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How to Win Advocates and Influence Clients

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Jun 02, 2020

About 80 years ago, a book came out that changed a lot of people’s lives.

Many books have come out since, made a splash, and “changed” lives, but then dropped into obscurity. (I’d give examples but, as noted, they have dropped into obscurity and I’m having a little trouble remembering their names.) The amazing thing about this book is that it continues to sell and continues to change lives. No, check that, I’d rather say that if gives people a wake-up call. (Why? And what book? Hang on, all will become clear. Allow me my moments of suspense.)

In Phoenix, we have one of the great used book sales. In February, for one weekend, a philanthropic group known as the VNSA fills a warehouse full of donated books. People line up on Saturday morning hours before it starts. They bring bags, boxes, knapsacks, shopping carts, and anything else they can think of to carry home their treasures. I usually wait until Saturday afternoon to go. It only takes about an hour to get in, yet the books have not been too extensively picked over. It is a great chance to find books you’ve spent forever searching for, rediscover old classics, and stumble across stuff you never knew you needed. I usually only spend an hour or two; others make it a day.

This year I picked up a book originally published in 1936. This copy was a 1964 reprint. The title of the book? (“About danged time he told us.”) How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. (And the observant among you probably already figured that out based on the title of this piece. But wasn’t the journey to the answer just as much fun as the answer itself? Don’t answer that.)

This book is so famous it is almost a cliché. And I think, because of that, I spent a lot of years refraining from reading it. Also, I tend to shy away from popular how-to-be-wonderful books. (For example, don’t hold it against me, but I never got a thing out of any of Steven Covey’s books.)

Now I sit back, having slowly worked my way through the book — enjoying the stories, digging into the concepts, and marveling at the simple but profound statements — and I can safely and vehemently say that this is a book every internal auditor should read.

In 1936 Carnegie was preaching how to handle the same issues we still struggle with in internal audit — respect, communication, and selling. (And a quick reminder for those who have not heard the sermon before. Yes, you are selling. Every internal auditor is selling in everything he or she does.)

It might be easy to dismiss much of what Carnegie says as bromides — pleasant thoughts that drift in one ear and out the nearest available orifice. But they speak directly to internal audit.

In chapter two, Carnegie talks about “The Big Secret of Dealing With People.” He notes that the only way to get anybody to do anything is by making the other person want to do it. Well, no duh. And yet, do you think about that in your negotiations with clients? Are you thinking about what you want or what the client wants? Carnegie goes on to talk about how the deepest desire for anyone is to be important. And, when you get down to it, this is just another way of talking about emotional intelligence — knowing what we want, knowing what others want, and finding the connection. (And all of this, 30 years before EQ began making the rounds.)

In another section he writes about an executive who, each night after dinner, goes over all the interviews, discussions, and meetings that have taken place during the day to identify the mistakes he made, the things he did right, how those actions could have been improved, and what lessons might be learned from those experiences. Internal auditors talk about audit postmortems — finding what went wrong and right during the team’s execution of the audit. But how many of us spend the time to look back at the day, take personal inventory, and reflect on how we can do things better in the future?

One more example and I’ll leave it at that.

In a chapter titled “Making Enemies – And How To Avoid It,” he discusses how people’s self-esteem becomes involved in discussions. Once people plant a flag of belief (“Your audit recommendations will not work in this situation!”), they have staked their self-esteem in that decision. He writes that the result is that “most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.”

OK, there is a lot about that quote that might apply to our current social and political situations. But I’ll leave that to Facebook. Instead, think about how best to forestall such reactions from clients. For example, ensuring you work with them on a solution rather than just presenting them with one. But also think about your own reactions. Are you so ingrained in what you think is right that you are not listening? And how much of your belief in your rightness is merely defending rather than true reasoning?

Sorry. I said that last example would be it, but there is a phrase I like so much I just can’t resist sharing: "instead of breaking lances with him.” Think about that the next time a discussion with a client gets heated; think about what might be done instead of “breaking lances.”

I know. As I said before, none of these are things we haven’t already been talking about in the profession. But we are still talking about them. And here they are, the things we struggle with now, being talked about more than 80 years ago. And it is all laid out simply and logically, supported by stories and details that show the truth of what is being said.

It is an old book. But the writing still holds up, the stories are still relevant, and it provides reminders and evidence of the way internal auditors need to work.

Get this book, become enlighted, become a better auditor, and begin to win advocates and influence clients.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.