Four Things Congressional Staff HATE
One of the most effective ways to get a legislator on your side is to work with his or her staff. And one of the most effective ways to work with staff is to understand what drives them nuts. Then don’t do those things. It’s not rocket science. Here are just four pet peeves to consider.
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 at the time) 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.
All of this basically boils down to ‘put yourself in their shoes.’ Remember that you’re having a meeting with a human being, not a robot. When you do that, your meetings will be more productive and enjoyable for all.