Beat Bureaucracy

Successful strategies: Four simple rules for beating bureaucratic red tape

Find out who's in charge   *   Be persuasive   *   Be persistent   *   Push back hard

1. Find out who's in charge. Don’t complain to employees who have no authority to solve problems. Ask to speak to a supervisor. If necessary go all the way to the top.

Strategies for finding out who's in charge

Example: Ask to see a supervisor and don't take no for an answer. 

2. Be persuasive. Explain in detail why you should receive assistance. Be reasonable rather than cranky or accusing. Begin with a phone call but if that doesn't work, always put your case in writing and attach evidence — bureaucracies run on paper. If there is an official appeal process, use it.

Strategies for being persuasive

Example: Scathing Letter of Complaint 

3. Be persistent. Don’t let the system wear you down. Wear it down. Don’t give up because you’re tired or frustrated — friends, family and support organizations can bring fresh ideas and energy to the battle.

Strategies for being persistent

Example of how friends and organizations can help you

4. If necessary push back, hard.  If your request is rejected, call the bureaucracy to account. Bureaucracies act invulnerable. They aren't. Find their weaknesses. They may fear bad news coverage or phone calls to government ministers or a web campaign against them.

Strategies for pushing back

Example: a web video that forced United Airlines to compensate a passenger $2,000

Example: a newspaper columnist exposed a much-heralded government program as useless, embarrassing the bureaucracy into going after deadbeat dads.  

Red Tape Cutters’ Strategy Toolkit

The Toolkit collects all of the strategies for the Four Simple Rules into one Word document that you can save to your files.


Train yourself

Build your skills by applying the Four Simple Rules and Toolkit to six case studies. Get feedback on your work from the Bureaucracy Navigator.