We have to be able to persuade politely, and one of the methods to do that is through humor.

I don't know whether you have been informed or not, but I'll share it with you: Audit clients are people, not robots or extraterrestrials. That is why, even in cases when they are ready to "kill" you for the issues observed and reported, trust me, humor may — and probably will — rescue you from that horrible fate.

Just stay calm, put yourself in the client's shoes, and start smiling. Find a reason to make a joke. The best beginning for making jokes in a heated debate is to laugh to yourself.

However, always remember that there is a fine line between a good and kind joke and a self-depreciating one. It is an art to balance between these two concepts. The goal is to make an audit client respect you, not to take you lightly.

For instance, you may use some form of paradoxical intention, which is a counseling technique in which the counselor intensifies the client's emotional state to help that person understand the irrationality of the emotional reaction. What I mean here is that you may laugh at the negativity of your own report, saying to yourself, for example, "Come on guy, why are you so negative?" Or, while pretending you are talking about some third party, you could ask the audit client, "Does this guy have a grudge against you?"

In my own practice, this method has always worked. For sure, there might be cases when an audit client will not accept your attempts to ease the tension.

Where else might internal auditors use their sense of humor? Among your teammates, of course. Joke, smile, and laugh — it is the best way for team building:

  • If you are a manager, your sense of humor will get you closer to the staff. It will show the employees that you are not an alien being from another world. Nevertheless, managers should take certain precautionary measures. Your jokes must be kind and in no way offensive or abusive. To manage this kind of situation, you may use the method of laughing to yourself again, providing that your jokes are not too self-depreciating. Moreover, to keep fairness and equality, you must be ready to accept the jokes of your subordinates.

  • If you are a staff auditor, your sense of humor will simplify the process of becoming part of the team. Precautions similar to those noted for managers should be taken in this case, as well. One more tip: Be especially attentive about your jokes with internal audit managers. You never know how vindictive your boss is.


In my own practice, I make jokes despite the status of a colleague. If there is a space for a good joke, I do it — no matter if it is with a low-level employee or a senior manager. Certainly, it does not mean the only thing I do is tell jokes (sometimes I work and speak seriously), but I really use my sense of humor as much as reasonably possible.


Aziz Fataliyev, CIA, is president and chairman of the board of IIA–Azerbaijan, and head of the internal audit department at Yelo Bank OJSC in Azerbaijan.

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