Soft Skills: Managing Conflict
If you’ve been in internal audit for any length of time, you’ve likely encountered your fair share of conflict. Indeed, I believe conflict is inevitable in this profession. But conflict doesn’t have to be viewed as a bad thing. What matters isn’t avoiding conflict (although we certainly don’t want to chase it either); what matters is ensuring we have healthy conflict. We can’t control the emotions or reactions or others, but we can control our own.
Here are some strategies I’ve found to be helpful when encountering conflict:
- Be Prepared: While some conflict seemingly comes out of nowhere, you can often identify situations where conflict may or is likely to occur. This could include informing a business unit of a negative finding or observation, or an exit meeting where the business unit has already expressed their discontent with one or more findings or observations. Be prepared. The Standards mandate communications be “accurate, objective, clear, concise, constructive, complete, and timely.” Does your communication meet these standards?
- Be Cordial: Personally, I find being friendly helps strengthen relationships and ease conflict when it does arise. Don’t dive right in to the contentious issue at hand (unless the other party does). Ask how their day has been, talk about how abnormal the weather has been (extremely hot at the time of this article!), or mention you’re glad it’s Friday. Find some common ground — common ground outside of the audit.
- Be Calm: One emotionally charged party in a room is enough. Keep your reactions and emotions in check. If you fly off the handle, you will lose credibility with the other party, and it will be hard to get it back. You will no longer be seen as the internal audit professional, but rather as the aggressive internal auditor. Keep calm and audit on.
- Be Open: Auditors are human. I know, I know. Who knew? But we do (sometimes) make mistakes. Perhaps we misunderstood a process, overlooked a document, or any number of other possibilities. Be open. Listen to the other party. If a change is warranted, make it. If not, at least understand the concerns and point of view of the other party. A little empathy goes a long way.
- Be Resolute: While we should remain open, we cannot compromise our independence or objectivity. If your finding or observation meets the criteria in The Standards, it is wise to listen to the other party, but cannot change the substance of a finding or observation if it is not truly warranted.
These are just a few strategies I’ve learned in my now 5+ years of being in internal audit. What are some of yours? I want to hear them! Drop them in the comments below.
Note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the view of any organization with which the author is affiliated.