The Hill Life: When Friendship and Work Collide
Feb 29, 2012
Since Capitol Hill is a bubble in which coworkers and colleagues often are close friends, sometimes I find it hard to walk that fine line when otherwise good friends come in for work meetings. This is especially true for friends of mine who are lobbyists who bring in clients who don’t know me.
So my question is, do you think its appropriate to greet your friends with a hug when they are coming in for meetings? Especially if they are coming in to lobby you with clients present? Do you think its overly sensitive to only shake a friends’ hand (that you would otherwise hug in any other circumstance) when they come in for meetings?
A Senate Staffer
Let me take this question in two parts: as a former staffer and as a lobbyist.
As a lobbyist, I think it helps me when my clients and association members see that I have a friendly relationship with people on the Hill. Because when they see that I have friends who are staff, it reinforces that I am a person who is liked, respected and in contact with staffers of the Hill. And I think it usually facilitates a much better meeting when the tone is a little lighter and less formal.
However, I hope that I never become one of those lobbyists who pretends to have a friendship with every staffer that she meets just because she knows their names. I knew lobbyists like that when I was on the Hill, and it always annoyed me when a lobbyist pretended we were best buddies when I barely knew his name. Because as we’ve discussed before, there is a profound difference between a friend, a colleague and an acquaintance.
There might be a case when your friend won’t want a hug, maybe the people she’s bringing in would be put off by it for some reason, so take your cues from her. But I think most friends would be fine with either a warm handshake or a hug and won’t take it personally.
As a staffer, you are managing a different set of variables. A lobbyist can be enriched by having a positive relationship with a staffer both inside and outside the office. However, we’re deluding ourselves if we don’t admit that many Americans would be a little wary if they saw their Congressman’s staffer hugging a Big Bad Lobbyist. The culture of distrust and suspicion perpetuated by media has created a very negative environment and turned lobbyist into a four letter word, so I think you need to be aware of that perception as well.
Most Bosses won’t care if you hug your friend when she or he comes in for a meeting. They understand that this is a small town and that staffers went to school with, lived with, worked with and are friends with people who later became lobbyists. But it never hurts to take a moment to consider how your Boss would feel about things, even if you realize immediately that he or she won’t think a thing about it.
You need to decide what level of interaction you are comfortable with having. If you want to give your friend a quick hug, then do. In my case, that wouldn’t hurt my perception among my clients or members at all. And, as I mentioned above, it can make for a better meeting if you set a congenial, friendly tone from the start. But every office is different, so if you don’t feel comfortable with it, ask yourself why and decide from there.
So lobbyists, association employees and staffers, what do you think? How should a staffer or lobbyist greet a friend who comes in for a meeting?