Internal, external, systems or financial, you will, as an auditor, need to influence on a daily basis. But influencing is much more than a core audit skill; yes, you will find it explicitly referenced in the professional competency frameworks, as a sub-set of communication or interpersonal skills, but look further afield and you will find it key to all professional success, a veritable life skill you might say. As an auditor, develop, enhance and perfect your innate ability to influence and you are investing in one of the most marketable, transferable skills in the global workplace today.
Let's start by introducing Robert Beno Cialdini¹. Best known for his seminal 1985 work, 'Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion', the professor is widely considered the pioneer of the science of influence and persuasion. Don't let that pesky term persuasion put you off. Before your ethical alarm bells start buzzing at the notion of compromising auditor independence, let's check out our definitions:
If Persuading is inducing a third party to do something, modify an opinion or change a belief through sound reasoning;
And Negotiating involves discussion to reach a mutually agreed way forward;
Then Influencing is the sum of these two parts, neatly defined by the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors as: 'the ability to affect people's attitudes, beliefs and behaviours without using force, coercion or authority'.
Who? What? Why?
Auditors' influence is broad, deep and comprehensive; not only do we influence regulators at the highest levels, we influence our business partners, our clients and our colleagues. We need influencing skills for leadership in managing our teams (upwards as well as downwards), negotiating with the board and ultimately making representations to the audit committee. And let's not forget our friends, family and significant others!
Without a doubt you will already be an influencer to some degree, but by following our five golden rules you can really start to hone your influencing skills:
Know thyself. What is your natural style and approach to influencing?² Self-awareness is core to personal development so start by investing some time observing and recording how you influence people and situations. Do you direct, persuade or reason? Do you use coaching, collaboration or your technical expertise? How active or passive are? Can you recognise your default mode and how adaptable are you in using a selection of techniques appropriate to the situation?
Recognise your stakeholders. Be it your boss, the board, an interviewer or your team, your direct stakeholder is only the tip of the iceberg. Map out their stakeholders so you can build your influencing strategy to take into account the people your third party has, in turn, to influence and satisfy.
Understand your starting point. Imagine a continuum which spans the space between total accord and complete disharmony, where does your issue sit on this continuum? This is about finding common ground or a common starting point, so you can build a bridge employing planning, precision and logic to make a persuasive case from a point of understanding.
Think context. You will need the adaptability to flex your approach to the situation or person you are trying to influence. Ashbridge Business School³ provides a framework of four approaches: directive, persuasive reasoning, collaborative and visionary, and offers guidance on aligning the best approach to a particular scenario. You might, for example, choose a directive approach where you know you are the technical expert, you have high credibility and working within an intractable time-scale.
Sharpen your communication skills. Building rapport, actively listening for meaning and being seen to listen are vital foundation skills for any aspect of communication. But as an influencer you'll also be adept at appreciating and responding to the third party perspective and expressing yourself clearly and succinctly. There's always more you can do to enhance your communication skills. Check out 'Communication for Auditors' for a comprehensive guide and go back through the relevant articles of the current Audit Advantage series for the specifics on aspects on communication.
It is, for good reason, one of the most stalwart interview questions: 'describe a situation where you have influenced an outcome'. The ability to influence permeates everything we say and do in all aspects of our life and work. But it takes practice, practice and more practice and, despite Cialdini's venerable teachings, it could be said that influencing is as much art as science. And remember it isn't heavy handed persuasion. Good influencing is 'without force, coercion or authority'. Don't take your influencing prowess for granted, take heed of the words of A P J Abdul Kalam, former President of India:
'It Is Very Easy To Defeat Someone, but It Is Very Hard To Win Someone',
¹ Cialdini is a must-read for anyone keen to improve their influencing skills.
²There are lots of free Influencing style diagnostics on the web, as a starter try this one from Fast Track Tools.
³'Influence with Style', F Dent.
Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.