The Auditor's Communication Strategy
Effective communication. The core competence for our profession. Listening, interrogating, understanding, translating, feeding back: whichever way you look at it, good two-way communication is critical for the auditor, and something which hopeful recruits should definitely look to improve if they are applying for audit jobs.
So, let us now take this a step further and consider how we can hone this vital skill set. Let’s focus on tailoring our communication to the diverse range of individuals we deal with on an ongoing basis.
The Process of Communication
Communication is the transmission of information. But how does this process actually work? Well firstly, we identify the thoughts that we want to communicate. We put these thoughts into a logical sequence. Then, thoughts and representations are put into words and spoken. The words are heard by the recipient, who proceeds to re-interpret and make their own sense of them.
We all have a different view of the world
When information is communicated, it passes through our internal filter system, which is basically how we, as unique individuals, each see the world. We effectively modify information received, as we relate it to our view and understanding of our world. This understanding, based upon filters (such as deletion, distortion and generalization) becomes our personal representation.
Communicating effectively is all about understanding this process. Once you know some of the strategies of the person with whom you are communicating, you can adapt your approach to complement their style.
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
Information comes in through our sensory input channels. There are 5 in all but in the context of communication the 3 main channels are:
- Visual : what we see, including the body language and physiology of others
- Auditory: the sounds we hear, the words spoken and the way these are spoken
- Kinaesthetic: our internal and external feelings. External includes touching and how things feel – texture and pressure. Internal include feelings like stress and tension.
Communication takes two. So whether you achieve your desired communication objective will depend on:
- Your own filtering systems, and those of the other person
- Your view of the world, and the view of the other person
- Your thinking and communicating style, and that of the other person
And that’s just for starters!
You say 'to-may-toe', I say 'to-mah-toe'
We interpret words depending on our initial comprehension plus our previous experience of using them. So, for example, I might use the term ‘outstanding’ when you’d choose ‘good’, to describe exactly the same thing. Ask 100 people in a room what ‘competitive advantage’ means and you’re likely to get 30-40 different answers depending on the individual’s personal experience of that word.
Which is why Goethe cheerfully informed us ‘No one would talk much in society if they knew how often they misunderstood others’.
Bewildered? Disheartened? Despondent? Please don’t be. Help is at hand!
From understanding to application
Time to put all of this together. Now that we recognise that each individual has a unique view of the world and their own thinking and communicating style, we can begin transforming information into knowledge.
Great communicators become great by eliciting other individuals’ communication strategies and then actively flexing their own style to complement. You can do this too; simply notice how other people think and learn and tailor your communications accordingly.
‘Words calculated to catch everyone may catch no one’, Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.
We can elicit someone’s communication strategy by listening to the verbal indicators they use in everyday speech. For example, if we meet someone who makes decisions because ‘it looks right’ and uses mainly visual indicators, we will find it easier to explain things by showing them a diagram or using phrases such as ‘can you see it?’ or ‘just imagine’.
Here are some examples of words people use for the 3 main modalities:
- Visual: see, look, envision
- Auditory: hear, sounds, rings a bell
- Kinaesthetic: feel, grasp, get hold of
And some indicator phrases that offer clues:
- Visual: appears to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt
- Auditory: call on, describe in detail
- Kinaesthetic: boils down to, come to grips with
For a more comprehensive list and a questionnaire to ascertain your own preferences click here.
In order to communicate effectively we need to acknowledge these signals and modify our behaviour, physiology and the words we use to best mirror and match their style. After all, communication is all about rapport building – a relationship between two or more people.
People like people who are like themselves
Rapport is one of the most important aspects of unconscious human interaction. It describes a harmony of perspective, being ‘in sync’ or ‘on the same wavelength’ as another person.
When you bear in mind that 93% of all communication is down to the tonality of your voice and your body language, building rapport is far more than just talking about common experiences.
It’s an important point to remember: people like people who are like themselves. And this is where matching and mirroring come in.
Mirror, mirror on the wall...
Match and mirror how another person speaks or behaves? On first reading this might sound heavy duty. But before you try out any of the techniques, just gently turn up your conscious awareness and observe what’s happening right now. You’ll be surprised at what you are already doing automatically. What a great foundation to build on.
Listen for indicators and use words/phrases from the same modality, but also match the tone, tempo, timbre and volume of the person’s voice. Use the same vocabulary: ‘alright’, ‘actually’, ‘you know what I mean’. Simple, but disarmingly effective. And copying the person’s posture, facial expressions, hand gestures and other movements will cause their body to say unconsciously to their mind, this person is just like me!
One point to bear in mind is that you need to be subtle when you are matching and mirroring. Don’t go over the top! Typically however, the other person will be focusing so much on what they have to say that they will not even notice.
Calibration is a good way of determining whether you are in rapport. Basically this entails developing the ability to notice others reactions to your communication. If the person seems to be comfortable with what you are doing, more than likely you are in rapport.
‘Communication works for those who work at it’, John Powell.
So auditors, there you have it. Communication counts, especially if you want to be considered for the most promising audit jobs. Last month, we covered: setting specific communication objectives, getting self-smart and brushing up on questioning techniques but ‘seeking first to understand then be understood’. Combine this with an appreciation of the infinite individual views of the world, and the dexterity to build rapport, and you have a recipe for real communication success.
I’ll leave the last words to Doug Firebaugh: ‘Communication is really all anyone ever gets paid for ultimately, and if you cannot effectively communicate you will PAY, not get paid’.
Written by Carol McLachlan for CareersinAudit.com, the leading job site for auditing vacancies.