Difficult people – and how auditors can best deal with them.

The following article is part of our blog article series “The Future of Auditing” 

The topic today:

Auditors work with people from different departments every day.

But when these people are difficult, then cooperation becomes difficult.

In this article, you can find out how you can also succeed in finding the basis for good cooperation when dealing with this type of people.

My name is Alexander Rühle, I have been a passionate auditor since 2006 and have been the CEO of zapliance for almost 6 years now.

I have not been working as an auditor “in the field” for 6 years now – but some things seem not to have changed during this time.

For example, the often-challenging relationship between auditors and the heads of the specialist departments.

How do I know this since I no longer work “in the field”?

Well, on the one hand, this topic comes up from time to time at our regular meeting of auditors.

On the other hand, I recently had a similar experience myself:

At a zap Audit workshop one of our customers wanted to experience the new way of testing live in cooperation with the specialist department.

In addition to the employees of the internal audit department, the head of accounts payable and the head of finance were also present.

For the first half hour of the meeting, the auditors present, and one of the two managers asked specific questions about zap Audit and the audit methodology.

The basic tenor was that there was not only a lively interest in our product, but also the will to discuss the new findings openly and jointly.

Until the second head of the specialist department got in touch.

Troublemakers often make life difficult for others.

The troublemaker, a former auditor, had informed himself about our product in advance – but unlike his colleagues, he was apparently not interested in discussing the results openly.

On the contrary:

The head of the specialist department kept on hooking in – at the absolutely right places – and pointed out what he was missing in our product for the “perfect solution”.

It seemed as if he was only interested in finding weaknesses and highlighting them.

In the meantime, I even had the impression of being trapped in an episode of the German TV series “Stromberg”.

In this series, the main actor is usually interested in making a mark in front of others – often in a very unpleasant way.

This seemed to be the case with the head of the department, who seemed to have only one goal:

to show everyone present that he is the only one who understands how the world (and our program) works.

A good way to deal with troublemakers is humor.

But fortunately I had been warned:

In a telephone conversation with the Head of Internal Audit, I had already been told in advance that one of the two department heads taking part always takes a “against” position.

So the situation certainly did not hit me out of the blue.

But still – how to best react?

Because often, even a single “knock-down” person manages to turn the wind around in the whole group.

So, what to do?

In one of the aforementioned moments, I trusted my sense of humor – and responded to a perfectly appropriate comment with a smile:

“I can tell you once were an auditor yourself – you really find everything!

I then explained very objectively why the question from the head of the department was justified.

And it worked.

The head of the specialist department felt seen and gained the feeling that his intensive involvement with our product as well as a certain “expert status” was appreciated.

The end of the story:

After the meeting, all those involved were able to agree unanimously on several follow-up meetings in which the results were discussed together and in detail – a complete success.

In this article I would now like to address the subject described and the following question:

How do auditors today and in the future succeed in dealing with “difficult people” and in getting them to cooperate?

By the way, they do not always have to be heads of specialist departments – this could also be the head of a branch office or a personal assistant who refuses to hand over documents.

When it comes to good cooperation, sympathy is crucial.

In my experience, there is never one bullet proof recipe for trying to get through to a difficult person.

Of course, I myself also often fail to get through to such people.

After all, it’s basically a question of the personality of the auditor – if he or she is sympathetic to his or her counterpart or meets other criteria that vary from person to person, the probability of a “fit” and thus of good cooperation increases.

The good news is that the auditor can try to help.

After all, there are a few simple tactics that can be used to increase the chances of convincing the other party of a “fit” and thus lay the foundation for a constructive relationship.

To find the right tactics, however, you should first assess your counterpart correctly.

This is possible, for example, with the help of a scientific model of personality types.

A scientific model that fits well at this point, as it does not go too deeply, is the DISC-assessment model by John Geier (Schnura & Müller-Schoppen, 2009).

It describes four types of people:

  • The dominant, extroverted type.
  • The initiative, relaxed type, who is also emotionally approachable.
  • The steady, calm type, who is patient and tactful.
  • The conscientious and introverted type, who is always a little distant.

What is important here is that these are four very simplified personality types which do not exist in reality in their simplicity.

So, the people you are confronted with in real life will only be roughly identified as one of the types – but may also show characteristics of the other three types.

