Spyglass

The Art Of Being Nosy

As a child, if something was lost in my house my mom would always ask me if I knew where it was.  No, not because I had hidden it, but because I had a peculiar ability. When I see something once, even in my periphery, I remember exactly where it is. 

I was a very curious child and would go poking around in drawers and cupboards just to see where things were.  One day, after I had successfully retrieved a cookbook for my mom that I had never used, never touched, and didn’t even really know what type of recipes it contained, she said, “You are going to put that skill to good use one day.” 

Years later, I got a job as an Internal Auditor. After telling my mom the intricate details of what the job entails, she reminded me of the time I found her cookbook and that I have always had heightened observation skills and a proclivity towards nosiness.  She was happy I was putting those skills to good use as an Internal Auditor.

Nosiness Defined

More often than not, being nosy has a negative connotation.  Nosiness is considered a “bad” character trait and something we are socialized to be ashamed of.  In fact, the top definitions provided by Merriam-Webster for nosy include, “interested in what is not one’s own business” and “thrusting oneself where one is not welcome or invited.”  In a professional setting, and probably in one’s personal life, this is difficult behavior to justify at face value.  

However, if we continue to read the Webster’s Dictionary definition, we get to an alternative take: “inquisitive disposition.”  I would also add to this definition “highly observant” and “curious”. I am happy to report that being nosy has served me well in my career.  Internal Auditors can justify our nosiness! It is our job to examine other’s work and question things that some might not think to question. When I talk with my peers about why they enjoy Internal Audit, I have found that most of us have this same affinity for nosiness.  It is one of the reasons we are all drawn to this kind of profession and that is why I choose to cling to the more positive and productive definition of nosy.  

So the question begs to be asked: How does nosiness actually extend itself into the world of Internal Audit? 

Nosiness Re-Defined 

Let’s turn this definition on its head a bit. What if we add to the “inquisitive disposition” element of nosiness and transform it into an essential skill for Internal Auditors… professional skepticism? Professional skepticism begins with being observant and curious and adds to that the ability to analyze and question information for fraud or error and possessing the skills required to assess audit evidence. With this combination of mindset and skills, nosiness becomes an essential technique and tool for Internal Auditors.

As you are navigating through the world of Internal Audit, it is inevitable that you will run across an issue that, on paper, seems fine. But somewhere deep inside, you have an inclination that something is off.  You might not be able to put your finger on it just yet, but your intuition is telling you that must look further and dig deeper. This is your opportunity to get nosy! I encourage you to trust your instincts on this.  Give yourself the freedom to follow your gut and be a little nosy if something doesn’t quite feel right to you. This is your opportunity to put that professional, innate quality of nosiness to good use.

Nosiness Guidelines

When trusting your instincts and being nosy in a professional setting, you must follow a few rules.  These guidelines will not only ensure your nosiness is actually being used as professional skepticism, but they will also protect you.

Step 1 – Clear your mind 

Now, this may seem to some like a bit of an odd step to start with, but before approaching any issue or looking further, it is important to clear your head.  If you dive into being nosy without clarity of purpose, it will be difficult to make good decisions. So, allow yourself the time to get into a good headspace.  Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and clear your mind of all the other things going on in your life.

Allow yourself to let go of issues you may be having at work or worries from in your personal life.  You may find it beneficial to take a walk or get out of the office for a few minutes, maybe listen to a favorite song, or have a snack. Whatever it takes for you to be able to let go of life’s anxieties in order to truly focus.  It is amazing what taking the time to ease your mind can do for your clarity of thinking. 

Step 2 – Stay within the scope of your audit

The scope of an audit is created at the beginning of a project for a reason.  A lot of thought goes into creating parameters in which to stay while conducting an audit.  You must be sure your nosiness is within the scope of your audit. If it is not, you have two options:  

1) Go through the process of expanding the scope of your audit

or 

2) Abandon your proclivity for nosiness on this issue

I would advise that, if your gut is really telling you to look into the issue, it is often worth the time and work it takes to create a slight expansion of scope. However, you must be sure that you document your newly expanded scope and your reasons behind the expansion.  This is also an opportunity to outline your thought process and focus your nosiness into a clear pattern for others to understand. Which brings me to…

Step 3 – Be methodical in your nosiness

Now is your time to get nosy and look into the things that your gut has been telling you to examine further.  If you’re like me, this is the fun part! However, just like in all other aspects of your job, you must create some parameters and organization for yourself.  Set a timeline, create a list of questions to ask that are within the scope of your project, or the newly expanded scope. Determine what documents you should review (the audit programs available with a subscription to The Audit Library may be able to help). Decide if running some tests in Galvanize or IDEA would be useful.  

Basically, create an effective plan for how you are going to be nosy and follow it.  Unplanned, rash nosiness will be ineffective, confusing, time-wasting, and disorganized!  Don’t forget to document each and every step you take along the way. You will need this to support your findings and justify the use of your time.  The effect of giving your nosiness a structure and a purpose is that you have now flipped that definition and created professional skepticism.

Step 4 – Know when you are going too far

Often when you allow yourself to be nosy in a professional setting, your nosiness can get away from you!  One thing leads to another and another and suddenly you find yourself on what seems like a wild goose chase. Don’t be too hard on yourself, it happens to us all. I have learned that this kind of spiraling is not productive for me or for the Internal Audit department.  In examining the way financial statement auditors and other external auditors do their job, I learned how to avoid falling into this trap.  

They use the concept of materiality to help determine what should be examined further, brought to the attention of their superiors, or included in a final report.  As an Internal Auditor, you will have a different threshold for materiality, but you should still establish what is material to your organization.  

If you are not reviewing financial issues, the tendency for your nosiness to go too far is heightened because materiality becomes more difficult to actually define. If that is the case, you must stick to the time limitations you set for yourself in your planning stage. However, if you truly feel you need more time and the time limits should be expanded, it is essential that you discuss that with your superiors. As auditors, we must follow the parameters that are given to us.  They are part of a system of checks and balances in the same way that we are part of the system of checks and balances for our organizations. 

Put your nosiness to good use

Now that you know the rules, it’s time to put your nosiness to good use! Simply follow the guidelines set above and you may just find that your professional skepticism leads to the unexpected. 

Readers, I would love to hear from you!  Has your nosiness helped you find something you would not have found otherwise?  Do you set boundaries for your nosiness? Has clearing your head before examining something further allowed you to see something in a different light?  Have these guidelines been helpful for focusing your nosiness? Did you find lost items for your mother?

Let me know in the comments section below. I look forward to engaging with you and answering any further questions.

In the meantime, thank you so much for reading.  I hope that this post rings true to other nosy auditors out there and helps put one aspect of your very important role into better perspective.

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