By Andy Kovacs
(3-Minute Read)

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: where there is a reaction, both are transformed.

– Carl Jung

 How do auditors initiate relationships with auditees?

Whenever I ask Audit Managers how they initiate their internal audit team’s relationship building with the process owner at the audit mission stage, I get the following answer:

We go to the process owner’s office for the kick-off meeting and we introduce ourselves.

This is not when the relationship with the process owner starts (or it had better NOT be!) – it actually starts beforehand – with the pre-mission communications (the information pack sent out to the process owner to tell them what will happen during the audit mission).

Smiling leverages every subconscious, evolutionary and psychological tool at your disposal to initiate a positive, collaborative relationship

Not realising this fact reveals how pre-mission commns are being dangerously overlooked by many internal audit departments. If you make that mistake, you’re taking a massive risk when it comes to both building a collaborative relationship with the auditees and making your life easier during the audit fieldwork.

I’ve personally come across countless examples and stories from internal audit teams about how inadequate relationship building has ended up negatively impacting the results of audit missions. When you look into the reasons (through post-audit stakeholder surveys), it’s common to find the problem starts before the audit team even turned up. This needs to change – and this change needs to start with the pre-mission comms.

As the third line of assurance, auditors can never close the findings which they uncover – only the process owner and their team can do that. So if you can build a positive and collaborative relationship with them, it will be easier for you to get them committed to closing the control gaps.

Before we get into that though, here’s a philosophical thought experiment which will help to bring this into clearer perspective.

A Philosophical Thought Experiment

Imagine that you’re the parent of a five-year old child.

It’s the beginning of September, and you’re taking your child to school for their very first school day.

On arrival, you’re greeted by the School Principal and you’re informed that your child has not been allocated a class in Primary Year 1 yet due to an IT error with the school’s registration system. The School Principal then tells you not to worry about this, as you will be given the following unique opportunity:

Because of our IT mistake, we are going to let you choose which of our two Primary Year 1 teachers your child will study with.

The School Principal then shows you two photographs of the two Year 1 teachers. You are then asked to look at the two photographs and choose the teacher whom you prefer.

Here are the photographs:

Who would you choose to be your child’s teacher, Mrs Smith or Mrs Jones?

The Psychological Science of Smiling

If all of the parents at the school in our philosophical thought experiment were given the same opportunity, then psychological studies into the effects of smiling dictate that the School Principal is going to have to start moving most of the desks and chairs (up to 82%) out of Mrs Smith’s classroom and into Mrs Jones’s classroom.

That’s how strong the effect of smiling is on people’s decision-making!

Let’s see what else we can learn from the science of smiling.

First of all, you were smiling before you were even born. In 2001, the obstetrician Professor Stuart Campbell used 4D ultrasound scanners to prove that the ‘smiling reflex’ begins in the womb when a foetus is just 18 weeks old.

What’s more, smiling is good for your health – it actually increases your life expectancy. A research study published in the journal Psychology Science in 2010 by the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University analysed the smiles of Major League Baseball players from the 1952 season from their player trading cards. Here’s what they discovered:

  • Players who did not smile (like Mrs Smith) had an average lifespan of 72.9 years
  • Players with a slight smile had an average lifespan of 75 years
  • Players who had a beaming smile (like Mrs Jones) had an average lifespan of 79.9 years

Clearly, smiling is both instinctive and healthy. But what has it got to do with building positive and collaborative relationships with your process owner in your pre-mission comms?

Rideo Ergo Sum (I Smile, Therefore I Am)

It is only shallow people who do not judge people by their appearance.

– Oscar Wilde

How do you think your process owner is likely to be feeling before the audit mission commences?

Well, it would be perfectly understandable if they were feeling anxious. After all, a team of experts, who they have probably not met, are going to turn up and start looking at “what’s good and what’s bad” about the way they do business.

How do you think your process owner feels about their business?

Metaphorically, it’s a child that they’re raising. They celebrate its successes with pride; and they lie awake at night worrying when it’s not doing well. Just as we would have opted for the smiling teacher if we had the choice between the two in the photographs; your process owner would opt for a smiling auditor if they had the choice.

Nevertheless, whenever we analyse the pre-mission comms which the audit teams in our corporate clients are using, we see that something is missing from the section introducing the audit team:

  • A picture of each auditor – with a smile on their face!

Firstly, it’s absurd to not have pictures of the audit team. Your process owner knows what LinkedIn search is!

Also, if you don’t put any pictures of the audit team, you risk arousing suspicion in your process owner.

Why are you not proactively showing your process owner what you look like?

Are you planning to sneakily turn up anonymously a few days early to snoop around?

You know you’re not going to do this; but the anxious “paranoid-parent” mode of your process owner may need some convincing!

When we point this out, the Audit Manager often feels uncomfortable and says something like this:

We can put photographs of our auditors, but do they really need to be smiling?

Yes, they do!

As long as you want to do everything in your power to initiate a relationship with the process owner which is positive, collaborative and which can later be leveraged to get them committed to closing the control gaps.

Still not convinced of the benefits of this?

Here’s some more science!

The Subconsciously Contagious Effects of Smiling on Others

In two studies carried out in 2002 and 2011, the Psychology Department at Uppsala University in Sweden confirmed that other people’s smiles have a potent effect on those who view them. Specifically, they discovered that seeing someone else smiling actually reduces the subconscious control which we usually have over our facial muscles.

When we see someone else smiling, we’re subconsciously compelled to mimic them and start smiling too. Indeed, it requires huge amounts of will power to frown when looking at another person’s smiling face.

So, the science tells us that a photograph of each member of the audit team in the pre-mission comms – with a beaming smile on their faces – will initiate your process owner’s ‘smiling reflex’ and make them smile back.

But the act of smiling, in and of itself, won’t make the process owner happy, will it?

Actually, the science says it will!

Even the simulation of an emotion tends to create it in our minds.

– Charles Darwin

In 1872, Charles Darwin discovered the Facial Feedback Theory.  This confirmed that, not only is smiling evolutionarily contagious, but that the act of smiling itself makes us feel good – rather than smiling just being the end result of feeling good.

Get your Smartphone – It’s Smiling-Selfie Time!

The science is clear, if you put a photograph of each of your audit team members in your pre-mission comms – and they’re smiling in it – you are leveraging every subconscious, evolutionary and psychological tool at your disposal to initiate a relationship with the process owner which will be positive, collaborative and productive.

We all know that audit is not a popularity contest; and your aim is not to become friends with your process owner and their team. But your fieldwork will always be easier and more if you can get them to want to work with you.

So stop reading this, get your smartphone, and snap a smiling selfie of yourself for the pre-mission comms.

Or keep on pulling your face if you prefer. But bear in mind, the science tells us it will be your smiling colleagues will still smiling 9 years after you’re gone!

ELC Consultants is a global training and consultancy company which has been creating bespoke learning programmes to empower the communication of internal auditors in clients like Vodafone, ING, Dexia and BNP Paribas since 2005. If you’d like a digital copy of our Audit Communication Catalogue with information about our tailormade Audit Report Writing and Empowered Audit Conversations learning programmes, drop us a line on