5 ways to influence gatekeepers who want nothing to do with you

Interacting with clients always has a certain element of surprise, but it gets especially fun when the client’s fiscal year is the same as the calendar year. You have the whole issue of dealing with the logistics of vacation. And by dealing with it, I mean you should plan not plan on getting responses from anyone during the weeks of Christmas and New Years.

Oddly enough, the problem isn’t the waiting on people to come back from vacation. It’s figuring out how to get the people who are still in the office to respond to your requests. It comes down to two main underlying issues that make holiday requests problematic.

First, anyone who is working around winter holidays already doesn’t want to be office.

Even the clients you find surly to begin with have a little extra sour in their tank when they have to work around the winter holidays. The only reason people come into the office s because the work can’t wait. By default, this circumstance makes any client person in the office around the holidays “busy”. It’s science.

In case you don’t know already, this is probably a good time to tell you that you do NOT ask for stuff from accountants during close, ESPECIALLY during year-end close. It is hands down the most stressful and demanding time of the year (If, for some reason, you enjoy having your head bit off, you can disregard this comment). Add to the already stressful demands the fact that so many companies want to speed up their close cycle and how could they possibly have time to answer your questions?! The books won’t close themselves, right?

Second, if this is your first interaction with that client, they already don’t like you. They might even hate you. If you’re an auditor, you’re only going to create more work this person has to do while everyone else sips on eggnog at home. If you’re a consultant, until you prove otherwise, the person thinks you MUST be there to eliminate/outsource their job. Why should they be in a hurry to help you?

Since these people stand in between you and the work you need to get done with no holiday alternate in place get around them, we call these people gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers also include people who can get you things (e.g. supplies, meeting rooms, and meetings with elusive executives). Get on the bad side of one of the gatekeepers and they’ll easily make your life slow, painful living hell.

Establishing a rapport with the gatekeepers isn’t that difficult, but it doesn’t happen overnight or without some effort on your part. This is where most people go wrong. So let me outline a few ground rules that will help you make friends with the gatekeepers:

Get to know the gatekeepers

Establishing a personal connection with the gatekeepers and understanding how they like to work significantly increases your chances of getting what you need from them. It also gives you a chance to separate yourself from the other annoying outsiders that don’t seem to understand how busy people are.

Respect people’s time

Simply acknowledging that you know a person has a lot on their plate will go a long in making them feel like their contributions are noticed and appreciated. People who feel appreciated are more likely to do things for you when asked. To that point, be sure to say thank you, just like you learned back in kindergarten. It makes a difference.

Ask. Don’t tell

Just because someone is “low” on the totem pole doesn’t give you the right to make demands of that person. Asking “can you please help with X” is better than saying “please do X.” If you come off as pushy, you can be certain that anything you ask for is going directly to the bottom of the to-do list. Do not pass go and do not collect $200…assuming it doesn’t go into the recycle bin.

Plan ahead

I think we can all agree that few things are more irritating at work than someone asking you for something that needs to be addressed now, especially if that fire-drill could’ve been avoided with just a little bit of foresight.


Tis the season to come bearing gifts, so if the executive assistant you call upon most happens to like chocolate, you need to make sure the stash if full going into the new year. It shows you listen and that you know how to give and not just take. Consider it a deposit to the emotional bank account that you’ve been withdrawing from all year.


So there you have it, five simple ways to make sure you’re not on your client’s naughty list and that you get more than a lump of coal when you ask for help around the holidays.