The questioning auditor.

Author:Vinten, Gerald
Position:Great Communicators

"The poet is the unsatisfied child who dares to ask the difficult question which arises from the schoolmaster's answer to his simple question, and then the still more difficult question which arises from that."

SINCE AUDITORS are obviously born poets, most of them probably presented a real challenge to their teachers when they were in school! Questions, generally spoken ones, are very much the bread and butter of the audit process.

Questions are used to gather evidence and clarify conclusions and are thus essential to the success of the audit; but the auditee may regard many of the auditor's questions as sensitive or threatening. It is not surprising that in such circumstances the auditor's questions may be answered so as to minimize inconvenience or maximize advantage to the auditee.

* Posing Threatening Questions

Certain approaches may help the auditor to pose threatening questions in ways that reduce the risk that auditees will not answer truthfully:

  1. Reliability checks -- asking the same question several times in an interview on the basis that those who do not admit to a behavior the first time may do so subsequently. This tactic may work, but the danger lies in antagonizing the interviewee who may think the questioner is not listening, or see that there is trickery afoot. This would undermine cooperation in the rest of the interview. When possible, it may be advisable to repeat questions in a subsequent interview.

  2. Embedded questions -- diminishing threat or sensitivity by placing the question amidst questions less threatening or sensitive. The context of the questioning is important. Views on an employee's work tasks and how the employee may be given greater job satisfaction will present less threat than comments indicating that one is investigating waste, efficiency, or worse. One can achieve the same result by more subtle means.

  3. Nonpersonal interview methods -- making the reporting as anonymous as possible. Questionnaires can be completed and returned anonymously, and respondents no longer have an interviewer to impress. Group interviews may carry a guarantee of confidentiality and be reported anonymously. This strategy might be useful for probing informal work practices not approved by senior management.

    Another approach is to use a computer-assisted technique. A portable computer may be used, with the respondent keying in the answers. The respondent can be assured of anonymity, which can be demonstrated by showing the sort of...

To continue reading