Being an auditor involves working with different types of people. Things don’t always go according to plan and at times you will be faced with a personality clash or an uncooperative auditee. So how do you handle a difficult auditee and keep the audit progressing smoothly?

Let me start by saying that there is no such thing as a difficult person. To overcome conflict, you need to deal with the issue at hand rather than personality. By separating the problem from the person, the issue can be tackled with professionalism. However, not every situation is that straightforward. Let’s say the auditee doesn’t agree with your finding of a nonconformance and responds with aggression. It’s important to resist the temptation to argue the point. Try to get to the root of the problem. Focus on the issue rather than your feelings. Try to appeal to the auditee’s sense of fairness to get your point across.

What if the auditee is unreasonable and doesn’t allow the audit to progress smoothly? Again, try to discover the underlying reason for his or her unease. If you can’t achieve a positive outcome on your own you may need to ask management to intervene, or pause the audit until the issue can be resolved.

Regardless of the issue, here are some tips to improve a situation with a difficult auditee:

  • Get it out in the open. Communicate any negativity and get issues into the open quickly.
  • Avoid festering and escalation.
  • Remain professional. Keep your cool. When you feel angry or upset you risk saying something you may regret. Take a moment to find a better way to communicate the issue.
  • Change perspective. Make an effort to understand where the auditee is coming from. Is it that he or she doesn’t want to be audited? Has there been a bad audit experience in the past? Once you understand where the auditee is coming from you can find a solution. If you are unclear, ask questions to ensure you understand fully.
  • Try to agree. People see things differently. Even if you can’t agree on the problem, you at least need to understand what the other person sees as the problem. A good starting point is to agree the on the objective and the expected outcome of the audit.
  • Explore options together. Brainstorm to help each other find a solution. Remember to stay open to new ideas.
  • Use positive body language. Don’t underestimate the power of body language. By tilting your head slightly, you allow people to feel heard. This trick should also allow you to listen more intently.
  • Create a bond. Sometimes the best way to move forward is to create a bond with the auditee. Try changing the subject and agree on something different to lighten the mood before returning to discuss the issue.

One could argue that prevention is a more effective approach. Here are some pointers to make a good impression with an auditee from the start:

  • Do your research. Before staring an audit, spend some time learning about the key person you will be dealing with. Find something you have in common. It could be music, art, travel, or sports. Use this as an icebreaker.
  • Be direct. Begin the audit by explaining why you are performing the audit, the objectives, and what you expect to achieve. Being up front and explaining what the process involves will avoid any surprises for the auditee and any conflict that could arise as a result.
  • As with any situation, conflict or otherwise, always conduct yourself professionally. When faced with a difficult auditee, pause and take a breath before responding. It will make a world of difference. To learn more about conflict resolution for auditors, click here.