No matter the size and scope of your organisation, or your internal audit program, at some point you will have to interview staff and provide feedback (to both staff and management) about your findings.
Being able to pick up non-verbal and verbal cues from people is a vital part of being an internal auditor. From the moment you walk into a service or department, you should be able to "sense" how the audit will go. It's not just about the findings, it is how you deliver the message and how that message is received that counts. Reading non-verbal and verbal cues is also very useful when interviewing staff—many people are nervous about audits, and knowing when to change your interview technique can make a huge difference to the interview outcome.
Some of the basic cues I've picked up over the years include:
1. Eye contact and posture - if people are receptive and engaged, they will look at you and position their bodies to face you. If someone is turning their head away from you and or only looking down at their notebook, it is a sign that they are not interested.
2. Dressing up negative comments and jokes - if you walk into a department and the manager says to you "look out, better hide" or "oh no, weren't you just here?" and then laughs or says "just kidding", you need to ignore the laugh. In my experience, people that are genuinely accepting of the audit process don't feel the need to make comments like this.
3. Defensive comments - these are usually pretty obvious. It is natural for someone to take their work or the work of their staff personally; how you respond will determine your ongoing relationship with that person.
So what can you do if you notice these types of cues?
1. Maintain your professionalism - relax your face and keep a neutral expression (no brow furrowing or lip pursing), and do not respond with sarcasm or negativity of your own.
2. Change your line of questioning or feedback - switching the talk to something positive can relax the other person, particularly if they are nervous. See if you can move the topic onto something neutral or discuss a strength before steering the conversation back to what you were previously discussing.
3. If you really feel like you're losing your audience, sometimes the best thing to do is stop and ask if everything's okay. Invite their feedback on what you're saying—people do have the right to respond and it shows professional integrity on your part.
For further reading about body language, I recently found this comprehensive website, Business Balls (love the name too!).
Thanks for reading,
The Quality Nerd loves all things Quality Management and Internal Audit...too much is never enough!