​​​​What Do They Think When They Hear We're Coming?​​

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Auditor: n) from the Anglo-French auditour — listener.

Are you a good listener? Funny how "auditor," a word that started out as something so desirable, has come (for some) to evoke fear and dread — like "dentist."

In my previous blog on "tone," I wrote about perception and the written word. Today I'd like to revisit perception as it pertains to the way we present ourselves in person. I touched on this in a blog back in July 2012, but it bears repeating.

We are victims of the stereotypes we perpetuate. Mention the word "audit" to most people and their anxiety level will rise. For some, the closest association emotionally would be that of getting a traffic ticket. Think about it. How different would it make you feel if the policeman who pulled you over, instead of just jumping in with bad news, complimented you on your driving and positioned himself as there to help you? Okay, maybe that analogy is a stretch.

Our professional standards say we have to be objective, but that doesn't mean we can't be human. There's already a tendency for people to see internal auditors as cold and impersonal. I suggest that it is incumbent upon us to change this stereotype, by 1) acknowledging that it exists, and 2) actively working to change it by honing our people skills. 

The point is that successful internal audit engagements/interviews often can begin by simply breaking the ice. A few minutes invested in getting to know the people we are auditing or interviewing as people instead of "auditees" (gosh, I hate that term), can pay dividends throughout the process, and especially when it comes to getting buy-in on implementation of audit recommendations.

Despite the stereotypes, internal auditors are human first. It's only in trying so hard to be objective that we may accidentally flip our personality switches to off, and I believe we do so to our own detriment. I think it is possible to be collegial and objective at the same time — to "trust but verify," as the old expression goes.

It may help to recognize that audited activity officials face exactly the same issues and challenges we do. They are under the same time pressures and the same resource constraints. The only difference is that we are fortunate enough not to be the ones being audited. And, as I often have pointed out, we should be very glad that is the case, because I am not so sure that everything we do as internal auditors is as efficient as possible.

What I'm really talking about here is empathy. Submitting to an audit is an exercise in vulnerability. A little basic human understanding can go a long way toward changing the way people think of internal auditors. Remember, our goal here is to improve the organization. That usually works best when we all work together.

I welcome your thoughts on this timeless topic.

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