5 Must-know Techniques to Minimize Your Risk When Writing

I’m hot off a tour of Europe delivering four International Audit Report Writing workshops back-to-back. A common theme amongst workshop participants? How to minimize the risk that readers don’t arrive at the same conclusions we did. If we can minimize that risk, we stand a good chance that our recommendations will be accepted. And that makes it worth the time and effort we put in before and during the writing of the report.

Communicating in writing is a challenge

In several workshops, participants shared that after their on-site audit missions, they spent days, even weeks in some cases, drafting and editing their audit reports. The goal was always to deliver value-added recommendations to the audited entity and the organization in general. The challenges were writing clearly, concisely and persuasively.

If they didn’t, endless discussions and disagreements arose with auditees. Multiple meetings and calls followed; edits and sometimes rewrites were necessary. At times, this resulted in watered-down recommendations, escalations, and in the end, a less effective report.

To make it even more complicated, there were reviews and edits by four or five reviewers up the line once the initial reports were drafted. Some participants protested that the result looked nothing like the original text, and others were pained that someone else’s style was imposed over their own. Sound familiar?

Minimize your risk

There are numerous things you can do to minimize the risk that your readers won’t come to the same conclusions you did, and to ensure your recommendations are accepted. And it starts BEFORE you write!

Before you put pen to paper:

During the writing process:

  1. Write in short, digestible sentences. If you aren’t sure if your sentences are ‘the right length’, run the readability check available in MS Word to find out your average sentence length.
  2. Use plain English. There’s no need to use mysterious jargon, complex connecting words, and complicated verb structures. KISS is still a popular acronym for a reason.
  3. Interpret for your reader. Yes, the facts must be stated and ideally be indisputable. But facts aren’t enough. Interpret those facts for the reader, or they will do it for you.
  4. Structure your arguments. In audit, we use criteria, condition, cause, risk and recommendation as the desired structure. Not an auditor? Other structures work, too, to take the reader by the hand in a logical, persuasive fashion. The point is to have one.
  5. Make an action-oriented recommendation. One of the most frustrating things for readers is to plough through a long report and then not have a clear recommendation to act on. Tell your reader what you want them to do. Find out more here.

How do you minimize the risk when writing your reports? Share your writing strategies and techniques in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

Wishing you every success in your writing.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

P.S.: I’m launching an Audit Report Writing webinar soon! One-hour of coaching for YOU from the comfort of your office or sofa. So stay tuned!

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Oops, I did it again

This week I was in a meeting with 11 other attendees and I did the unimaginable. I interrupted the speaker in the middle of their speech. Thirty seconds later, I could have crawled under the table and been perfectly happy to stay there the rest of the meeting. You see, I fell off the wagon…

I have for years considered myself to be a recovering ‘interrupter’. I used to do it more often, say 10 years ago. I mostly had trouble during those annoying conference calls where you think someone has stopped speaking so you start. But in reality, they haven’t stopped talking – they were just taking a breath. I’m guessing most of you have experienced something similar.

But those weren’t the only occasions I interrupted. Sometimes it was inadvertent, and other times I wanted to jump in with my point – which is rude if I’m honest with myself.

How to stop interrupting others?

So I came up with a ‘recovery’ plan: On conference calls, I would literally sit at my desk in my office and bite the front of my tongue so that I wouldn’t speak. It worked most of the time, and I considered myself fairly cured of my interrupting habit.

Yes, I slip occasionally. Sometimes I catch myself: A sound has come out of my mouth already, but I stop there and try to focus once again on listening. And THAT is the real issue, isn’t it? Listening to what the other person is saying.

Most of us aren’t perfect listeners. (If you are, congratulations! Please share how you do it in the comments below – seriously.)

Why do we stop listening?

Some of you might be interrupters like me. Some of you may be daydreamers. Daydreamers think about something totally different from the topic being discussed in the meeting. (Because frankly, thinking about an upcoming holiday is far more interesting – sound familiar??)

Others ‘rehearse’ – I hear this often from my audit clients during my Interviewing Skills workshops. Auditors have certain questions they must ask, and they’re so focused on making sure they don’t forget the next question that they actually stop listening to their business counterpart. This is a dangerous listening block for an auditor because you can actually miss key points or evidence that is needed to achieve the right audit result.

