Most people think their driving is above average. That’s a statistical impossibility, of course, otherwise it wouldn’t be an average. Still, it’s what they believe and in one study, no fewer than 93% of Americans placed themselves in the top 50% of drivers.

I’m told this is what psychologists call illusory superiority and it’s not the only one. It affects everyone from the brightest professors through to the ordinary man in the street, everybody rates themselves as doing above-average work.

Hardly a new discovery, but one that we’re largely ignorant of. The real fact is that we are all susceptible to illusory superiority of one sort or another.

As auditors, most of us falsely think we’re totally objective and impartial, for example, that we are biased about being unbiased, and so it is with communication.

This is one of those things that everyone thinks they’ve got right – and that many other people haven’t. Which perhaps explains why poor communication is at the root of so many of the problems we find when trying to convey the findings of our reports.

A recent study in UK found that half the employers questioned were dissatisfied with the communication ability of school leavers, perhaps unsurprising given that we may not have yet invested time and money in teaching them how to write from a business perspective. But frankly it is not just inexperienced recruits or much-maligned millennials who need help with their communication.  

Just think about it for a second. How many of your audit reports have ever been misinterpreted? Do you know anyone who’s mistakenly taken offence to something you said because you wrote or phrased it poorly? After that, how long did it take you to get back on track and make them receptive again.

The truth is that, once you focus on communication issues like this, you realise they’re everywhere and as I pointed out to a class last week these things waste hours in lost productivity, make our lives far more stressful than they need to be and cost our organisations millions every year.

It’s all about the soft skills, what some people mistakenly call core competencies. 

Let’s not delude ourselves here, I am not saying that good or bad communication affects an organisation’s culture, I am suggesting that indeed it may be that it is part of its culture.

We all spend vast amounts of our working lives “communicating”, the real question we need to ask ourselves is whether that communication is effective, if it works?

In my course on report writing I make the point that language is the ordinary medium for the interchange of thoughts between two people, which pre-supposes the existence of two persons; A Speaker/Hearer or a Reader/Writer.

The former’s objective is not fully attained until the latter has heard or read what was said and understood it in the sense in which it was meant to be conveyed. How easy to say ………. How difficult to put into practice?

If I leave you with one thought this week let it be this; when you last sent an email or a report to an auditee or a fellow member of the team will they understand it in the sense you meant to convey it? If not, rewrite it!

We are not spending enough time on teaching soft skills such as report writing. By getting it right we can make significant time savings which will affect our overall productivity as auditors as well as make us better communicators.

If you or your team would like to discuss a better way to prepare your reports or communicate your thoughts contact me.


Article by Chris Hollands, a director of TomJak Ltd, a company which specialises in audit training and consultancy