How to Cope with Bureaucracy Part 2

A how-to guide to help you cope with a bureaucracy.


Coping with Bureaucracy

6. Motivate the bureaucrat. When you have found the person you need, have a good explanation regarding why you need assistance. Demonstrate that you aren't just a troublemaker and that you have a real problem. Doc Ricketts, in John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row, wanted a beer milk-shake but knew he couldn't just ask for one without being considered a lunatic. So he told the waitress that he was under a doctor's orders to drink one every day. She served it to him and inquired kindly about his health.

7. When buying products or services, set limits. Specify in advance exactly when the service will be done, how much it will cost, and how it will be paid for. If you are suspicious, set an absolute time limit when all work must be completed (or cease at no cost to you). You can also agree to pay half of the total cost on completion of the job and half in 60 days. You may have to go to another individual who will provide your product or service, but you won't get burned.

8. Don't ask for special favors, if at all possible. Bureaucracies are set up to do a few things for many people. If you want egg in your beer, or sequins on your pajamas, you are going to have a lot of trouble. Personal experience has taught me that you can get special favors if you are persistent and clever, but it is seldom worth the effort.

9. Keep your cool. Demanding to see the manager or writing a nasty letter to the company president may get the revenge you want. However, that probably won't solve your problem any quicker than a clerk with whom you have been firm, clear, and persistent.

Usually, the worst communication breakdowns occur when a highly specialized front-line bureaucrat meets an unprepared customer. Bureaucrats are not necessarily vicious, but they are always single minded and orderly. I once saw a man applying for automobile registration. "What was the date of purchase?" asked the clerk. "I don't know," replied the man. "I can't issue you the registration unless I know the date of purchase," the clerk explained. "I don't know," the man replied. They repeated this routine five or six times. Finally the clerk leaned forward and whispered, "Guess." The man did and got his registration. Bureaucracies exist to serve you, but you have to do things their way.

Thomas Gray

Monterey, Calif.

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