The Changing Landscape and Evolution of the Forensic Accounting Profession: Communication and Interpersonal Skills

The following excerpt is from an article that was published in the August/September 2020 issue of the Financial Valuation and Litigation Expert.

The preceding portion of this series discussed open-source intelligence and the information that it provides to forensic accountants. Another investigative technique that should be utilized by forensic accountants is communication and interpersonal skills. This goes beyond the ordinary skill of noticing when someone is nervous or uncomfortable. It means analyzing verbal, physical, and even written behavior as we attempt to become a “human lie detector.”

In order to expand the web of available information, forensic accountants must be as adept with figuring out people as they are with figuring out numbers. The deployment of ways to investigate the people, in conjunction with following the money, has enabled the forensic accountant to broaden the available paths in search of further evidence.

Accordingly, sharpened communication and interpersonal skills have enabled the forensic accountant to utilize additional distinctive resources, with such techniques as:

  1. Analyzing deceptive verbal behavior
  2. Interpreting body language
  3. Forensic statement analysis

Analyzing Deceptive Verbal Behavior

A lie is a false statement made with the intent of deceiving the person receiving the information. We are generally not a skeptical society, and there are many factors that permit lies to go undetected. Remember, our parents taught us that “practice makes perfect.”

It would be an enormous triumph for the investigative community if we had the power to become human lie detectors. We have all challenged dubious answers to questions we have asked, such as: “Your payment will be sent out within seven days” or “All of our products have been inspected and certified.”

There are two categories to deceptive behavior—verbal and non-verbal. Analyzing verbal behavior evaluates the vocal responses provided to questions. 

The ability to tell if someone is lying remains an important skill for a forensic accountant to develop. Deceptive verbal detection techniques are used every day by law enforcement, forensic psychologists, security experts, and investigators, among other professionals. By acquiring an understanding of human behavior and personal motivations, the forensic accountant may be able to detect both obvious and subtle signs of misleading responses. There are many deceptive ways that people lie, which can include embellishing the truth, concealing or omitting critical information, falsifying information, and being ambiguous. Based upon the specific case scenario, the forensic accountant may be able to determine why an individual would lie; some reasons may be to gain a competitive edge, avoid embarrassment, take control, fend off fear, or safeguard pride.

Therefore, the cues given by an individual will provide the forensic accountant an opportunity to ask additional follow-up questions, or, unknowingly to this individual, direct the investigation to reassess the assumptions or conclusions from previously reviewed documents. Some deceptive responses to be aware of are:

  1. Repeating the question to buy time as opposed to seeking clarification
  2. Overly specific answers, thus narrowing the scope of the response
  3. An inappropriate level of concern regarding the issue
  4. Statements that fail to answer a simple question

Interpreting Body Language 

Body language is another important element of communicating, and interpreting these non-verbal messages should not be overlooked. It is the unspoken element of expression that we use to reveal our true feelings and emotions. People normally think before they speak, organizing their words properly to communicate their thoughts or feelings. Conversely, people do not think of how to properly position their body parts so that their non-verbal clues match their verbal communications; most people do not navigate these movements because body language tends to be subconscious.

The words spoken by an individual may only represent one part of what is actually being conveyed; attitudes and intentions are better relayed through body language signals. The bottom line is that even if the forensic accountant cannot read an individual’s exact thoughts, a considerable amount can be learned from that individual’s body language—especially when the words and body language are not in agreement. As forensic accountants discover how to read more subtle body language signals, they can begin to delve into what an individual is really communicating.

Although being comfortable in reading body language takes time and practice, the adoption of good observation skills offers tremendous factfinding opportunities for forensic accountants. Training to decode covert non-verbal messages will enable the forensic accountant to be better equipped to achieve the most out of their interactions with others and gain valuable information that may have previously been missed.

Forensic Statement Analysis 

Forensic accountants have also expanded their competences to include the analysis of written words that individuals use as a means of interpreting what they are actually thinking. Therefore, forensic statement analysis can be used as a tool to uncover clues and detect concealed or missing information, as well as to determine whether the information provided is either true or false.

Utilizing this written response technique, the forensic accountant relies on the premise that individuals who deliberately attempt to be dishonest use different word choices, phrases, sentence structure, and content in their statements than answers provided by a truthful person. Thus, instead of conducting a traditional interview with the format consisting of a verbal exchange of questions and answers, the forensic statement analysis technique has the individual describe in a written statement the responses to the forensic accountant’s questions.

Critical to the evaluation is the forensic accountant’s ability to closely examine how the individual uses pronouns, nouns, and verbs in the written statement response. Therefore, although it may first appear that the statements given seem to be commonplace responses, these same responses may provide valuable insight to a trained investigator.

This is the third article of a four-part series that will be released over the next few weeks. To read the previous sections please visit: