In a recent blog, I observed that in many companies management and boards do not welcome – or even permit critical scrutiny by internal auditors. Fortunately, that isn’t the norm. From my experience, a majority of organizations do recognize the importance of internal audit, and value the role it plays. But that does not mean management and boards are always happy to hear what we have to say. Being the bearer of bad news can test even the best relationships.
Every profession has its ups and downs, and internal audit is certainly no exception. In fact, some of the most awkward and, yes, even painful moments can occur when we need to deliver bad news to those whose areas of responsibility we just audited. And, if these moments are difficult for internal auditors, rest assured they are even more distressing for our clients.
Like it or not, there are times when, based on our audit results, we have to tell clients things they don’t want to hear. It’s never easy, for example, to tell someone that the audit results were “unsatisfactory.” It’s even harder to tell a colleague that you found a major fraud in their division, especially one that involved once-trusted employees or that had devastating financial consequences.
But for internal auditors, delivering difficult news is part of the job, and it’s a responsibility we shouldn’t avoid simply because of uneasiness. As Sophocles said more than 2,000 years ago, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” But being the bearer of bad news doesn’t necessarily have to derail internal auditors’ relationships with their clients. There are right ways and wrong ways to deliver bad news, and how we do it can preserve or even strengthen client relationships — not end them. Our words can soften the blow or add insult to injury, impacting our audit effectiveness as well as our stress levels. That’s why every internal auditor needs to master the art of delivering bad news.
I have delivered more than my share of unpleasant news during my career. Sometimes it went well. Other times, not so well. Here are a few tips that I would offer to ease the process:
Delivering bad news isn’t easy, and even if you do everything right, it won’t always go well. But delivering any news with empathy and understanding can go a long way toward ensuring that problems are addressed appropriately and that you are building effective working relationships. You probably have other tips for delivering bad news tactfully and effectively. I welcome your input on this important topic.