CPE for Government Auditors

Audit Interview Skill: Listening

How can you learn anything if you are talking?

My PawPaw always told his grandchildren that if our mouths were moving, we weren’t learning. If your mouth is moving, you aren’t conducting an audit interview; you are making a presentation! 90% of the sound should be coming from the interviewee, not you!

Assess your audit interview listening skills

And this is just one of many bad listening habits most of us are plagued by. (I suffer from at least five myself.) Let’s take a minute to assess your listening skills while conducting audit interviews. Answer the following questions as either:

I always do this (A)

I often do this (O)

I never do this (N)

  • I focus my attention on the speaker when conversing.
  • I consciously look for issues or action items during the discussion.
  • I avoid planning my next remarks until I have heard the entire message.
  • I approach conversations with interest and a desire to truly listen.
  • I avoid letting my emotions get in the way of my listening.
  • I avoid daydreaming as I listen.
  • I try to put myself in the speaker’s place and empathize with what the speaker is saying.
  • I never assume I know what someone will say as they speak in order to avoid jumping ahead in the conversation.
  • I select a location that aids effective listening and limits distractions before beginning an important conversation.
  • I observe and evaluate the speaker’s physical posture and gestures as he or she speaks.
  • I curb my urge to interrupt or debate.
  • I am aware of nonverbal and emotional clues.
  • I put the speaker at ease and do not let status interfere.
  • I control my emotions.
  • I know that good listening involves work.

How did you come out? Are you always a wonderful listener, or could you do a better job?

Hone your audit interview skills by avoiding these common listening mistakes

Here are some common listening mistakes to avoid:

  • Faking—pretending like you are listening, like nodding your head in agreement and saying “Ah.” “You don’t say.” “Really?” and “That’s terrible.” when you haven’t really heard what the other person is saying. Faking is dangerous because you may get caught at it or you might be asked to respond to a complex question and be unable to answer. I have several acquaintences who are big talkers (and they just wear me out!). Sometimes they catch me faking because they ask me “What do you think?” and because I haven’t been listening, I don’t have an opinion! Busted!
  • Continually talking—here is where my big talker friends fail. They are so busy running their mouths, they have no idea what is going on in the other person’s world. This, of course, is deadly in an interview. If your mouth—the audit interviewer’s mouth—is running, you are not gathering information—and that is the point of the interview. Your air time—your speaking time—should constitute about 10% of the interview. The interview is not about you, it is about the client and their expertise.
  • Criticizing—instead of listening to someone else, are you spending your time mentally critiquing them. Are you criticizing their poor vocabulary, their dress, their office, their attitude? Are you so busy trying to categorize the interviewee that you miss hearing what they have to say? Maybe the interviewee reminds you of your uncle—who you never really liked anyway- and you start thinking of all the rude things he did and then you wonder if the interviewee is like that too and then—viola!— you are not paying attention. Try to keep your mind engaged in what the person is trying to convey—not nit-picking. Your brain works much faster than the person is talking so you have plenty of time to let it wander. Try to use it to stay on subject.
  • Hurrying/busy—This is one of my key listening downfalls. Something in me loves to “multi-task”—I am not happy unless I am washing dishes, running the washing machine, cleaning the oven, while talking to my husband. This technique is completely disrespectful to my husband who deserves my full attention.Actually, my husband’s ability to listen is one of my favorite things about him. He stops whatever he is doing and turns to face me and honestly listens to whatever I have to say. It is amazingly gratifying. I have heard it said that the number one need of human beings is to be “understood.” Folks want other folks to “get” them; to take the time to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. That is what my husband does when he listens. The women in my family are always in some sort of hurry. I learned to listen—or not listen—from them. Within five seconds, we hammer each other with a barrage of questions: “How are the kids? What was your day like? Where are you headed next? How is work? Anything going on?” Nobody actually answers the questions because there isn’t time. It was just polite to ask. When I do this to my husband, he simply clams up; conversation over. HA. A very effective communication technique, indeed!  Obviously, on an audit interview, you will have to slow down, stay conscious of what you are there for, and WORK at listening. Listening is not a passive activity.
  • Finishing the sentence — The interviewee is struggling to finish their thought and you are getting impatient, so you go ahead and help them out by finishing their sentence. Again, this is another rude behavior which my husband absolutely abhors because more often than not, I get “my” half of the sentence wrong. It is quite dangerous on an audit because you might just help the interviewee in telling a lie. You might finish the sentence in a hopeful way and the client will just let you think you are right. After all, they didn’t say it—you did. For instance:

YOU: Do you sign all purchase vouchers?
INTERVIEWEE: Well….
YOU: Of course you do! Next, when do you review the purchasing report?
INTERVIEWEE: Usually that report is…
YOU: Reviewed on Wednesday, right?
INTERVIEWEE: Right. (Thinking, “Sometimes we review it on a Wednesday, sometimes some other day of the week, sometimes not at all, but it isn’t completely a lie.”)

