Don't Go to Talk to Somebody. Go to Listen

Norman Marks, CRMA, CPA, is a vice president for SAP and has been a chief audit executive and chief risk officer at major global corporations for more than 20 years.


Let me tell you a story. It applies whether you are a risk officer, internal auditor, compliance professional, or even a manager of people.

One of my best audit managers (at a prior company) returned from a meeting with the head of procurement, saying that the meeting had gone well and she was ready to wrap up the audit. I was both pleased (because she was finishing early) and surprised (because I suspected they were problems and she had not found anything).

Later that afternoon, I ran into the procurement manager and asked him about the meeting. He said he was extremely disappointed. The manager had gone through a list of questions and once they were finished had closed the meeting. He told me that there were some serious issues he wanted to talk to her about, but she never gave him a chance.

The auditor had gone to talk to him. She did.

She didn't go to listen to him. He was not heard.

There are a lot of stories like this I could tell, but the message is clear:

  1. If you are talking more than half the time, maybe even more than a quarter of the time, when you meet with management or staff, you are talking too much and listening too little.
  2. Learn how to listen. Take classes. Listen actively, with your eyes (for body language) as well as your ears. You are not listening if you are just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can say something.
  3. Make time to listen, and monitor yourself to make sure you are.
  4. At the end of every meeting, make sure — by asking — whether you have heard everything the other person wants to say.

Do you have two mouths and one ear?

Posted on Jan 26, 2012 by Norman Marks

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  1. True to the word Mark!

    It is only through listening to wise insights that we can understand our own shortcomings and hence use any notable criticism as a leverage for improvement. This is very imperative for all Professional Advisors (esp Auditors) as it helps in mitigating inherent professional advice flaws.

    Advisors are the ones who qualify the most for the listening culture. You can only be  a good advisor if you can take time to listen to your clients before pin-pointing problems in their entity processes...Also, be slow to offer copied solutions to unique adverse events! 

  1. Much needed reminder for us all.  On the first day of my first auditing class my college professor said that the word 'audit' originates from the Latin 'auditus' which means 'act of hearing'.  As you can tell, that introductory remark is something I haven't forgotten even though I heard it over 15 years ago.  

  1. Your example is as important to remember today as it has always been in the past.  At the end of the day we need to ensure that we successfully complete our audit steps, as per the audit program.  However, the true mark of success is whether we 'tuned in' to our customers' concerns.  We may leave an audit site without ever having the opportunity to learn something critical to the organization's operations.  Every day is another opportunity to continually add value.

  1. The hierarchical nature of corporations informs a corporate culture that mitigates against vertical communication. Interdepartmental openness is also at times compromised due to protective silos. An emerging area where governance will need to focus on is the open communication, information gathering and sharing through social networking platforms. BI, channel checking, due diligence, supply chain, front running and insider information are all critical areas in the eye of the social networking storm. Stringent CG metrics and compliance best practices must be developed to conform to the open corporation and the technology that enables and extends the enterprise. Would like to see some thought leadership on this subject. Thanks Norman.

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