In this episode of THE SAMPLE, Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA points out 8 bad listening habits that you can conquer just by being aware of them. We all have bad listening habits – but auditors do not have the luxury of indulging in them! If auditors don’t listen, they can damage their relationship with the auditee and/or come to false conclusions on the audit.
Welcome to The Sample, a quick discussion of auditing concepts and terms that will help you do your work. Conducting an audit in accordance with auditing standards is no small feat and I want to support you. We’ll be referring to the GAO, IIA and AICPA literature to bolster our conversations. Let’s get started.
In this episode, let’s take a moment to identify some bad listening habits. We as auditors are there to listen. I think maybe that’s where the word audit, like auditory, comes from. So we need to actively work hard at finding out what the client is saying, like trying to understand what they’re saying. There’s a lot of barriers to that. Let’s break down some of those barriers by going over about eight bad listening habits.
Bad listening habit #1 is faking. This could be really dangerous in the audit environment, where you’re just sitting there, nodding your head, acting like you’re understanding what they’re saying or you’re listening. But what if they catch you, like a friend of mine caught me recently, and they say, “What do you think of that?” Then you have to admit, “I wasn’t listening.” Now, because I’ve been friends with this woman for a long time, she was like, “Oh, okay.” But with a client, that could really damage your relationship and damage your credibility, so if you’re disengaged, maybe just admit you’re disengaged and ask them to repeat something. Don’t fake.
Another thing is continually talking. Now, the reason I had to fake with that girlfriend was because she talks, and talks, and talks, and talks, and talks, and my mind does wander because her stories are very long. You don’t want to be that person. As a matter of fact, you’re not supposed to talk much at all, honestly, because you’re there to actively listen when having a meeting, or an interview, or any interaction with the client.
Criticizing. I remember once going to a seminar and the instructor had dry mouth, I guess, and in the corner of his mouth, both corners, he had this white spittle that moved as he talked. Now, every time, of course, I looked at him, that’s all I could think about, was that white spittle. I wasn’t hearing anything he was saying about the GASB update. My mind was on the attack and I wasn’t getting what I was supposed to be getting out of that seminar. When you find your mind doing that, snap it back, and maybe even not look at the person just so you can listen. Sometimes I do that. Sometimes I just look down, look at something that I’m not going to criticize so I can really hear what the person is saying.
Hurrying/busying. One of my relatives blows into the house and she goes, “How are you doing? How are the kids doing? How’s your work going? What’s going on with the house? How’s your neighbor?” She never stops to really hear the answer to the question. I never answered the question. She just says all that stuff and then doesn’t really want the answer. She gets really annoyed with my husband, who actually pauses to think about answers. Sometimes I can count to like 20 in my head before he answers a question. Is she going to wait for his answer?
Oh, no. She thinks he’s kind of stupid, and he’s totally not. But she’s so in a hurry that she doesn’t give people time to answer. She’s impatient. What happens there is that the person she’s talking to, a la my husband, completely shuts down and just doesn’t talk to her at all, doesn’t even bother. You definitely do not want that in a client relationship. Okay? Slow down, give them a chance to formulate their thoughts before they speak. That is a courtesy.
Finishing someone’s sentence. This is another version of hurrying/busying. Instead of waiting for the person to finish their sentence, you’re too impatient to allow it, so you just finish it for them. Oh my, could this be dangerous in accounting, in auditing, when you’re interviewing someone. You could say, “Do you sign the purchase vouchers?” They start and they go, “Well, you know.” Then you say, “Well, of course you do,” and then you just check the box. The most extreme example, but you could talk yourself right into something rather than letting them tell you what’s so. Do not finish people’s sentences.
Doing one better. I went on this cruise once with my ex-husband, and this sounds very high end, but it really wasn’t. It was a really junky ship. We went on this bus tour with a couple of days on a cruise ship of Greece. It was fun, but it was one of those $2,000 per person tour of Greece, right? We get on this ship, and it’s a pretty junky ship, but they put us at a table with people our age. We were in our 20s, and so everybody around the table was in their 20s. Everything was great until we started swapping stories. One person at the table said, “Oh, we’ve just been to Paris. It was so lovely. La, la, la, la, la.” The other one was like, “We just got back from Malta and the beaches are incredible.” Everybody was one-upping each other all night long past that point.
We all ended up hating each other. We didn’t want to talk to each other at all for the rest of our journey, which was only another couple of days. But the next night, we didn’t want to sit at the same table with these people. Okay? So, if you’re thinking of your response as the other person’s talking – if you’re thinking of, “What am I going to say to make myself look great when they’re finished with their story?” – then you’re not really listening to their story. Just stop and explore their story. Learn something from them instead of trying to show how great you are by doing one better.
Being bored. Yeah. It can be boring listening to the purchasing procedures, but you can be bored back at your desk later. You can yawn, and have your eyes droop, and lose your energy later. When you’re interacting with the client, think perky. Think high energy. Think, “I am fascinated with you.” That is going to leave the client with a feeling that they are appreciated, honored, and they’re going to have a warm fuzzy feeling about you.
You know what? That’s most of the battle, because when you get back from your interview, you’re going to forget some of the stuff they said. Maybe you didn’t jot it down. Maybe you didn’t quite understand it. You didn’t think to ask the question in the moment. If they have a negative attitude towards you, then they’re not going to want to help you. So, sit at the edge of your chair. Sit up straight. Have your eyes open. Show some energy. Smile every once in a while.
Once, I taught a webinar that was supposed to be interactive. It was for this big continuing education company and they made it look like it was a news program a la 20/20 where they were interviewing me about something. The interviewer was off camera while I was talking, and vice versa. When she’d asked a question, I’d go off camera. When she was off camera, she was literally taking a nap. It was kind of scripted. She’d ask a question and then she’d close her eyes and just sit there bored. Then on the other side, I was supposed to respond to her in some kind of high-energy fashion while she was sitting there sleeping. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, watching someone as I’m talking, falling asleep. So, no. Show the energy. Give them your energy. You can be nappy and yawny when you get back to your desk.
Then the last bad listening habit is interrupting. That’s kind of like finishing a sentence, but even more obnoxious where you, again, have gotten impatient. You want to say something instead and you interject in the middle. Now of course, if you get in with someone who’s been talking for an hour straight and still haven’t gotten to the point, you’re going to have to interrupt, but it’s rare that that happens. Just wait until they’re finished. Then naturally, say your next thought or ask your next question.
I hope those thoughts helped you to identify maybe some of the habits you have, and we all have these habits, of not really listening. Remember, listening is active. It’s hard. But it’s your job when interacting with the client to work hard at listening.
That wraps it up for another episode of The Sample. True to the nature of a sample, we didn’t talk about everything, so you’ve probably got questions. Write to me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to fill in the blanks. Thanks for playing.
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