During an audit, the views of the auditor and auditee don’t always match up. This often comes down to a difference in perception. It is important to consider the role and importance of perception in an audit, and how this could potentially lead to audit conflict.

What is Perception?

Perception – the way an individual regards, understands, or interprets something – can change the outcome of an audit from being a positive experience, to a negative one. Perception is individual to each person and they can view any given situation differently. While there can be some similarities, there will always be some subtle differences.

In many situations, there is a mismatch between how the auditee and auditor understand the role of the audit and the process involved. Enter the audit expectation gap.

Audit expectation gap

When someone believes that something will be the case or that something will occur in a certain way – when this does not occur, a sense of “all is not right in the world” is evoked.  So how do we close the expectation gap? It’s not that there is an issue with the professional themselves, but rather the communication. It may not even be a case of misinterpreting information, but rather a disagreement that the audit findings are correct. More often than not, neither party is incorrect. It just comes down to how clearly the information is communicated to ensure that it is being interpreted correctly.

Avoiding audit conflict

Poor communication and misunderstanding are some of the most common causes of audit conflict. Being proactive and taking steps to be upfront and transparent from the beginning can ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Engaging in argument of which party is right or wrong is counter productive and will not achieve anything. From the perspective of the auditor, it is important to remain open minded and flexible. It should not be forgotten that for many, being audited is an uncomfortable process. Auditors are often viewed as sources of authority who, essentially dispute the daily routine of an individual or organization.

This in itself is a delicate process and one that can easily go wrong if there is a breakdown in communication. Maintaining transparency can help to close the perception gap, address concerns, put negative feelings at ease, and reduce the likelihood of conflict. In the long term, this approach can also build trust and start to foster an ongoing relationship.

The Challenge with Perception

The challenge with perception is that individuals may not always understand the perception of someone else, or assume their perception is our own. When there is a gap in perception, conflict can occur. In these situations, the parties involved can believe there to be a threat to their needs, interest, or concerns.

Often, individuals will have divergent perceptions of what has occurred based on factors such as assumptions, expectations, experience, and history. Their response can also be influenced by their perception of the person they are dealing with – such as if they believe the messenger to be scary, powerful, or calm. Percieved credibility can also come in to play.

Remaining open to understand how others have perceived the conflict and adjusting our own perception when new information is received is key to managing conflict with others. The audit team can work to reduce conflict from the beginning by eliminating misunderstandings, being upfront at all times, remaining open minded and flexible, and avoiding surprises.

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