• Andrew Thornhill

People skills that are important for an effective audit

In this blog we are going to look at why people skills are critical in an effective audit. While technology is often used to enhance the audit process, people skills are still going to be immensely important in order to make the process run as smoothly as possible.



Internal auditing it is an information gathering exercise. With good communication, you can make it clear to the auditees what you’re looking for and maximise the chance that they, in a very time effective manner can provide the evidence you need.


It helps build rapport, and when people skills are not managed well, the opposite can occur and it can put people offside.


I have seen auditors who are very technically skilled in the audit process and the area they are auditing (be it safety or environment), but sometimes their people skills and communication skills are unfortunately making the auditees more nervous than they need to be.


Some key people skills are;

  • Interview

  • Listening

  • Rapport

  • Non Verbal Communication (NVC)

  • Conflict Resolution

  • Empathy

Interview:

In an earlier blog we talked about the different question types. We talked about the need to manage interviews, to ask the right questions to help seek out the evidence as part of our people skills.


Listening:

You could be the best interviewer in the world but this is no use if you’re not listening to what the auditee is telling you, then using some brain power to think about whether what they’re telling you relates back to the audit criteria you are trying to cover.


Rapport:

Good people skills are critical in making auditees feel comfortable, building that rapport, trusting the process and trusting the way you treat information. With good people skills, you find, all of a sudden when people are comfortable they share a lot more information with you.


Non Verbal communication:

I did mention in one of the earlier blogs that non-verbal communication will be absolutely critical in the audit, and we’ll look at that from 2 perspectives this time.


I mentioned that if auditees were uncomfortable with the process, they tend to express it initially through their non-verbal communication. A good auditor who is perceptive to that can take some action to try and address that situation proactively before we have any further problems.


Equally, as an auditor, you want your own body language or non-verbal communication to match up as well, which will help maximise the auditees understanding of what we are looking for. This is inclusive of the words and tone you are using. Often the tone you are using can be misinterpreted without you even realising it. Sometimes it can come across as a little bit prickly, judgemental or condescending, even if you don’t intend it to.


If you are auditing someone and rolling your eyes as they give a response, they will pick that up straight away and you will notice that the information they are telling you shortens right down.


We are not always aware we are doing that, so an appropriate approach is professional but friendly; open body language, without looking like we are on holiday on a sun lounge somewhere.


Conflict Resolution:

Conflict resolution is something we have touched on before too. This is being aware of any business situation where there can be a potential for conflict, disagreement or clash of ideas. These things can often become apparent if people do not feel comfortable or you have not built the rapport.


Empathy:

Rather than a ‘people skill’ as such, empathy could be thought of as a personal attribute. This is going to be very important, among other personal attributes if you are auditing someone who is under a lot of pressure.


As an example, if you have to audit a production manager, who is under a lot of work load pressure to get a job out the door, you need to be able to show some empathy in that situation.


It may be worth it to change your approach and not sit down and question them for 2 hours. If they are under genuine pressure, they are going to really appreciate that.

People skills are going to be absolutely fundamental at all stages of the audit for it to be effective.


Once the audit is completed, if you have taken a lot of effort to build rapport or communicate the objective, scope and criteria of the audit, make sure you do what you can to keep this rapport.


This means that if you have to tell them that there are findings of non-conformance (which can often have a negative connotation), you need to deal with this diplomatically and tactfully.



OTHER AUDITING BLOGS:

Do you need an audit plan? (and how to create one)

How to gather OBJECTIVE audit evidence

How MUCH audit evidence is enough to draw a factual finding?

What you can do if the auditee is uncomfortable with the audit process

How to audit a process that is not defined

How to develop an internal audit schedule

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© IRM Systems 2019