What to do when audit clients cross the line

Every person (regardless of age, gender, ethnic background, appearance, intelligence level, whatever) deserves a basic level of respect.  It is unfortunate that many work environments do not understand this and operate under an unofficial “class system”.  Within this system, some individuals can say what they want, when they want and to whom they want without regard for common decency.  This is not acceptable.  All too often, auditors are on the receiving end others frustrations and misplaced anger.  Disrespect in any form or fashion is not acceptable.  Here are three things to do when clients cross the line.

Establish a Boundary

Inform clients the minute they cross the line.  This is an important step because the client now knows they have done something that you deem disrespectful, unprofessional or otherwise unacceptable.  At this point, the client should respect the boundary you have set. If they do, great.  You can continue working as normal. Unfortunately, this may not actually happen. If clients continue to behave in a disrespectful manner, it is okay to excuse  yourself from the conversation. I mean it. Do not let clients treat you badly. Walk away until the “adult” decides to show up.

Oftentimes we miss the opportunity to establish appropriate boundaries. We can be so shocked by client reactions that we do not address the wrong that has occurred. This is a mistake that must be addressed. Not addressing the behavior leaves the impression that the behavior is acceptable. So don’t be surprised if you see the behavior again.  The conversation may be difficult, but you must address the issue.

Do Not Focus on the Superficial

Now that everyone has decided to play nice (if everyone has decided to play nice), forgive but do not forget. There is important audit work to be done and lingering too heavily on the past is counterproductive.  Individual egos can impede your progress only if you allow them it.  And someone’s overreaction to an audit issue is not your issue.  Stay focused on what really matters, providing objective assurance services.

Don’t be Afraid to (1) Admit When You are Wrong or (2) Tell them when they are wrong

Now that you’ve established a boundary and found your focus, it’s now time to get down to business. There are issues that need to be discussed. Something caused your clients initial immature outburst and I’m guessing it was the current topic of conversation.

The facts are the father of truth.  Go back and analyze the issue objectively.  Be open to receiving new information the client may have to present.  Either the control system is effectively managing the risks or it isn’t.  Either you gathered (or were provided) sufficient information or you weren’t.  If determined that audit’s assessment is incorrect, admit it.  This, of course, does not excuse or condone the previous behavior exhibited.  If the assessment is still correct, stick to the story.


Clients crossing the line is rare, hopefully.  If they do, establish an appropriate boundary, try to forgive, admit if you are wrong and stick to your guns when you are right.  Every situation is different, how do you handle clients who cross the line?

Robert Berry (108)

Robert (That Audit Guy) Berry is a risk, compliance and auditing advocate, educator and innovator. He helps good professionals become better by creating articles, web services and training that allow them to expand their knowledge network.

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