By Andy Kovacs
(5-Minute Read)

The best internal auditors are almost always those who create a rapport with their clients. When internal auditor’s behaviour is accusing or aggressive, they are far more likely to be met with resistance than when they treat findings as an opportunity to help accomplish objectives and facilitate improvement.

– Richard Chamber (IIA President & CEO)

“It’s not a bloody popularity contest!”

Here’s a question for you:

  • Do your clients like you?

When I first started to design and deliver communication development learning programmes for internal audit teams around 20 years ago, this question was invariably met with puzzled expressions when I asked it.

“It’s not a bloody popularity contest!” they would scoff.

People say ‘Yes!’ to the offers of those who they like (and ‘No!’ to the offers of those they dislike, even if it is in their best interests to accept the offer)

While I don’t disagree, I have always insisted that getting your clients to like you should be a priority when it comes to your audit fieldwork conversations. Without such a rapport, your efforts will be greatly reduced.

This issue was touched upon by Richard Chambers, IIA president and CEO in the blog post: “5 Myths that Cloud Awareness About Internal Audit”. I wholeheartedly recommend that you read it – today (there’s a link at the end of this article).

I decided to write this article to make a case for the importance of getting your clients to like you as well as to offer some practical tips, which you can implement today, to help you achieve a liking-balance which will facilitate the success of your audit fieldwork by building a collaborative rapport with your client.

Having said that, I’m sure there are many of you sitting there thinking:

“But it’s NOT a bloody popularity contest!”

So first of all, here’s a philosophical thought experiment to show you that it had better not be a bloody UNPOPULARITY  contest!

A Philosophical Thought Experiment

I want you to think of someone who you hate.

I don’t care who it is, it could be someone you know, a politician, a well-known person or even a fictional character; but it’s important that you hate them.

Got one?

… Then let’s continue.

Now imagine that this person, who you hate, by some weird quirk of fate, tear in the fabric of time or distortion of reality, comes to work in your organisation.

Coincidentally, on their first day, there’s a company-wide meeting and all of your organisation’s employees have gathered in an auditorium so your CEO and management team can outline the new strategy for the year ahead.

You all take your seats, and the CEO begins the presentation.

But when the CEO is just 5-minutes in, the person who you hate stands up from the crowd and interrupts. Here’s what they say:

“Sorry to interrupt, but this strategy is rubbish! Luckily for all of you, I’ve got an idea. It’s a game-changing master plan. It will take this organisation to the next level. We’ll be in a league of our own, our competitors will be left far behind – eating our dust – and it will be champagne and bonuses for all of us.”

The crowd starts to nervously whisper.

Managements’ eyebrows are raised.

But, to your astonishment, your CEO says this:

“That’s fascinating Nigel (that’s the person who I hate!), would you mind coming down to the stage right now to outline your ‘game-changing master plan’ for us all?”

The person who you hate says they’d be delighted to; and they start walking down from their seat to the microphone front-and-centre on the stage below.

Here’s a question for you:

  • As the person who you hate takes their position at the microphone to address your entire organisation,
    how good are you hoping their ‘game-changing master plan’ will be?

Pick a number from 1 (the lowest) to 10 (the highest).

… Go on then, I’ll let you choose zero too!

Now it’s time for the person who you hate to share their idea (probably with a smug and self-satisfied smirk on their face).

As they beging to explain their idea, guess what you immediately realise?

This ‘game changing master plan’ that they promised …

… is BRILLIANT!

It’s EVERYTHING they said it would be.

It’s going to take your organisation to the next level.

You’ll be in a league of your own.

Your competitors will be left far behindeating your dust.

And it will be champagne and bonuses for all of you.

  • As the CEO, management team and your entire organisation explode to their feet in a rapturous standing ovation, how would you be feeling?

Disappointed.

Even though it’s going to be champagne and bonuses for you too, you feel disappointed.

Why?

Liking – A Psychological Persuasion Principle

The main work of a defence attorney is to make the jury like his client.

– Clarence Darrow

The previous philosophical thought experiment makes something intuitively clear – when we don’t like someone, we don’t want them to succeed (even if their success would be good for us too).

Rationally, this doesn’t make much sense. But this is how things generally play out; and it’s been confirmed by the extensive research of Robert B. Cialdini, Psychology and Marketing professor at Arizona State University and the world’s leading expert in influence and the psychology of persuasion for the last 30 years.

