AUDITORS NEED TO FOCUS ON INTERPERSONAL SKILLS

Villanova, Pa. - Internal auditors who combine likable personality traits with well-presented arguments do better at influencing managers' accounting judgments and financial reporting estimates than auditors who are rude and provide information in a jumbled way, according to a new study by Professors Kirsten Fanning of the Villanova School of Business and David Piercey of the University of Massachusetts, which recently won the Outstanding Emerging Scholars Award at the American Accounting Association's Accounting Behavior & Organizations Research Conference.

Contrary to the assumption that internal auditors only need to use numbers and relevant accounting information to support their position, the study shows that how they present themselves and their information is just as important.

The authors recruited 133 managers and business professionals from an executive training program at the University of Massachusetts, and had them all read case information as managers of a hypothetical firm trying to make a determination about inventory obsolescence. Participants were divided into groups that read different versions of the case. In one, the internal auditor was portrayed as "likable" (easy to be around, down to earth, nice, and understanding), and in another as "dislikable" (hard to be around, arrogant, a jerk, and condescending).

Different versions of the case also varied whether the information was more or less supportive of the internal auditor's preferred position, and whether it appeared in an "argument format" or a "list format." The "argument format" was arranged in logically organized paragraphs that could help recipients better understand and process the implications of that information. The "list format" placed exactly the same sentences in a randomized bullet point list to remove the argument's thematic flow.

Managers were more persuaded by the internal auditor when they used an argument format and good interpersonal skills. Neither argument format nor good interpersonal skills alone had any effect.

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