The following tactics for the four types are more for orientation, in practice you will probably have to adapt and mix them.

The dominant one does not want to share the spotlight – or does he?

So how do you convince the dominant, extroverted type to cooperate?

There are two possibilities:

There are dominant, extroverted types who want to be in the spotlight and set the tone.

The best reaction here:


Give your counterpart the feeling that you are convinced of his competence and that you can help him make the right decisions.

But there is also the dominant type who is looking for a counterpart who is at least as competent and radiant, whose brilliance rubs off on him.

He is looking for a counterpart who is “equal” to him, but at the same time does not question his competence.

So pay close attention to whether the dominant, extroverted type interrupts you quickly and does not really value your opinion or whether he listens to you and enjoys having a strong counterpart with whom he can play ball.

A little tip if you get to the second guy:

Use humor – a good way to quickly get to a familiar level.

The second type – relaxed, funny, and emotionally approachable – seems easy to handle at first glance.

However, to convince this type of cooperation in the long term, a lot is required of you as well:

Namely to find the right balance between rational and emotional content that this personality type demands.

Here too, you should be guided by your counterpart and pay close attention to how he or she wants to shape the relationship with you.

Does he like to joke?

Then his sympathy for you will probably increase if you do the same.

One joke is funny. Not three in a row.

But make sure you get the right amount of jokes – too many jokes might be considered silly by the person across from you.

The same applies to the emotional component:

If they confide in you personally – for example, that they went on a weekend hike – they will probably expect the same from you.

The good news is that if you do not feel comfortable revealing personal details as well, you do not have to.

Read my article on the right way to deal with colleagues from the specialist departments – there you will find several ideas on how to maintain a personal relationship without revealing any personal details about yourself.

The third type mentioned is steady, patient, and tactful.

Perfect, actually, for building a good relationship.

The disadvantage of the third type is that he or she is rather reserved and cautious towards new things.

The point here is to reassure your counterpart that you are a partner he can rely on.

A partner who keeps track of things and has already gained experience in a number of projects.

For the third type, safety is important.

Do not overwhelm your counterpart with a flood of information but take small steps together.

It is better to discuss complex issues in person rather than sending a long e-mail with lots of information – otherwise there is a risk that your partner will “jump off” because he is overwhelmed by all the new information.


Don’t forget to encourage your partner again and again to take away their insecurity.

Make it clear to him that you understand his skepticism and see it as a sign of special care.

The latter type – introverted, conscientious, and analytical – is also skeptical about new things.

In addition, he finds it difficult to meet with others on an interpersonal level.

The fourth type is rather withdrawn and emotionally intangible.

So, try to be objective rather than humorous.

Avoid small talk and stick to the essentials.

Shine with factual knowledge and shape the relationship more rationally than emotionally.

For example, if you are proposing a project to a serious and rigid counterpart and want to hear his opinion on it, don’t ask him how he feels about it.

Ask him where he sees the advantages and disadvantages.

Try to formulate as stringently and clearly as possible while leaving as little room for interpretation as possible.

Vague allusions, for example, can often be difficult to decipher by your counterpart, as the emotional component would have to be included.

This makes people feel insecure and can lead to their counterpart withdrawing.

Whatever tactics you use, it is important to stick to your own limits.

The following applies to all the tactics presented:

Only go as far as you feel comfortable with.

Because everyone can and wants to bend only to a certain degree.

You will see:

Your counterpart will already appreciate it if you adjust to him at all and fulfil his idea of a relationship that is pleasant for him.

As a final tip, I would like to take up the Stromberg from the initial example once again Stromberg, remember that difficult guy from the German TV show?

For me looking at that specific difficult guy, he cannot be assigned to only one of the four types – it is probably a mixture:

on the one hand, the dominant type, which seeks appreciation and an equally dominant counterpart, and on the other hand, the conscientious, introverted type, which measures its counterpart by its competence in content.

A good example to show:

No person is “only” one of the four types described and can be “served” according to clear instructions.

Every person is different – but in many cases a common ground can still be found.

In the end: don’t give up when you meet a difficult counterpart – but accept the challenge and make the best of it!


Schnura, T. & Müller-Schoppen, E. (2009). Communication and consulting competence for alternative practitioners. Stuttgart: Sonntag Verlag.

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