The bureaucrat is the grunt of an organization, originally meant for government institutions, but has been broadened to encompass any large organization or company. Bureaucrats include customer service representatives, insurance claims filers, civil servants, social workers, airport employees etc. The bureaucrat typically views his clients as numbers rather than faces and is usually overworked and underpaid and underappreciated. Because of the large volume of contacts that the bureaucrat handles on any given day, they often forget who they are dealing with and you become just another number.
How To Deal With The Bureaucrat
1. Be polite and respectful of their position. Too often, the first things out of a customer’s mouth is some type of accusatory complain such as, “You people screwed up again.” While your anger might be justified, remember that the bureaucrat might not know who you are and will be less inclined to help you if you are verbally abusive towards them.
2. Make sure that they have the authority to negotiate. Make sure you don’t waste your time dealing with someone who does not have the authority to negotiate with you. For example, if I was at a restaurant and wanted to order a dessert from the menu, then I would ask for a waiter or a waitress to help me rather than going to the chef or dishwasher. On the same note, make sure you don’t automatically demand to speak to their superior because the subordinate will perceive that as a threat and react defensively against your favor. Also, their boss does not usually have the sufficient background information necessary to make a decision on your particular situation and many supervisors do not like overruling the decisions of their subordinates. They are more interested in the level of service that the subordinate provided you with because their expertise is in management.
3. Make sure that they fully understand your situation. Explain your situation in detail and make sure that they understand the problem you are facing before moving on to solutions. The bureaucrat needs to have a firm understanding of your problem in order for them to feel comfortable helping you with anything, so ask them rhetorical questions like, “Do you understand?” “Do you see where I’m coming from?” “Do you have any questions?”
4. Acknowledge their expertise and ask for help. Treat the bureaucrat as an expert in their subject and ask them for advice. Bureaucrats constantly get verbally attacked everyday about being ignorant or not knowing enough, so make yourself stand out and treat them like they had a PhD in their subject. This type of ego-stroking will persuade them to come up with options that you might not have thought of before.
5. Discuss the spirit versus the letter of the law or policy. Often to prove their point, bureaucrats will open up a 900 page company bible or law book and quote to you section, chapter, paragraph, and line of the company policy on why they can’t help you. As with any law or policy, there is some leeway for interpretation. There is the letter of the law-the specific words in that policy or law that dictate enforcement, and there is the spirit of the law-the specific intent of the authors who wrote that law or policy. You might want to point out that the policy is good and purposeful, but it does not apply in your case because of your situation does not conform to the original spirit of that law or policy.
6. Determine a fair standard. Discuss with them what is a fair standard for your particular situation. If you are calling them because of a product defect, then what is the fair standard of getting that replaced or refunded? Agree on what is an objective criteria to filter your options through.
7. Have your plan B ready. There is no formula for a 100% successful negotiation, but there is a formula for moving forward regardless of the outcome-and that is your plan B. Have your plan B fully developed and ready to go before dealing with a bureaucrat and you will not only have more confidence negotiating with them, but you will also be able to move forward regardless of the negotiating outcome.