Cialdini conducted years of research into influence techniques; several of them spent undercover training at used car dealerships, fund-raising organizations, and telemarketing firms to observe real-life situations of persuasion, coercion and manipulation. As a result, he discovered 6 Principles of Persuasion, all of which can be used to influence people and get them to willingly collaborate when used ethically. One of these is the Liking Principle which he stated as follows:

People say ‘Yes!’ to the offers of those who they like (and ‘No!’ to the offers of those they dislike, even if it is in their best interests to accept the offer).

So disliking someone is an extremely powerful behavioural motivator.

When we see someone we dislike, we try to avoid them.

When someone we dislike makes an offer, we find faults in it.

We hide things from people we dislike.

We can even go as far as supporting the people who are against those we dislike.

So here’s a question for you again?

  • Do your clients like you?

Because if they don’t, you’re going to have a tougher time getting them to cooperate with you on the audit mission.

So how can you get your clients to like you?

Here are 3 practical tips which leverage the Liking Principle of Persuasion and which will help you to initiate a collaborative relationship with your client.

Tip 1: Audit Team Member Introductions

Personality, is to a person, what perfume is to a flower.

– Charles M. Scwab

We like people who are like us.

According to Cialdini’s psychological research, one of the fastest ways to get people to like you is to show similarities. To leverage this effect, you will have to share information about yourself.

When is the very first opportunity you have to do this with your client?

When you introduce yourself to your client in your Pre-Mission Communications (the information pack you send out to the client to tell them what will happen during the audit mission).

Nevertheless, when I see Audit Team Member Introductions in the Pre-Mission Comms, I rarely see this opportunity being used properly – it usually just contains the following:

  • Name
  • Job title
  • Professional background in audit
  • Work experience (including the names of organisations where the auditor has previously worked)
  • Professional qualifications
  • Academic qualifications (including the names of the awarding institutions)

This could create a liking effect with the client, for example if you both worked in the same organisations, studied the same subjects or attended the same academic institutions. Nevertheless, writing your professional biography like this is predictable, dry and instantly forgettable.

What I would recommend (and what our clients tell us creates a powerfully positive liking effect after they implement it) is to add a final sentence which shares some interesting information about yourself. Ideally, this would be about:

  • A hobby, passion or interest
  • An interesting experience
  • A dream you have for the future.

Wouldn’t your client be interested to meet “the skydiving auditor” or the auditor “who went to school with Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin” (these are both from actual whom we’ve had the pleasure of training!)

First impressions count; and the last thing you want to look like if a personality-free audit robot sent down from Management to catch the client out. So share something interesting and memorable about yourself. If nothing else, you’ll show you’re a normal human being – just like your client.

Tip 2: Smiling

Peace begins with a smile.

– Mother Teresa

In my article Auditors – Start Smiling to STOP Damaging Client  Relationships I outlined numerous studies from both psychology and evolutionary science which explained why it is essential to smile if you want to build collaborative relationships with your client during your audit fieldwork.

You need to smile whenever it’s appropriate to do so.

This makes your client subconsciously mimic you and smile too (according to studies performed in the Psychology Department at Uppsala University in Sweden in 2002 and 2011).

And, as Charles Darwin proved through his “Facial Feedback Theory” in 1872, this act of smiling will itself make your client feel good.

We like people who make us feel good – and we want to collaborate with them.

We don’t like people who make us feel bad – and we don’t want to collaborate with them.

So lose the long face – and start smiling during your audit fieldwork.

Tip 3: Remembering and Using Your Client’s Name

A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest sound in any language.

– Dale Carnegie

There is nothing more important to people than their own names; and if you remember them you show that they’re important for you too.

We like people who remember things about us, it shows they care.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have a good memory for names (myself included). So here’s an easy method to help you to learn the names of the key people in your client’s team when performing your audit fieldwork:

  1. Proactively introduce yourself to the client’s team members and ask them their names (being the mysterious figure in the corner disturbs people)
  2. Repeat people’s name 3 times during your initial conversation: “How long have you worked here, John?”
  3. Make a note of the people’s name directly after meeting them.
  4. Spend a couple of minutes learning names at the end of each day.
  5. Get into the good habit of using people’s names whenever you speak to them.

So there you have it, 3 simple tips for increasing your likeability amongst your clients and therein enhancing both how you are viewed in your organisation as well as the collaborative nature of your relationships.

Although audit is not a popularity contest, getting your clients to like you with these tried-and-tested psychological persuasion tactics will enhance their willingness to collaborate with you – and this can only be good for your organisation.

Now go and read 5 Myths that Cloud Awareness About Internal Audit by Richard Chambers by clicking here

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 hello@elcconsultants.co.uk