It’s human nature to want to impress others. And when you’re in a new position, the urge to impress can be even stronger. Even if we’re not conscious of it as it’s happening, the urge to “prove ourselves” in new situations is real. And when this urge presents itself, there are some common communication mistakes that junior auditors make. Lucky for you, this article is going to point these foibles out and show you how you can change the trajectory of your communication to show confidence, not self-consciousness.
Mistake: Over-explaining something to prove that you know it.
Correction: Ask questions, be quiet, and really listen.
Ever experience that eyes-glazed-over look when someone is explaining something to you? Don’t be that person! The tendency to over-explain something to prove yourself is high in people new to any position. Smart communicators know that the real power and confidence lies in not saying anything at all. And savvy professionals know how to navigate conversations so that they allow others to share more than they do. To shift the communication dynamic, all you need to do is ask a question, sit back, and truly listen.
In a (previous article) I talked about strategies for understanding how others are listening to you. You’ll notice in conversations the different verbal and nonverbal behaviors others display. That will give you an indication of how they’re listening. Depending on the outcome you need to achieve, asking strategic questions can give you powerful insights on what you actually DO need to explain versus what you should allow others to explain for you.
People support what they help create. By asking questions and letting others do the explaining, you’re allowing them agency in the process. When you give someone agency, they are likely to feel more ownership. This results in increased responsibility and follow-through. All things that internal auditors really need from their clients and their colleagues.
At a loss for what questions to ask? Allow me to give you three—what I call—safe words that you can use to change the way people are listening and give people the opportunity to have a hand in creating the conversation. Those words are thoughts, opinions, and perspectives. Some questions to ask include:
- What do you think about…?
- What are your thoughts on…?
- In your opinion, what should…?
- Could I get your opinion on…?
- Would you share your perspective on…?
- Can I get your perspective on…?
I call them safe words because in almost every communicative interaction those words are safe to use as there are no right or wrong answers. People do not feel the need to be correct when you phrase questions with these words. And that’s a very useful bit of knowledge for an internal auditor who wants to get more information out of every conversation.
Mistake: Giving “formal” presentations.
Correction: Take a seat and change the presentation to a conversation.
If you took public speaking in high school or college, the skills that you were likely taught in high school and college in didn’t accurately (or perhaps adequately) prepare you to deliver presentations in workplace environments. Whether you’re delivering a report presentation to a committee, a board, or are introducing yourself to a group of new clients, your presentation isn’t going to take the strict, stand-at-a-podium with a scripted outline format.
In fact, putting too much formality in presentations is a quick way to lose audience support and interest.
I taught college-level public speaking and business communication for over a decade. Without fail, during my business communication class’ final presentation (I had them perform a team “communication audit” and they presented their report to a mock board of six directors), the student groups would walk into the conference room, project a PowerPoint, and stand to give their presentation.
This is all wrong.
If you’re presenting to a group of 12 people or less and you’re able to see everyone from a seated position, don’t stand to give the presentation. Instead, present—and have a conversation—while seated with the rest of the group.
Standing in a conference room where everyone else is seated, or standing behind a podium in a larger audience, creates a nonverbal barrier between you and your clients. Instead, sit down. That way you create an environment that demonstrates your confidence and your willingness to have a conversation about a report instead of you being the only purveyor of information. I dive deep into this topic here if you want to learn more. There’s also a great article on designing effective visuals and PowerPoints slides to help supplement your presentations here.
Mistake: Not owning your statements by using pronouns like “they” or “we” or attributing blame.
Correction: Use “I” to show confident communication and own your words.
Imagine this scenario: It’s your first presentation where you’re the lead auditor on a client project. You’ve prepared. You’ve led the team solidly. And you’re excited to experience your first presentation as the team lead. Before going into the presentation your manager, Bob, advised you to forgo handing out copies of the slide deck and just rely on the projection. Since he’s your manager, you listened and followed that advice. During the presentation a client interrupts, “We normally get the slides printed for us. Do you have them?”
Do you see the difference between these statements?
- “Bob told me not to bring copies of the presentation, but I’ll make sure you get a copy via email after the presentation.”
- “I didn’t make copies of the slide deck so that we can focus more on discussing the results than looking at the numbers. You’ll all receive a copy of the deck via email immediately following this presentation.”
The first comes off as whiny. And then trying to make a correction. The second shows you taking ownership for what you did, why you did it, and the action that will follow.
It’s easy to attach blame. And it’s easier, during stressful or difficult conversations, to point a proverbial finger than to do the processing necessary to take responsibility for your choice. It’s the same when it comes to conversations with your team members. Don’t start a sentence with the word “you.” Instead, start with “I.”
Here are two more statements to demonstrate the difference, even when giving positive statements.
- “You did a great job on this presentation.”
- “I noticed your hard work on this presentation. Great job.”
When we hear statements starting with “you” we tend to go on the defensive, even when we don’t know what will follow! Whenever the urge to respond with an excuse, or to point your proverbial finger at someone (even if it’s good) arises, rephrase the statement in your head so that it starts with “I” and then the choice you made. Doing so will demonstrate ownership and confidence.