Hill Navigator: The Line Between Friend and Co-Worker

Roll Call’s Hill Navigator advice column helps staffers with sticky or complicated situations they find themselves in on Capitol Hill. Each week, we take the most interesting submissions from our inbox and answer your concerns. This week: when the firing hits close to home.

Q: A few months ago, a personal friend’s boss (who is also my boss in a different capacity) asked me to find a new staff member for him. Soon after, I realized that I was finding a replacement for my friend, who is essentially having all of his responsibilities stripped from him, though not being fired, in what I have come to call promote-a-firing. Eventually, my friend is going to realize what’s going on and completely hate me for having a role in the entire thing. When this happens, how do I walk the line between professional responsibility and friendly loyalty without failing at both?

A: You don’t. I don’t think there’s much of a line for you to walk at all. What you can do is use the limited window of realization to make your move.

It sounds like you’ve come to the conclusion that your friend is getting promote-a-fired (great term, by the way). So before you can confirm that with the higher-ups, have a quick, off-the-record discussion with your friend about what you’re doing without drawing any additional conclusions. If your friend comes to the same conclusion you did — that he’s on his way out — be a willing listener, but don’t validate that for him unless you know for sure that it’s happening.

If you don’t know for certain, be explicit that you don’t. Otherwise you’re yelling fire in Statuary Hall and causing panic without just cause.

You owe it to your friend to give him a heads-up if he’s getting fired/marginalized/relocated to the basement. But you’re better off dousing the situation with a neutralizing agent and letting your friend do the digging. Let him ask the boss how the new staffer will work with him. Perhaps that will be the jumping-off point to have the larger conversation about his career. But you don’t have to be part of it. Raise the flag and then get back to work. Take him out for a beer afterward and find out what happened.

Q: I have been doing a bunch of info meetings with Hill staffers. I don’t want to be annoying, but what’s the best way to follow up, and how often should I do it?

A: Three steps to staying front-of-mind without going overboard: Send a real, handwritten thank-you note and an email shortly after the meeting, and then another email a few weeks later.

The handwritten thank-you note has not gone out of style, no matter what Evite tells you, and people love getting mail. So spend a few bucks at Papyrus and send real thank-you cards to anyone who takes time to meet with you.

But email them, too, because if they have leads for you, they won’t send them via snail mail. And then email them again in a few weeks, just to check back in, to report on any progress you’ve made (“I had coffee with a Hill staffer and one real interview in a congressman’s office!”) to get your name someplace in their inbox. When the right opportunity comes up, you don’t want them trying to remember whom they met with a few weeks back.

And if you’re running out of updates and ideas in a few months, send another email to check in and ask if they have any new job leads or thoughts for you. Because they just might. And all you need is one good lead to work out.

Q. What are some other ways to get involved with politics besides being engaged on the Hill?

A. There is a vast expanse known as the campaign trail. Whether you can get on it for a week, a weekend, a day or six months, find someone who needs your help and get moving. Campaigns love eager volunteers, and you’ll make friends, get experience and see how the rest of America really lives.

And no matter where you go, from rural Pennsylvania to downtown Newark, N.J., to Fargo, N.D., you’ll get great experience and have stories to tell.

Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Email us at hillnavigator@rollcall.com or submit online at roll.cl/12tvZqI. All submissions are treated anonymously.

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