In audit, we have a principle called “Professional Skepticism.”
In auditing standards, it is defined as: “An attitude that includes a questioning mind, being alert to conditions which may indicate possible misstatement due to error or fraud, and a critical assessment of audit evidence.”
In simpler terms, it means you cannot assume the best in people—due to error or fraud.
At the core of audit is maintaining a “professional” level of distrust.
It’s no wonder why most auditors, even auditors working in the same company, are treated as enemies, not as colleagues.
In the end, most people being audited naturally don’t want to help the auditors with their work. They delay giving information, give false or incomplete information, or do not give any information at all.
When I was still working with an auditing firm, we performed a due diligence on a company (which is something like an audit) and we were looking out for potential issues.
I can’t remember the real reason why, but I felt like I had to assume the best in people. So, in typical Carlo fashion, I asked the person from the company shyly, politely, and nicely: “Do you have any information on this? Are there any potential issues we should look out for?”
Guess what? (Please answer: “What?”)
The person gave me all the information I needed and she even pointed out to me the potential issues of their own company and explained all of them to me—thoroughly.
During that engagement, the potential issues she shared with was my biggest contribution to our report. And I didn’t even have to think hard about it. I just had to write down what was shared with me.
Looking back on that engagement and all the lessons I learned in my journey so far, I learned two ways to make people want to help you—even if you’re an auditor:
Assume the best in people. Throw away all that “Professional Skepticism” nonsense. (I’m sorry to all the auditing and accounting bodies. I’m also a certified public accountant. Since I’m assuming the best in you as well, I know you’re not going to sanction me or take away my license. In fact, I know you’re going to change that to “Professional Optimism”—in God’s perfect time.) Assume that people want to help you. Assume that, given a chance, people will even go out of their way to help others. Assume that people are naturally and instinctively nice. If you assume people to be nice (and if they feel it from you genuinely), how can they not act based on what you think and feel about them? Kindness begets kindness. Love begets love.
Make people feel valued. Perhaps as important as assuming the best in the company employee was how I made her feel. Because I was honest and genuine in asking her my questions (after all, she knew more about the company she was working than I could ever do), I was able to make her feel valued. And I believe that everyone of us wants to feel valued. Most of the time, we do the things we do because we want to feel that way.
Of course, don’t use these tips to manipulate others. They will feel that as well. And, it’s not nice.
The next time you need help from others (or now that busy season is fast approaching and you need information from the people you’re auditing), remember these tips. They might just make your life and your work (especially your audit engagement) easier.
P.S. Maybe as auditors, we need to change our goal from looking out for companies’ problems to looking out for their potential. I think the companies will work better that way. The world, which is run by companies, will work better that way as well.