One cannot not communicate. Although grammatically cringe-worthy, that statement is actually quite profound.
One cannot not communicate.
What that means is that everything you say, and also everything you don’t say, communicates. Intentional or not.
Your silence communicates.
Not replying to an email in a timely manner, communicates.
Cutting someone off when they’re speaking, communicates.
It’s not just your words, it’s the absence of words or untimely words. It’s not only your actions, but it’s also the lack of action. All communicate.
Before we get to the tactical tips, let’s set the scene for maximum disclosure—which we all know is what you really want in an audit client, so you can gather all of the necessary information without any hurdles.
Traci Brown, body language and fraud prevention expert, suggests that auditors take a few tips from law enforcement when conducting interviews. “The key is to make fast friends with whoever you’re interviewing. This is how you get information to flow. People tell things to friends that they wouldn’t tell people they’re scared of or worried about.”
In a previous article I penned about ways to reduce the uncertainty of your audience and remove the proverbial elephants before getting down to audit business, especially as it pertains to your initial meeting. This definitely fits with Brown’s advice.
“The kind of stuff you see in interrogations on television isn’t the norm,” Brown states. “Because when the key is information recovery, you need to do everything you can to get people to open up. Making small talk, finding commonalities, and even bringing in food are ways to make this happen.”
So once you’ve set the stage, let’s get to the tactical. What visual cues could you be communicating — or not communicating — that can send your audit client the wrong message?
First things first, you need to make sure you’re not facing anyone directly. This direct position can come off as a threat and will shut people down. Instead, Brown suggests using a 45-degree-angle of address. “No matter if you’re sitting or standing, this relieves tension in the situation and makes people feel more comfortable.”
Now let’s consider the most visible part of your body during any audit conversation — your face.
Be conscious of what your “resting” face is and how that may appear to others. Some people may have a permanent scowl, some may constantly be biting their inner lip, and others may be smacking their lips. What your face does when you think you’re not communicating is important to pay attention to, as it does, indeed, communicate.
Leo Cardenas, body language specialist and speaker, notes the importance of having positively perceived facial expressions. When you smile, do you notice that others tend to smile back? That’s what Cardenas says are the mirror neurons at work—when you project a positive action or behavior, others are almost compelled to mirror it back to you.
Moving down the body, let’s talk about another important aspect of visual cues that you may not think of intuitively—your hands.
Did you know that our brains feel a higher level of safety and relaxation when we can see another person’s hands? Well, it’s true, and if you want your audit clients to be able to relax around you—which we know is essential for getting to necessary information efficiently—then you need to pay attention to making sure your hands are visible. Cardenas notes that it’s not just having your hands visible, but also making sure they’re not engaged in behavior such as tapping fingers, rapping on the table, clicking pens, or other fidgeting actions, as those communicate impatience.
And what can you do to keep the conversation going? Focus on what your head is doing.
If you want to encourage people to talk more, Cardenas notes, turn your head slightly to the side. This, coupled with slow notes, encourages other people to talk more and signifies empathy. Be careful not to nod too fast, though, as that signifies impatience.
Remember, one cannot not communicate.
There’s a lot that you can do for your audit clients to make them feel more comfortable and more open during any internal audit conversation or interview. It’s not just your body language. It’s not just the environment. It’s not just your words. But rather all of these in combination that, when executed well, can lead to great results.
The statement is actually one of the five foundational axioms of the communication field published in The Pragmatics of Human Communication in 1967.