Most audit clients understand that the purpose of an audit is to perform an independent evaluation of functions to determine if operations are effective and efficient. It is a strenuous process on clients. In many instances, it may not be enjoyable, however, most clients tend to respect the process. Occasionally, there are clients who exhibit behavior that is less than mutually respectful. I have said it before, being audited is just as stressful as auditing. I have personally seen clients scream, curse and toss items. While some clients are simply wired to be difficult (see related article on audit client types), I truly believe that a majority of clients are mature enough to confront concerns respectfully. I also believe that it is up to auditors to approach sticky situations differently in order to see different results. The following 3 items can help tame tantrums in many instances.
Acknowledge the Emotions
Oftentimes client outbursts have nothing to do with the issue presented. There is usually some underlying emotion evoked upon hearing audit issues. This usually results in strange responses such as defensive posturing, snippy comments, etc. For example, some issues may address the risks and provide some good recommendations, however, the unit may not be financially able to address the risks. Seeing these types of recommendation makes clients feel helpless and angry. It is at this point where auditor can build or break client relationships. Oftentime auditors “force” clients to commit to an unrealistic action plan. However, in this moment auditors can acknowledge the clients feeling and explain the option of risk acceptance. Clients have every right to accept risks. Also, accepting risks formally in an audit report may help clients to obtain resources necessary to address risks. This level of understanding can only be achieved by moving clients from irrational reaction to factual reality. In other words, acknowledge the existence of the feeling, but manage the reality of the issue.
Focus on Facts
Once you’ve brought the client to a rational state, you can begin to focus on the issues. The broken processes or controls are the true problem, at least initially. Beginning by blaming people is almost always disastrous. That is not to say that people may not be at fault, however, the process or control failure comes first. The facts will reveal the nature of the failure.
It is usually Processes not People
Auditors usually lead off with this statement. While accurate, emotional clients have not reached this rational place yet. Many still believe that issues are a reflection on them as people. This can be this case, but usually it is not. Issues typically exists because of lack of awareness, lack of funding, inadequate training,or miscommunication. Issues normally are not due to negligence, incompetence or lack of desire. We know that; however, our clients don’t see or know that when reviewing audit reports. As a result, I would not begin with this of the client is still dealing in emotion.
The next time you experience a client tantrum, reconsider what is really happening. Remember, emotions may be contributing to the reaction. In which case, auditor must acknowledge the emotion, carefully move the client to addressing the facts and focus on the processes that are broken.