HOW BUREAUCRATS THINK

Monthly Column by James Robertson, Dec. 1994

When you communicate a message, the perceptions you generate in your various audiences can vary immensely. Who your audiences are should be a prime consideration for you in what you communicate and how you communicate it.

When you communicate with other freedom-oriented individuals, you intend to convey certain meanings. Since such individuals "think the way you think" regarding many aspects of fundamental assumptions and analytical procedures, usually the framework in which you communicate is relatively easy for you to interact within. The topic of that particular conversation may be a complex one, but at least the basic orientations are no impediment to effective communication.

When you communicate with non-freedom-oriented, non-bureaucrats, you usually need to tailor both the content and delivery method to a sort of "average person audience." (Clearly this is an oversimplification, but the main thrust of this column is dealing with bureaucrats.)

When you communicate with a bureaucrat, you almost always need to adjust your message to a set of perceptions (those of the bureaucrat) radically different from your own. Applying the "Power Message Principle" (discussed in Report #10: How To Achieve and Increase Personal Power) requires carefully considering "how bureaucrats think," as discussed in my earlier columns.

One example: In a small city in Arizona for the last few years, I know of a person who has been fighting zoning ordinances for his residence/small business. He has plastered his home/business buildings with signs saying the city officials are "Nazis" and "storm troopers." This is something for which freedom-oriented individuals probably have a lot of sympathy.

You may understand several of the reasons for the man's comparison of the city bureaucrats to Nazis. One of them is probably the use of brute force inherent in the use of zoning ordinances and the enforcement thereof. Another reason for the comparison is probably that "Nazis used 'just following orders' and 'just doing my job' as excuses for unspeakable behavior." The comparison, of course, aptly applies to this example.

Consider, though, what the effects are on the various bureaucrats he must deal with.

Higher-level bureaucrats in the city probably figure they need to do whatever is needed to win in court or otherwise get compliance. They possibly understand the comparison (probably they don't); however, they don't really care what their involuntary "client" thinks. All they care about is that their rules are being obeyed.

Lower-level bureaucrats "on the street beat" almost certainly don't have any idea why the man is comparing them to Nazis. They probably figure he's nuts.

If the man wants to gather sympathy and maybe support from freedom-oriented individuals, the message content and delivery of plastering such words on his exterior walls probably has the intended effect.

If, however, the man wants to deal effectively with bureaucrats, the Nazi message content and delivery likely won't achieve any successful result. In fact, it's likely that it makes him LESS effective in dealing with the city bureaucrats (after all, most people probably would have a negative emotional reaction to being called Nazis!). The words and actions - which aren't necessary in this instance - might in fact make him a tempting target of the city bureaucrats, and other bureaucrats.

I have a lot of sympathy for this individual. I believe, however, he could deal with the situation in a more effective manner. His various options will be analyzed in next month's column.