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Improving Auditor Behavior, Communication, and Influence Skills

At Hall Consulting, the number one request we receive from audit leaders and the management teams they serve is focused on auditor behavior, communication, and influence skills—not technical or administrative skills. Most requests for skills training fall under what has long been considered “soft skills,” though this is a simple and inadequate label. That’s why, in all our auditor skills training programs, we build on a three-level framework:

Let’s discuss each level of this framework, paying close attention to auditor behavior, communication, and influence skills. After all, how we present ourselves to and interact with others determines whether they listen (and adopt) our recommendations. You can’t afford to neglect this part of your skill set. 

Level One – Core Competencies

Before diving into auditor behavior, communication, and influence skills, it’s worth looking at core competencies. In any technical business position, the competent demonstration of core skills is essential. For auditors, this hopefully happens through training, coaching, and work experience in the first year or two. 

Core competency skills include the following:

These core beginner-level skills allow us to contribute to audits under the close supervision of an experienced project team leader or manager. Expectations for newer staff are tempered by the auditor’s relative inexperience. During this initial period, auditors are well-served by daily attention to not only learning but visibly demonstrating their capabilities in these foundational skill areas. These are generalizations, of course, and are applicable to audit staff with little or no prior work experience. 

Level Two – Interpersonal, Communication, and Influence Skills

As auditors progress beyond beginner status, skills development should shift to how those we serve in our work view us. We are positioning ourselves as business improvement experts. The clients and auditees we serve should be able to experience that expertise in every meeting, interview, presentation, and other interaction—whether these moments happen formally or informally. These are the behavior, communication, and influence skills that audit and management leaders want addressed in our training programs.

In our skills development framework, these skills include the following:

Take a hard look at these two skills lists. The Level One Core Competencies put us in play with those we serve in our work. Competently performing the core work of auditing is where weaknesses, noncompliance, improvement opportunities, and related suggestions are identified. However, it is the intentional demonstration of Level Two Interpersonal, Communication, and Influence Skills that creates the initial and lasting impression of value from our work.

Take a moment to objectively assess your skills in these five areas. Ask yourself these questions. Then repeat the exercise for each audit staff member that reports to you.

  1. Creating an Intentional Professional Presence

When you walk into the room for an audit meeting or interview, what do others think? Do they see a polished professional adviser who appears confident in their work and ideas? Or do they see something else?

When you join an online Teams, Zoom, or similar meeting, what is the initial presence you display? Since others only see us from the shoulders up, what is their reaction? What about the lighting, sound quality, and background image they experience?

In the television broadcast industry, the “talent” is very much aware of when they are “on.” Through Teams, Zoom, and other virtual meeting and presentation tools that are now part of routine audit work, you are now a television talent as well. You need to be “on,” pay attention to every detail of the on-screen experience, and create an intentional presence.

  1. Establishing Legitimate Business-Based Rapport and Trust

When we meet someone for the first time, we have roughly 60 seconds to create a legitimate business-based first impression. If we miss this opportunity, we’ll dig ourselves into a deep hole from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to climb out.

How do you create legitimate rapport? What do you intentionally plan to say or do in those first few moments that will prompt the other party to think, “Huh! That’s not just interesting, but very much relevant to my work”? Establishing rapport is a crucial part of behavior, communication, and influence skills because it increases the likelihood of others trusting what you say. 

  1. Listening and Interviewing—Both in Person and Online

How strong are your interviewing and related listening skills? And how do you know your assessment of your skills is accurate?

One of the great dangers of self-evaluation of business soft skills is the tendency to lean toward a favorable—even kind—conclusion. Often referred to as the risk of positive illusion, it’s the flawed belief that we are better than we are, and no one is telling us otherwise.

Ask a trusted coworker about your interviewing skills. Better still, find a qualified coach. Their opinion may be very different from the one you have about yourself. Ask for some tough love, which is the basis for improvement.

The very word auditor means “one who listens.” Auditor and auditory have the same root word. How strong are your skills in this area? How do you know that assessment is accurate? And what do you need to do to get better?

The thing about interviewing skills is that there is no cap on mastery. We can always get better.

  1. Speaking and Presenting

Many people believe public speaking prompts fear, anxiety, insomnia, rapid heart rate, nervous sweating, dry mouth, and a long list of other physical and mental barriers. Perhaps I oversimplify, but as a speaker and trainer, I’ve found it to be more of an issue of lack of coaching and practice. 

In our training programs, auditors say that they have few opportunities in their work to practice their speaking and presentation skills. I think this belief is flawed. If we looked at every…

…and all other human-to-human interactions during audit projects as an opportunity to speak and present, we’d find that there are dozens of micro-opportunities to practice these skills every day. 

How strong are your formal speaking and presentation skills? How about the small meeting and interview skills? Are you being objective in your assessment? If not, who would be willing to tell you what you need to know? A qualified coworker? A speaking coach? A Toastmasters International training leader? 

As with interviewing, there is no upper level on how effective a speaker we can be. There’s always an opportunity to improve. What exactly do you need to do to improve?

  1. Selling Audit Recommendations and Influencing Management Action

Using the word selling when speaking to audit-based recommendations may prompt a negative reflex reaction in auditors. But that’s just the reaction I’m seeking. When we communicate our audit results, we’re essentially selling our recommendations. 

In The One Minute Sales Person, the phrase “production minus sales equals scrap” really brings home the core purpose of business. For us auditors, let’s rephrase it to “audit recommendations minus management action equals scrap (or worse).”

I acknowledge that it is management’s job to act. Auditors rely on objectivity and independence in those moments where recommendations are presented. But when management doesn’t act, it’s appropriate to look at how our improvement ideas are presented and justified as potentially contributing to that inaction.

Do you have any training in presenting and selling improvement recommendations? If not, where would you get it?

Start with reading any or all of these books. That’s an inexpensive first step you may not even have to get up from your desk to take!

Resources like these can go a long way in improving your communication and influencing skills.

Level Three – Internal Consulting Skills

Internal consulting is a topic for another day. However, be assured that mastery of Level One – Core Competencies and Level Two Level Two – Interpersonal, Communication, and Influence Skills will leave you well-positioned to be viewed as an expert internal consultant.

For now, focus your efforts on the first two skill levels, regardless of your years of experience. And if you have staff reporting to you, help them master these skills as well. After all, they are your representatives on projects you lead. 

Prioritize Auditor Behavior, Communication & Influence Skills

As auditors, we need a solid and broad skill set. That’s why the skills training at Hall Consulting builds on a three-level framework. However, auditor behavior, communication, and influence skills are especially important. Technical skills alone won’t get the job done. So, make it a priority to improve these skills by reading books, practicing, getting coaching, and requesting feedback.