​Sharing Difficult News

Internal Auditor’s latest winning scholarship essay examines how internal auditors can best communicate tough messages to their customers and stakeholders.

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Abigail Andrews

​Internal auditors have the responsibility to communicate findings to customers and stakeholders even when the news is difficult. John Engels, president of Leadership Coaching Inc., identifies a three-stage process that can guide an internal auditor through the delivery of a difficult message. The steps include clarifying the message, overruling avoidance, and executing the message (Engels).

To begin, the internal auditor must organize a clear message by laying out the facts in a logical order. The auditor should also give the recipient an idea of the consequences of the findings and what he or she can expect to happen next. Organizing a message this way will help the auditor convey an objective and professional message. Recipients usually become upset by a message when they feel they are not being looked at objectively, notes Alyssa Martin, partner in charge of Risk Advisory Services and executive partner at Weaver LLC (Seago). Organizing a clear message is not only beneficial for the recipient but can also help the internal auditor feel more confident about the delivery.

Confidence is the key to Engels’ second step to delivering a difficult message: overruling avoidance (Engels). Avoidance comes out of anxiety, which occurs not only when the auditor’s message has not been clarified, but also when the auditor has not established a relationship with the recipient. The best solution is to build a relationship with the recipient from the beginning of the audit. Robert Berry, executive director of internal audit at the University of South Alabama, suggests remaining in constant communication with weekly updates throughout the entire audit (Seago). By doing this, the auditor can develop a relationship with the recipient and establish credibility and familiarity. Once the auditor has developed a clear message and a relationship with the recipient, he or she is prepared to deliver the findings.

The final stage of Engels’ process is executing the message which requires both directness and sensitivity (Engels). Incorporating the following guidelines will help ensure a positive delivery. First, the presenter should include positive facts in the discussion in addition to the negative ones. For example, the auditor could recognize processes that are working well in addition to those that need to be altered. Second, Manny Rosenfeld, senior vice president of Internal Audit of MoneyGram International Inc., also suggests open and non-aggressive body language when delivering difficult messages (Seago). Finally, the auditor should make clear that the purpose of the message is not to make the recipient look bad, but rather to help improve an important issue for the company.

Auditors are quite skilled technically, but due to the customer-contact aspect of the field, they also need to become proficient in their soft skills. Internal auditors make sure the issues they find are resolved by not only relaying their findings but ensuring understanding. Becoming comfortable with delivering difficult findings takes practice but following Engels’ steps can help an auditor through the task.

Works Cited

Engels, John J. "Delivering Difficult Messages." Journal of Accountancy, 1 July 2007. Accessed 30 Dec. 2016.
Seago, Jane. "It's All in the Delivery." InternalAuditor.org, 23 Dec. 2016. Accessed 1 Jan. 2017.

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