At the time of writing this blog the world in the grip of the Coronavirus Pandemic. This is already causing disruption to everything including schooling, commerce and travel. At the corporate level, we will soon be seeing changes to industrial strategies and business models. As a result of these unexpected and seemingly impossible changes, it’s highly likely that businesses, organisations and individuals will encounter resistance either personally, professionally, or both.

Regardless of the situation or local, whether it be at the workplace, airport, or dealing with management teams, people react to being told “it’s not possible” in a variety of ways, and not all those ways are productive. To get around the brick walls which corporations, bureaucracies and other social groups put in our way, it is important to follow these helpful tips.

Tactics for doing the impossible

The following practices are particularly helpful when facing the impossible, and especially so when that impossible situation is wrapped in a crisis.

1. Calm down, smile and stay polite.
When faced with sudden, unexpected obstacles, it’s easy to let your emotions flare up, but in most cases, the other side doesn’t have to help you, and a heated exchange may even ensure that they actively hinder you. You cannot win a battle through anger. The very first thing to do is to observe that you are angry, and calm yourself down. There’ll be plenty of time for cursing the system that put problems in your way later after you’ve removed these obstacles. You need to be cheerful, polite and positive with all the people involved in the problem you’re facing because any of them might be the key to helping you move past that problem.

2. Become a human being.
It’s easy to say no to a statistic, or a number but it’s much harder to ignore a real human being with a real, personal story, someone you’ve met and spoken to. Chances are the system that is blocking you is not treating you like a person, but like an item in a queue of things to be dealt with. To get people within that system to help you, you need to snap them out of that world-view, into considering your case as a real, personal, human situation. The easiest way to achieve that is to provide them with personal details. Provide some elements to build a story of what is happening to you. Add as many personal details as reasonable to become a real, live human being in the mind of the people you converse with.

3. Be persistent.
There’s a saying that the “squeaky wheel gets the fix”. Persisting and conveying that you’re probably not going to give up until you get your way, makes it more likely that even uncooperative people will help you (if only to get you out of their way). It’s of paramount importance that you continue to be very pleasant, friendly, and polite, while firmly persisting. Simple polite persistence is often enough when dealing with banks, clients, or suppliers who are ignoring you.

4. Be prepared to lose.
If you are not prepared to lose, you probably won’t win. To get what you want, it is, paradoxically, more productive to start by assuming that you have possibly lost already. This results in a psychological shift where you go from trying to defend what you thought you had to trying to gain as much as you can from a bad situation. This gives you freedom of both thought and action. You can think laterally and come up with unexpected compromises and pragmatic solutions, and when you see an opportunity, you can seize it without hesitation.

5. Define your objective clearly to yourself.
An example of an objective could be to save the relationship with a supplier who suddenly blew up, called you names and cancelled your order. You should phrase this objective in terms of results, not in terms of how you’re going to get there. Doing so will also help free you to come up with workable ways to get there, rather than try to make things happen the way you originally thought they should have happened.

6. Find who can.
Often, the person you’re dealing with right now cannot help you. What you need is impossible to them… but not to someone else. Perhaps someone in another department or another institution can help you. You can tease out who you need to talk to with questions like “Could anyone change this?”, “What do you need to do this? Who can provide it?” Suddenly, the authorisation that was previously impossible to grant may turn out to merely require the supervisor to sign a piece of paper.

7. Take an active part.
Things often fail to happen because of the inertia of interactions between people. You can enormously enhance your chances of success by acting as a go-between, the social grease between people. If you get a response like “Oh, I’m going to have to send an email to so-and-so, and I can’t do anything until I get the reply,” offer to send the email yourself (and then probably follow it up with a phone call). You’ll shave hours off the time from zero to done.

8. Make the other person feel good.
This is particularly important when the situation is such that you are in a position of overwhelming inferiority. The natural tendency is to make the other person feel bad for not helping you, and that may work sometimes, but it can often backfire because that person then associates feeling bad with your presence, and may try to get rid of you without helping you. It is much more effective to present the situation in such a way that the person who can help you will feel that they are doing something good by helping you. For example, if you’re dealing with a supplier who has treated you badly, you have every reason to be annoyed at them, but if you really want to get what you want, you should present things in a way so that the person helping you feels like they are a good person — not a cog in a machine.

It’s not over yet…
Don’t relax until it’s over, it’s easy to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. When you’ve gone through the first step in an impossible task, it can be tempting to relax and assume that everything will go fine after this, and maybe let the stress of the situation show through. Don’t. As they say, it’s not over until the fat lady sings, and things can still go terribly wrong at any moment between now and your objective being achieved.
Until you’ve got what you want in your hand, stay focused and expect more challenges and changes!

Finally, stay safe, positive and look out for each other folks – we’re in for an interesting few months!