How to Succeed in Bureaucracy without Really Trying – Communication Skills


In an earlier post (November 14, 2012) I outlined the four basic rules of bureaucratic survival. Briefly these four rules are:

  1. Always cover your rear;
  2. Never embarrass a superior (especially your boss) in public;
  3. Never give those who report to you an opportunity to speak in public without first scripting their responses; and,
  4. When things go wrong, never admit a mistake. Either claim that what you did was for the good of the organization, or simply deny that it ever happened.

If you missed the full discussion of these four points, you may wish to review them in more detail. Following these four rules will carry you far in most any bureaucratic environment, but a seasoned veteran of the world of administration and management will possess a tactical arsenal that goes beyond the four basic rules. In this installment I want to address the basic rules underlying effective communication skills.

It is essential to understand that all bureaucracies are information processing organizations. If the various departments of a bureaucracy are its organs, then the information that flows between those departments is its life’s blood. The master of communication skills, therefore, is the person who moves beyond mere survival in the organization to one who flourishes within it. To succeed as an effective communicator one must do more than master the elements of grammar and the organization of ideas in a written format. One should also master other communication skills, four of which I have identified below.

Communication Skills:

1. When writing reports, never use a simple sentence when a more complex one will do. As a corollary, never use a simple word to express the same idea as a longer word. If necessary, invent words or unusual usages to replace standard usage.


Wrong – Combining different technologies often causes problems.

Correct – The co-mingling of technologies does not guarantee interoperability.

2. Write in the passive voice except when accepting credit for accomplishments.


Negative outcome – I was not informed at the time the data were lost.

Positive outcome – I corrected the problem and saved the data.

3. When writing a memo, never waste the opportunity to embarrass a colleague or cast someone else in a bad light. The most effective way to do this is by referring in the memo to a mistake your colleague has made and then sending a copy to your colleague’s superior. Better yet, copy the department head or, in relatively small environments, even the highest management position in the organization. This approach to your own advancement will not win the friendship of those you call out, but hopefully, if your tactics are successful, they will not be with the organization much longer.

4. Whenever you wish to complain about a problem, never complain directly to the person who will have to fix it. Instead complain to that person’s superior or even to the head of the organization. This practice will demonstrate to your superiors your dedication to the welfare of the institution.

In a subsequent post I will discuss the basics of budgeting and personnel management. In the meantime, the employment of these simple, but effective, communication techniques will identify you as a rising star within your own bureaucratic organization.

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