At a recent Women in Government Relations’ event, current and just-escaped Congressional staffers had a very cathartic experience. They had the opportunity to share with us a few pet peeves. The good news is that there’s nothing earth-shatteringly new here. The bad news is that there’s nothing earth-shatteringly new here. It seems that many of us are making the same mistakes over and over again. I’m doing my civic duty by sharing some of the highlights (or lowlights) of the conversation.
Don’t tell staff you pay their salaries. Whenever someone told me this I would hand them a dime (the per capita amount of my salary for the number of constituents in the district) and say “Great. Now we’re even.” You personally do not pay each staff person’s salary. You pay a portion of their salary. That salary is also paid for by people who believe the exact opposite of what you do. The staff work 50 to 60 (to 80) hours per week trying to reconcile those two viewpoints. Believe me. You’re getting a lot for your money.
Talk to the right person – and that means the person who handles your issues. If you want to talk about saving balloon animals, don’t bypass the balloon animal LA. Too many people think that talking to the Chief of Staff or Legislative Director is somehow better than talking to the person who actually deals with the issue on a day-to-day basis. This is not true. Don’t do it.
Don’t threaten. Hopefully, it’s obvious that threatening bodily harm is a big no-no on Capitol Hill. Then the Capitol police get involved, and no one wants that. But threatening other kinds of retaliation – I won’t vote for you, I won’t contribute to your campaign, I’ll tell all my friends I hate you – doesn’t work either. Remember that the offices are hearing the exact same thing from people on the other side of the issue. They prefer to work with people who want to find an area of agreement, as opposed to those who say “it’s my way or the highway.”
Know something about who you’re talking to: You don’t have to be as obsessed as I am about looking up bills they've introduced or reading their websites. But knowing things like what party they’re a member of, where they are on the political spectrum and even whether they’ve already cosponsored the bill you’re begging them to cosponsor will really help move the conversation along.*
There were many, many more pet peeves, but this is good for starters. It basically boils down to ‘put yourself in their shoes.’ When you do that, you’re meetings will be more productive and enjoyable for all.
* And if you’re really interested in that last part, particularly as it relates to sending advocates up to Capitol Hill, you HAVE to check out our AdvocacyDay app. You can also avoid another of their pet peeves, ‘having multiple people ask for the same meeting,’ if you work with us to schedule your event.
- Written by: Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru