Conflict Resolution in your Audit Career
If you’ve been blessed with purely tranquil waters in your audit career, then good on you! But if, like the rest of the population, you navigate through the turbulent waters of complicated people, delicate relationships or outright conflict, this article is for you.
Conflict manifests in all shapes and sizes and many different guises:
- Disagreement on policy and procedure: what and how, and by whom - e.g. Budgetary cut backs, who’s responsible for what.
- Interdependence: one job affecting another - e.g. Finance team late with data causes auditor to miss deadline.
- Differences in style and approach - e.g. The ‘task orientated’ member of the team just wants to get the job done quickly, while for the ‘process orientated’ member having it done in a particular way is paramount. A preference to work alone as opposed to as a team effort. One leader is open and inclusive whilst another is directive and autocratic.
- Personality clash: relationship tensions often fuelled by emotion - e.g. Suspicion of others’ motives. Power clash, unyielding, competitive at all costs. Hard feelings, resentment.
- Incongruent goals - e.g. Resistance including: Lack of commitment, Conflicts of interest
Wherever there are people, there is conflict
With so much scope for conflict, it’s a wonder we ever do anything in harmony! However conflict is an inevitable part of auditing jobs and life as well. If you haven’t encountered it before now, you probably soon will!
Conflict is not always bad. Effectively resolved, conflict can bring personal and professional growth plus an opportunity for constructive change.
8 tips to resolve conflict
- Value Relationships. Adopt the core values: mutual respect, courtesy, patience, flexibility.
- Learn to Communicate. Avoid festering and escalation. Get issues into the open quickly.
- Deal with issues rather than personalities. There is no such thing as a ‘difficult’ person. By separating the problem from the person, issues can be tackled while the relationship is safeguarded.
- Listen Actively. Understand where the other persons position before defending your own. Listen with empathy and try to appreciate the other person’s point of view.
- Agree the issue. Disparate needs, values and goals mean we perceive issues differently. Different people see different problems. Even if you can't establish a common perception of the problem, you need to understand what the other person sees as the problem.
- Agree the objective. Where do you both want to be? What will progress look like?
- Describe the conflict in objective terms: how does it affect performance/client service/the team?
- Explore options together: brainstorm, remain open to all ideas.
As a auditing middle manager, Jenny was performing well. She had a strong, productive relationship with her line manager. They worked together so effectively that they consistently overachieved. As such, the line manager was promoted and moved to another department.
Jenny had no apprehension about the change. She had a strong understanding of her personal objectives and the objectives of the business; she looked forward to the challenge of inducting a new manager into the department.
Unfortunately the reality was somewhat different. Within days she realised things weren’t right. It was clear that she and the new manager had a personality clash. Nothing she did was right, communication broke down and both felt the other lacking. Within weeks, the department’s performance dropped, deadlines were missed and the two were bristling with resentment.
As her coach, I was called upon to resolve the situation. What quickly came to the fore was the extent of Jenny’s relationship with her former management. The two were different personalities and as such brought different strengths to the relationship.
The result was a powerful cooperation where the whole was larger than the sum of the parts. Without her old boss, Jenny had become just one of the parts.
Jenny and I performed a quick analysis to identify the new manager’s strengths as a leader and the value that he brought to the role. This produced a considerable list; Jenny couldn’t help but be impressed. So what was the issue?
It wasn’t what the manager actually did – it was the way that he did it. This realisation was helpful as Jenny could now find a way forward. We then had to look at what Jenny herself was doing, we can’t change other people but we can change our own behaviour.