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Attention to detail vs nitpicking in auditing

IN the realm of auditing, there is a fine line between people who possess a keen attention to detail and those who may be perceived as nitpickers. While both groups strive for perfection, it is important to identify the cutoff point where attention to detail transitions into an excessive focus on trivial matters.

Auditors who exhibit a strong attention to detail play a crucial role in ensuring accuracy and reliability in financial reporting. Their meticulous approach allows them to identify potential errors, inconsistencies or fraudulent activities that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. By scrutinizing financial records, conducting thorough examinations and verifying information with precision, these auditors contribute significantly to maintaining the integrity of financial systems.

However, it is imperative for auditors to exercise judgment and discernment in their pursuit of perfection. The cutoff point between being attentive and being overly critical lies in understanding the materiality of issues at hand. Materiality refers to the significance or relevance of an error or discrepancy in relation to the overall financial statements. Auditors must prioritize their efforts based on materiality thresholds established by professional standards.

While striving for accuracy is great, auditors should also think about how their actions affect the people involved. Constantly nitpicking every minor detail can create an environment of discouragement and despair among colleagues or clients. It is essential for auditors to maintain effective communication skills and foster collaborative relationships with stakeholders by providing constructive feedback rather than solely focusing on trivial matters.

Conversely, when auditors find themselves dealing with meticulous individuals, be they colleagues, supervisors, managers, partners or clients, the insights offered in William Diehm's book, "How to Get Along with Difficult People," can serve as a valuable resource. Diehm's book delves into the art of coping with individuals who possess a tendency to pick, nag and overcorrect every action and statement.

Let difficult people fuss. Recognizing that their behavior may stem from their own insecurities or personal struggles, maintain composure and do not allow their actions to affect your own emotional state.

Acknowledge when they are right. In moments when nitpickers are right, humility becomes a virtue. Swift acknowledgment of their correctness can disarm their negativity and fosters a more constructive dialogue.

Appreciate the person, if not the nitpicking. While it may be challenging at times, appreciating the person behind the nitpicking behavior can help diffuse tension. Understanding that their intent, no matter how misguided, stems from a desire to enhance situations, can soften the edges of their criticism and create opportunities for improved relationships.

Embark on a self-improvement program. By focusing on personal growth and developing resilience in the face of criticism, it transforms nitpicking encounters into invaluable learning opportunities.

In essence, finding the right balance between paying close attention to details and avoiding unnecessary nitpicking demands careful judgment from auditors. It is about recognizing when an issue is not significant in the broader scope of financial reporting. This skill ensures auditors focus their energy on what truly matters, fostering a positive work environment that encourages growth and success.

Moreover, when dealing with challenging individuals, auditors must maintain their composure in the face of difficulties. It involves being open about mistakes, understanding the person giving criticism and supporting their personal development. These qualities, rooted in emotional intelligence and resilience, not only help auditors navigate tough situations effectively but also nurture positive professional relationships.


Jessica Mae Gois, CPA is an audit manager of Paguio, Dumayas and Associates, CPAs (PDAC)-PrimeGlobal Philippines and a member of Acpapp. The views and opinions in this article are hers and do not represent those of PDAC and Acpapp.

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