Why should you listen carefully?

Here are three quick reasons to listen to your business counterparts:

  1. It’s a sign of respect. Someone is sharing their thoughts, opinions and results of their work with you. Give them your full attention, even if it is just long enough to ask them to come back later.
  2. You may learn something that will help you move forward in your work or your life.
  3. It’s an opportunity to learn what your business counterpart wants and needs. And once you know that, you can propose a solution, product or service that will fill their want and help you build your business.

What are YOUR listening blocks?

Have a look at these examples and choose the block, or blocks, that are most applicable to you. Then sit back and think of how you can overcome this block(s).

Common Listening Blocks: Which are yours and how will you overcome them?

  • Filtering: Listening for particular information and ignoring the rest.
  • Judging: Jumping to conclusions based on your own opinions and experience.
  • Solving: Thinking about solutions before your business counterpart has stopped speaking.
  • Appeasing: Politely agreeing so you can move the conversation forward more quickly.
  • Rehearsing: Determining what to ask next while the interviewee is speaking.
  • Daydreaming: Letting your mind wander to other (more interesting) topics.
  • Interrupting: Interjecting before the other person is finished speaking.

Good luck in your self-assessment of your listening blocks. Get in touch if you would like some advice!

Wishing you every success with your listening skills.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

Why your audience is critical to your success

No matter which workshop I’m teaching, we always talk about ‘the audience’ of your communication. Because the audience is relevant, whether you’re delivering a presentation, crafting a report, giving an update in a meeting, or writing an email.

In fact, if you’re communicating anything – to anyone – you have an audience, which is fantastic: It’s an opportunity for you to share, connect and add value to others.

And when you do that, you can create positive change and growth: for your audience, for you, for your company, for the world.

Take advantage of the opportunity

Your audience wants something from you. They want you to give them wisdom, insight, facts and figures, results of research, a recommendation, details on the new process, etc. And they want you not to waste their time, because they are all busy.

In business, your audience might be a set of stakeholders that you communicate with regularly. Do you know exactly who they are and what they need from you?

A real-life stakeholder conundrum

In a recent presentation I gave to a group of audit executives at the Audit Challenge in Frankfurt, we talked about audit report stakeholders, and how knowing their needs drives audit’s success in an organization.

Case in point: There were 12 participants in one my audit report writing workshops earlier in the year. I asked two questions at the beginning of the first day of the workshop:

  1. Who are your stakeholders?
  2. What do they need from your audit reports?

I got eight different opinions, not just on stakeholder needs, but on who those main stakeholders were. (Nope, not kidding!)

Why were there so many different opinions, especially since all of the participants worked for the same company?

Blame it on poor communication

I believe it was a communication issue, or to be more precise, a ‘lack of communication’ issue.

This team couldn’t agree on who their main stakeholders were because they had never discussed it before. They had assumed it was clear within the team, but that wasn’t the reality.

Not having agreement on who their main stakeholders were created the follow-on challenge of trying to identify the most critical information to include in the audit reports.

As a result, this team’s reports were not as effective as audit management wanted. Their department was not adding the desired value to the organization. And that can spell disaster for long-term trust, confidence and growth.

The lesson learned

This team learned that they needed to regroup and ask some questions, both internally within their department and externally within the company.

  • Who are the potential stakeholders of their reports?
  • Of those, who are the main stakeholders?

Then they put themselves in the shoes of those main stakeholders and asked:

  • What would I need from the audit reports to do my job better?

The department then took a very important step:

  • They asked these stakeholders what they wanted from the audit reports.

Finally, the department compared this information to their own ideas, and made minor modifications to the audit report template and guidance to ensure their stakeholder needs were being met – and ideally, exceeded.

Applying these lessons to your communication

You may not be an auditor, but there may be takeaways for you, too, in this tale.

Every time you communicate with an audience, learn who they are and what they need and want from you. Then make sure you give it to them.

You may want to give them more, but don’t give more without giving what’s truly needed. And don’t give them so much that they can’t find what they need because of excess information.

And remember: Your stakeholders’ needs can change over time. So if you have an audience you communicate with regularly, make sure to build in a mechanism to find out if their needs and wants have changed. The information you provide will stay relevant, and so will you!

Wishing you every success in your communication!

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

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All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication