Last September, I signed on to coach a girls’ running team my daughter participates in. After I was trained and first aid certified, I was ready to go! Or rather, I thought I was ready. Being responsible for these precious young lives for a few hours every week is a rewarding, humbling, and extremely challenging experience! It also made me a better auditor.
I am the parent of an only child, so managing a large group of girls was no small feat for me. Children will test your patience. They are masters of finding your weak areas and exploiting them. They have no filter, and will gladly share honest feedback that can be so elusive in the modern workplace! This was like boot camp for getting better at a list of important life skills in a jiffy.
And sometimes, coaching was eerily familiar to me, because children are tiny audit clients with tons of energy. Don’t believe me? Keep reading!
They Love it When You Fail
Have you ever made a typo in an audit report? Given a presentation with an outdated figure or a spelling error in your PowerPoint slides? Lost your train of thought during an important meeting? I’m sure your auditees showed compassion for you… NOT!
I’d bet that your auditees reveled in your mistake, and did not let the moment pass without pointing it out to anyone who would listen. Well, children do this too. They love it when the coaches forget a name, make a calculation error, or don’t know the answer to one of their endless questions. They will scream “COACH DOESN’T KNOW!!!” at the top of their lungs and giggle with joy.
When auditees or children take pleasure in your mistakes, it’s easy to go down to their level and respond in an unhelpful way. But we need to be the bigger person, literally and figuratively. One tried and true method is to laugh things off. Comment that you should go get another coffee when you misspeak. Show others that you don’t take yourself too seriously. You can also double down, and make a bigger and dumber mistake on purpose; then watch them start cracking up. That last one works better with children.
Bottom line, auditees and children are punching up when they do this. Everyone needs a safe place to challenge authority and exert their autonomy. Be an example of someone who is confident enough to laugh along.
Synonyms do not Exist
Have you ever asked for a document, but received radio silence? When you follow up the auditee says something along these lines: “Oh, we call that the A/R Report Detail. I didn’t know what you were asking for when you said A/R Detail Report.” Because who could have guessed, right?!
Children love to argue about the use of words, the meaning of words, and your choice of words. “Coach, you said it was going to be warm today, but it’s HOT!”
What is going on here? Some of this is defensiveness and not taking accountability. But sometimes, people get genuinely confused about words. They are putting a lot of meaning behind what you say, to the point of overanalyzing or questioning their own common sense. They may even feel insecure, or intimidated by you. So, the next time you find yourself in what seems like a silly misunderstanding over words, have some compassion. Go talk to them, figure out the misunderstanding, and move forward.
Perception is Reality
I’m sure you’ve had an auditee give you grief because your reality isn’t matching their perception. Once you got a report back to them in a week, so that means it takes you a week to write a report. Miss that deadline by five minutes next time and oh boy are you going to hear about it!
Our running practice starts at 2:30 p.m. but I’m usually there by 2:05. The girls who arrive early are used to seeing me when they are excused from their last class of the day. One day, traffic and life got in the way, and I didn’t arrive until 2:20 or so.
“COACH IS LATE!!! YOU’RE LATE!!! COACH, WHY ARE YOU LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE?!”
I wasn’t there when the girls expected me to be there, hence, something was wrong. My running team has some general rules, procedures, and processes in place. But, sometimes the usual way of doing things just doesn’t work. We may run out of supplies, get rained out of our course, or have a coach absent from practice. So, we have to mix things up. The girls lose their collective mind when this happens. This is where the adults get slightly higher marks than the children, but no one likes being put in an unfamiliar situation.
You can’t manage another person’s perceptions, nor should you try to. Don’t over explain yourself when things don’t work out as expected. Don’t get defensive, either. Just keep calm and carry on, as our friends across the pond say. That said, you can certainly empathize with people when they feel discomfort and uncertainty.
It’s All About ME!
Have you ever had your Audit Committee meeting completely derailed, because your universal point had to be filtered through someone’s specific experience? Does the exception to the rule noted by one person ever take over a discussion about the rule itself, halting progress and meaningful debate? This is extremely common!
“Girls pack up, your parents are here.”
“My grandma might be here, but my parents are on a trip!”
Eye roll. Yes, I wish that was a made-up example. One day, our very basic instructions were interrupted with information no one needed. Kids do this all the time, and adults do this all the time.
I get frustrated when one person’s narrative dominates a presentation or meeting. But this is coming from somewhere, and it can help navigate a tough situation to understand the root of the behavior. Humans can be extremely self-centered, but especially so when they are nervous, upset, or uncomfortable. The little girl informing us her parents were out of town probably missed her parents dearly, and was expressing that sadness to the team.
The grown-ups in your life may get overly specific or anecdotal from time to time. This is a red flag that something is bothering them. If something is bothering them, they aren’t hearing you. Stop, ask questions, and identify the source of their discomfort for best results.
They Want to Know the Future
Do your auditees ever ask what you’re going to find… before you have started auditing an area?
We all would like to know what the future holds, but children and auditees are especially curious. My runners are being challenged to push themselves physically, so at the beginning of practice we typically get a lot of questions. This is understandable, they want to be prepared, but it’s just not possible to know exactly how everything will shake out.
When auditees ask you to become a fortune teller, take mental notes. Is this the normal jitters, or do they have a reason to be anxious? The technical answer to their question is all areas of the company are subject to audit procedures. Furthermore, you can’t comment on the results of an audit until you finish fieldwork and have a draft report in hand. To put them at ease a bit, you can assure your auditees that as soon as you find something, or have questions, you will let them know. You will work with them to find practical solutions.
The longer you work with auditees, and the more you interact with children, trust will build and goodwill will form. But as an auditor, or a coach, you will always make people a little nervous. Frankly, it’s not your role to put people at ease or give them positive feedback, unless they truly deserve it. Accept the fact that people won’t always thank you for the work you’re doing. Watching your auditees or young mentees improve is your reward.
Become a Coach or Mentor!
Auditors, consider coaching or facilitating an activity or program for children. You already have the skill set to do it well! This experience can help you become a better auditor. Teachers, you are saints who walk among us. If you ever want a career change, consider Internal Audit. Our worst day is probably comparable to your best day when it comes to handling difficult personalities. You would rock this job!
Readers, I want to hear from you! Have you ever coached or mentored young children? What other lessons did you learn, and how did you apply these lessons to your professional life? Leave a comment!