Administrators often say they can’t negotiate with you. They’re even less interested in talking about creative options to meet your needs. That’s because their organizations have a strong interest in order and consistency. ‘Think inside the box’ seems to be their motto.

You can still negotiate creatively, however, with someone in a bureaucracy IF you respect her need to stay within the boxes.

To be bureaucratically creative, don’t focus solely on ideas that are outside of the box. That is, don’t just focus on one-of-a-kind, novel, colorful solutions. Instead, look for grounds to justify fitting your request- or yourself- into a different box. ^^

Fitting the Request into A Different Box-

One way to find a solution is to ask this question: “is there another box I can fit my request into?” For example:

A Day Off By Any Other Name. Imagine that during your two-week summer vaction you find you need to take an extra day off to attend an important family reunion. You call an administrator at work, who tells you that you can’t because you only get fourteen vacation days for the year. You ask for another vacation day, but she says that employees in your pay grade can only get fourteen each year. You then suggest something novel: what if you ‘borrow’ a day from next year’s vacation days. Unfortunately, she says, the firm simply doesn’t do things like that. It’s outside the box. Then you ask yourself: “is there another box I can fit my request into?” This prompts you to suggest a different idea: “How about calling it one of my personal days?” “Yes,” she says, “that will be fine- you have four personal days left.”

A Non-“Bonus” Bonus. Take another example. Imagine you want your new firm to pay you a $5,000 starting bonus. “We can’t,” says the administrator, “we don’t permit them for new hires.” Then you ask yourself: “is there another box I can fit my request into?” You then ask, “how about giving me a moving expense allowance for my cross-country move?” “Yes,” she says, “it’s our policy to give new hires who ask for it an expense allowance worth $6,000.”

Don’t assume an administrator will tell you about all the boxes you can fit into. Often she will not think about putting your request in another box until you suggest it. If you can make the case that your request belongs in another box, though, she will often honor your request, because you’ve met her need for order and consistency.

Fitting Yourself into A Different Box-

Also useful: “is there another organizational box I myself can fit into?”

It may be, for example, that as an employee you can’t get a personal day or moving expenses. However, it may also be true that you can get them if you show that you belong in another category. “I’m not really an employee,” you might say, “I’m an executive/ a special hire under category 3G/ a transfer from the European office/ a staffer under the authority of another office/ etc.” The administrator may be able to approve your request now because you yourself fit into another box.

P.S. If these don’t work, try to find an appropriate way to talk to someone in authority who can relax the rules.