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​What Did You Say to Me?

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Here is a fundamental truth about social media. It is a Sargasso Sea of misinformation, logical voids, prattled inanities, and nattered nonsense — a sucking quicksand of uselessness that people return to with the unerring certainty of the junkie returning to the opium den. To quote Admiral Ackbar, "It's a trap!!!" 

And I confess, I stand on the brink of (and sometimes fall into) that bottomless void on a daily basis. I do a quick check on Facebook, get a sporadic update on Instagram, and see the latest infobits on Twitter — in sum, take that little hit of endorphins that comes from those oh-so-innocent updates.

At this point, I'm sure there are a couple of you sitting in your ivory towers looking down on us poor unfortunates, smug in the belief that you have kept yourself pure, never dipping your toes in the fetid pool of social media. However, your proclamations of aversion are short-lived. No, you are not playing in the Snapchat-TikTok-Tumblr-Reddit-Discord-Twitch worlds. But you are reading this blog and, I am sorry to inform you, it is a form of social media. And any time you read a blog or get a LinkedIn account or simply hear others talk about what they have heard, you are part of the game. There is no escape.

All of the preceding, in its garrulous loquacity, is an introduction to a discussion about a significant issue/problem with the supposed conversations that occur on social media. Many of us get a little riled up when we come across something on social media with which we do not agree. And I find that it can take nothing more than a certain word, phrase, sentence, or image to put me in a very bad way. Such postings trigger something in me. I feel my pulse begin to race, my blood pressure increase, and my ability to be a critical thinker disappear down a drain of fury. No hyperbole here; there is a physical, sometimes violent, reaction to what I see. And I know there are a number of you out there who have similar experiences. Social media has conditioned us to react — to live in a world where snippets are considered valuable information and response is expected in microseconds rather than after pausing to think.

But, in spite off all the preceding, I'm not here to cast aspersions on social media. Rather, let's talk about those triggers and reactions.

I have recognized the way social media sets off those triggers within me. (The first step is recognizing you have a problem.)  And when I see it happen, I try my best to step back from the edge of bullied insanity and let the calm, rational parts of my mind take over. Sometimes it doesn't work. And I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for some of the responses I've put on Facebook. But, as I become more aware of it happening and realize how unhealthy it is to let such small things get me fired up, I do my best to step back and take a few calming breaths. Yes, I may still respond, but I hope those responses are more thorough, reasoned, and nuanced.

So, I'm trying to watch my personal triggers. But what triggers do I use that may cause similar reactions in others — triggers that cause them to react rather than think?

Which leads to the bigger picture. What do we say, what do we write, and how do we act that sets off the triggers of those with whom we are working? Are we aware how the words we use might impact the effectiveness of audit work? Do we recognize that a slip of the tongue might turn a hesitant client into an active adversary? And do we even think about the words we use?

Here, to my mind, is an example of the tone-deaf auditor. I got this response to a recent blog post.

Does Internal audit have customers or auditees, that is the question. If you want to have customers, start selling ice-cream; if you want to have auditees, start auditing.

You want a trigger word? Try using "auditee." There is a reason that the profession has done its best to move away from what is now considered to be a disparaging term. I've been around a long time; I fall into the trap of occasionally using it. And when it happens, I see everyone around me cringe — auditors and nonauditors alike.

I'd love to know what this person's relationship with clients is like. Maybe it's all wonderful and the clients don't mind being thought of as auditees. But I'm willing to bet dollars to mechanical pencils that there is tension between the two teams. And the use of the word "auditee" shows either a tone-deafness on the part of the person who wrote this or is an indictment against that auditor's attitude when it comes to the people with which he or she works.

Words matter. And the term "auditee" is just one instance. Another example: When we want to report something that needs to be corrected, do we call it an issue, a finding, an irregularity, an opportunity? Each word has its own benefits and its own baggage, and the correct one to use — the one that will not set off our client's triggers — depends on the client.

Another reply to another of my blog posts.

Some people have said on LinkedIn that the words don't matter; it's what you do that matters. Well, that's true in some circumstances; we can all think of governments saying one thing and doing another. But that doesn't mean words don't matter — if they didn't, people wouldn't criticize governments for hypocrisy. For those on LinkedIn who think words are irrelevant, I wonder if they'd feel the same way if their employment contracts (mere words) suddenly changed. I suspect not. Words matter. 

Language matters.

The mere fact that we are called "auditors" already sets many people on edge. And, yes, I know some departments are starting to use other terms. But, even in those instances, people can see behind the change. Sorry, no matter what word they hear — auditor, consultant, advisor, etc. — they will react. And that reaction, generally, is not positive. Which means one more trigger may be all it takes for them to turn on us — to start yelling, screaming, and making the task of working with that person more difficult. (I've got a couple of stories on that one. We can talk at the All Star Conference's welcome reception on Monday night.)

We all have triggers that can set us off. It is important for us to understand ourselves, how we react, and how to get those reactions under control. (That is big part of emotional intelligence. Look it up.) But we have to pay attention to others, doing our best to avoid the possible triggers. And, when we see ourselves about to step on those landmines, we have to step back and find a different, better way to communicate.

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