So please, just ask the question and wait in silence until the interviewee actually answers!

  • Doing one better—I had the “I have got to prove how much cooler I am than you!” thing going on in my 20’s. For every story that someone told, I had a better story. So instead of exploring what the other person was trying to tell me and digging into their cool story a little deeper, I was trying to one-up them. This was cured by age and by an improvisation class. In this class, I learned that your response to anything the other improv performer was doing was “Yes! AND… “No matter what they did— you accepted it and explored the concept with them. If you said “No, I want it this way,” you killed the scene and the skit would fall apart. It is the same thing when you one-up someone with your own story. They wanted to talk about their story and now you have ruined the conversation by talking about your story. Unless they are as annoyingly competitive as you are—they aren’t going to one-up you again to keep the conversation going. Instead, they are going to try to end the conversation as soon as possible.
  • Being bored—OK, an interview is naturally a low-energy interaction. It can get boring really fast and everyone can start yawning and drooping. Once that starts, it is hard to recover. So you have to commit to keeping your energy during an audit interview high. Bring your best self to the interaction—pump yourself up as it were—and make it interesting and engaging. You only have to remain pumped up for 20 minutes—not all day. After the interview, you can go back to your desk and be bored and tired and slumpy.
  • Interrupting—another rude, impatient move. Several times, I have made this mistake with my children and I am so sad thinking about it, I might start crying right now!  Several times my youngest has come to me to tell me something important and magical—such as “Remember when we went to Sea World and the dolphins were swimming…” And I stop her because I see that she has crumbs on her face—or her shoes are on backwards. Once I butt in like that, she doesn’t feel like telling me her sweet little story any more. I wasn’t listening.  Instead I was critiquing and doing the “mother” thing. Take the time to let the other person finish their story—it is only an investment of a few extra seconds and well worth it in terms of building a relationship.

How not to listen

Imagine that you are conducting an audit interview and the interviewee really opens up and starts talking about some trouble he is having with the IT team.  You have been working with this same client on the past three audits and the client has just now started to trust you. Here is what not to do:

SCENARIO #1

Audit Interview Skill: Listening

Pay close attention to what the auditee says during an interview.

Client: “I just don’t know what I’m going to do about the IT manager. He’s always stirring up my staff and taking them off task.”
Auditor: “You should talk to him about why you’re upset.”
Client: “Yeah, but I couldn’t do that. He’d make life miserable for me.”
Auditor: “Well, you ought to ignore him and not let him bother you.”
Client: “Yeah, but then I’d be letting him get away with his lousy behavior and he’d never change.”
Auditor: “Well…you should quit and get another job.”
Client: “Yeah, but I need the money, and the way the job market is these days, I probably wouldn’t be able to find another job for months.”
Auditor: (By this time completely exasperated): “Look, we need to get back to my agenda.”

OK, the client is trying to share and the auditor is obviously uninterested. The auditor is blowing the client off and minimizing the client’s problem.  One of the best ways to build trust is to convey that you understand where the other person is coming from and truly listen without judgment. The auditor is missing an opportunity to make a friend. The client is unlikely to approach the auditor again to share with him or to listen to the auditor when he has a problem.

Let’s give the auditor another chance:

SCENARIO #2

Client: “I just don’t know what I’m going to do about the IT manager. He’s always stirring up my staff and taking them off task.”
Auditor: “Sounds like your staff doesn’t know how to handle his requests for assistance.”
Client: “Yeah, and he asks for a lot of help. I don’t want to tell him about it because it might make him mad. Then he’d probably make life miserable for me.”
Auditor: “Hmmm. Seems like you’re caught in a double bind. On the one hand, you want to tell the IT manager what you don’t like. On the other hand, you don’t want to tell him because he might get upset with you.”
Client: “Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel.”
Auditor: “It’s a tough spot to be in. What kind of choices do you have? Let’s talk about them.”

Here the auditor has truly endeavored to listen to the client and helped him think through his options.. The scenario may sound a little too much like therapy for some of us, but you get the gist.

To be a better listener

Slow down, shut up, and empathize! The best listeners put themselves in the other person’s shoes and endeavor to truly “get” the other person. Only after you have fully heard the other person’s story—provide your input. Better yet, keep your input to yourself and help the other person share their story or figure out their own solution.

Put yourself and your own agenda away and paraphrase—or repeat what the speaker said in your own words as frequently as possible.

Learn this critical audit interview skill because listening builds relationships.

Want to hone your audit interview skills?  Check out this audit interview self-study course: https://yellowbook-cpe.com/product/interviewing-skills-for-government-auditors

Visit the Yellowbook-CPE.com Student Center
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