Either if you are an Internal or External Auditor, or Compliance Officer you certainly know the importance of obtaining the information. Most of our work relies on information from other areas or clients. So, what to do?
1. Let´s start with the basic: what do you want to know? What do you need to obtain? To whom are you going to speak? Avoid being unprepared. Take as much information of the company, area and person who will you interview. This will help you for the location, dress code, organizing your ideas and asking the correct questions. Write down your questions, comments, doubts; make a list. After that, sort them from generic to specific so the interview will make sense and issues may not repeated. Then…
2. Schedule the meeting with the sufficient time and clarify its purpose. For example, if you think it will take 30 minutes, make it an hour. It is best to have time rather that do not have it or that you seem in a rush to leave. If you are going to have more meetings, are those going to be in the same place or do you have to move? Keep in mind traffic. Also, in advance allow people to know what the reason for the meeting is. This will help people to know what you will be talking about, rather than wondering the reason.
3. Arrive on time. “Being unpunctual is not lack of time, is lack of respect”. Everybody is busy, everybody has something to do; so respect others people time. If the meeting is schedule for 10 a.m. at least arrive 15 minutes earlier or better 30 minutes. You never know what you may deal with…like an incorrect address, building, floor, etc. Those unexpected events could make you lose time on moving and arrive late. Be cautious.
4. In the meeting:
a. When you greet make a firm shake hands, maintaining eye contact with the person. (Of course if it is used -depending upon culture- otherwise just say “good morning or afternoon, etc.”) Avoid a distant look; this can be taken as insecurity. You want the interviewee to see you as an equal, as someone to rely on. Be careful with body language! The way you sit, your facial expressions, tone of voice, is more important than what you think.
b. In Mexico and Latin America it is common to use a formal language as being politeness. Address to them as: “Mr. …Mrs. … or Miss” this demonstrates your maximum respect. You will change to talk informally only if the interviewee asks. Otherwise keep it formal.
c. Start asking your questions from the generic to the detail. Apply what has been said in #1; for example "Mr. X, could you tell me what your staff does?" (generic) As the conversation moves on: "Mr. X, who authorizes the expenses?" (detail) Do not interrupt, do not assume, maintain eye contact and above all either switch off your mobile or put it in silent tone. Avoid distractions. What you want is that the person in front of you feels unique, important and relaxed. And you are focused on every word rather than dealing with the mobile.
d. Take notes. Do not rely on that later you will remember. There is so much information that it is really important to take notes. In this way, you help your brain to emphasize the facts and yourself to remember afterwards what has been said. It is an art to take notes and keep eye contact, but it can be done! It is equilibrium.
e. Corroborate what you have understood. For example: "Mr. X, according to what you told me, I understand you are the only person who authorizes all the Directors expenses, right?" When you use the word “right” you are expecting a closed answer such as “correct” or “incorrect”. This is a good practice to make sure you have understood correctly what has been discussed or clarify in case there is doubt.
f. As a closure, explain what the next steps are or what you will do. Do you need more information, interviews? Does the interviewee undertake to get information? Do you need its approval for the meeting summary? Remember people like to be informed. Explaining what will happen next will help you in case you need support for other interviews, to get more information. In addition: clarify that the information you are asking is not limited or that “it is all you need for the moment”. Avoid saying "this is all the information needed" because in case you need more, people won’t be so open to give it you.
g. Ask how it would be more comfortable to be contacted or what the interviewee prefers. Is it by email, a call or face to face? This will help you to avoid being a nuisance.
Extra: in case there are questions from the interviewee and you don't know the answer, be honest. For example: "Mr. X, I do not know that, but I will check it". But make sure you check it and come back to that person ASAP. This is an attention and people like that.
Finally: keep in mind you are dealing with a human being. So, it is very convenient to put that person in a comfort zone, because when people are comfortable they tend to be open!
Your task is to know the process, area, or how something functions…to obtain either information or documentation so be focused on that. Be correctly polite but not misleading.
How do you behave with your friends? Replicate that. Remember persons want to feel unique, important. Handle people with clear communication, with honesty and attention is a key for anybody to get the information needed.
By Mónica Ramírez Chimal, México
Partner of her own consultancy Firm, Asserto RSC: www.TheAssertoRSC.com
Author of the books, “Don´t let them wash, Nor dry!” and “Make life yours!” published in Spanish and English. She has written several articles about risks, data protection, virtual currencies, money laundering. Monica is international lecturer and instructor and has been Internal Audit and Compliance Director for an international company.