Like many Americans, I traveled home for Thanksgiving. On my D.C.-bound flight, I was seated next to a Hill Staffer and a soldier.
During the flight, the two struck up a vibrant conversation. Over the course of this conversation, the Staffer talked about his Boss’s traveling habits, the Boss’s reaction to the Giffords’ shooting, the Boss’s feelings about the Tea Party, the Boss’s work to secure funding for a local military installation and much more. The conversation was lively, funny and entirely too F***ING personal and inappropriate to be sharing with a stranger on a public airplane flight within earshot of dozens of other people.
I wanted to beat him with my carry on bag.
First off, how well do you know the person in the seat next to you? Not just on an airplane, but in a bar, a restaurant, a hair salon, etc? He or she might say they’re a soldier, but do you know that for sure?
Secondly, are you and your conversation buddy sitting in the “Get Smart” Cone of Silence? No? Then, what makes you think that there aren’t dozens of people who can hear you? What makes you think that none of those people work for a newspaper, the other party, another Member or are otherwise involved in this business we call show? Or worst of all, what if one of those people is your Boss’s constituent?
Hill Staffers often talk amongst themselves in candid terms. But I can guarantee you that most voters are not accepting of our black humor and outspoken opinions. They don’t understand that underneath Staffers’ bravado and cynicism are people who care about their country, and that a few casual stories about the Boss are not indicative of his or her character as a whole. They only know that they just got a peak behind the curtain, and what they saw wasn’t good.
So what is a Staffer to do?
To start with, don’t talk to strangers. Problem solved.
Not willing to go cold turkey? Unsure what to do if seated next to a Chatty Cathy curious about your job?
- Don’t discuss anything that hasn’t been disclosed publicly. If it’s in a press release, news article or blog post, you should already know the talking points.
- Don’t be negative. People are scared that their government is off-the-rails, give them reason to hope. Be intelligent, learned and polite.
- Don’t argue. You can achieve this goal by not to talking too much. Say who you work for, that you like your job, that working for Congress is a trip and then bury yourself in a book. Only the rudest person will continue to grill you if you look disinterested in conversation. If they do, remain calm, polite and don’t engage in the debate. But again, the best way to avoid a fight is to not say what you do or to keep the conversation short.
I almost belted the Staffer on my flight, such was the depth of his oversharing. Don’t be that Staffer. Remember, loose lips, sink ships. Or something like that.