Communication skills: leading from the top

Internal auditors are constantly communicating, researching and scoping engagements, gathering evidence, testing, sharing findings and publishing reports. It is a foundation skill that we often take for granted and as such can be easily overlooked. This briefing paper will explore the skills that internal auditors can use to communicate effectively with stakeholders.

Head, body, heart and soul

We often think of decisions being made with the head or the heart and the same is true of our response to information. It is frustrating after the effort of audit fieldwork when audit findings are misconstrued, agreed actions are negated or the business hasn’t seen the value of the assurance being provided. Is this due to the content of the message or in its delivery? 

Communication is essentially a simple function, coding and decoding across a channel, however unlike computers humans overlay that data with the complexity of emotion and feeling.

The head, as the computer, deals with the data, the content of the communication which the heart then assimilates drawing on feelings. Content when accurate and complete rarely leads to conflict by itself, moreover it is more the way the content is managed; the relationship dynamics, hidden agendas, intentions, personal values, attitudes and experiences. It is the reaction of the heart, body and soul that more often lead to communication issues.

Failure to address these important aspects of communication can provide a home to the elephant in the room by avoiding difficult conversations, controversial issues and sensitive topics.

In our time pressured environments how often do internal auditors rely on instinct and unconscious decisions rather than really thinking about the best way of communicating with stakeholders? Is it always the internal audit client that cannot see the obvious or didn’t understand the point? It is easy to forget that whilst rationale…

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

- Nelson Mandela