I have successfully gotten government policy and actions changed using the following steps. This process works. Additional advice available on request.
- Know the rules. There are rules, regulations, laws and commandments that govern all human behavior. When you are having a problem with someone—presumably in some agency—inform yourself about the rules under which that person operates. Figure out which rules government agents have broken. Is the employee or agency, in fact, supposed to be doing what you want?
- Talk to the person who has the power to do what you want. Arguing with the receptionist about a prescription is pointless because she doesn’t have the power to write the prescription. Ask to speak to the nurse, who can talk to the doctor.
- Get the facts. Make factual statements, in chronological order, about the employee’s violations of proper work behavior. Make sure it is so true and so devoid of emotion that you could stand and swear to it in open court. You may have to.
- Document the facts. Record incidents with names, dates, times and places. Always ask for and write down the names of the people with whom you speak. If a person refuses to identify him- or herself, go after that person. Hiding in anonymity is the fortress of cowards; they believe they cannot be held accountable if you don’t know who they are.
- Act from reason, not emotion. Edit all the emotional stuff out of your complaint. How you feel as a result of the employee or agency’s action is rarely actionable; forget it. However, you can occasionally let a sob creep into your voice. Let the listener glimpse your terrible pain, guess at how deep it goes, and admire your self-control.
- Everybody has a boss. When a person persistently causes trouble for you, go over the person’s head. Routinely, I give a person three tries to get it right, then I say, “What is your name and job title? Your supervisor’s name and title? Please transfer me.” My size nine sneakers have left track marks on top of a lot of heads. My friend, a retired Army sergeant, only gives people one chance to get it right before he goes up the chain of command.
- File the complaint in hard copy. Words on paper don’t go away. Jimmy Breslin wrote in How the Good Guys Finally Won: Notes from a Watergate Summer:
Paper will slash to pieces the life and career of any man who so much as brushes against its edges. . . . Paper does not lose interest, nor does it get tired. Paper never goes away. . . . What is on paper remains constant. . . . Take months, take years, it does not matter at all. The paper does not go away. It is there and everything is on it and there always is somebody ready to pull the paper out of the file and cause it to be acted upon.
- State the solution you want. End your complaint with a statement: “I want my case transferred to another nurse . . . I want an investigation . . . I want the doctor sent back for retraining.” I always ask for a written apology. I’ve never gotten one, but wouldn’t it be lovely to have a file of paper wherein people acknowledge they hurt you because they did something wrong?
- Give the person motive and incentive. Motive is getting something good, like a pay increase; incentive is preventing something bad, like getting fired. Let the employee know how pleased and confident you are that s/he will take care of the problem, because you really don’t want to take it over his or her head.
- Establish a deadline for response. “Can you give me a ballpark estimate of how long this will take? Then if I haven’t heard from you by the 17th, I’ll follow up.” Leave it open as to whether you will follow up with him or his boss.
- Don’t expect much. Rarely, if ever, will your complaint result in complete success and satisfaction—you are, after all, working against an overpowering system. Sometimes you measure success by how far you get from the starting line, not by how close you come to the goal.
By complaining appropriately and effectively, you will improve your circumstances to some degree and, more importantly, you will change your perception of yourself as a person of power.
You must continually push back against the system if you are to maintain any personal rights, including the right to control your own life. To give up is to die.