Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Memoranda - Fifth Proverb

As I continue reading "The Zen of Bureaucracy", I am surprised at the wealth of pithy aphorisms I've uncovered. Here is the latest, another axiom directed at the bureaucratic memo writer:

"The unanswered memo is like a coiled snake ready to strike its recipient."

Truer words have never been spoken or reduced to parchment. What the ancient writer of the book knew was what most of us instinctively know even today: Don't leave a memo unanswered.

'Why?' the neophyte functionary might ask. Well, in my view, the answer should be self-evident but for those who think otherwise, here's a brief explanation.

If you don't reply to a memo, then it stands as the historical record. Whatever is written in that memo becomes gospel. For example, if it blames the last failed initiative on you, then you are the architect of that failure and you will be known as a failure for all time.

As you have already seen, some clever writers know to bury the important stuff in the middle of a lengthy memo. You must always be on guard for such sneaky tactics and be prepared to do what it takes to counter them, no matter how tedious the chore may be.

That means actually reading the memo and, by reading the memo, I mean taking the time to understand each and every line. Painful as that may be, it is essential to ensure that you don't let any damaging accusation or conclusion get past you.

Remember; if you had to suffer reading a lengthy memo, you have the opportunity to fight fire with fire or, to be more accuarate in this case, to fight obfuscation with obfuscation. It may be hard to slog your way through a long, boring memo but you can motivate yourself by thinking about how you will better your opponent with and even longer, more boring, potentially more dangerous memo in reply.

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