Politics is a people’s business. We all know this anecdotally, however, we rarely act upon this. In this blog, I am sharing my experiences on how to add a personal flair and touch when catering to your network.
Never send mass anonymized emails
No one likes to receive emails addressed to “Dear Member of Parliament”. Take that little amount of extra effort to personalise emails and letters. If you are writing a physical letter, you can always scribble down some personal notes with a pencil or pen. Dear Mr. Hoogstraten (And then with a pen: Chere Maarten). This holds true especially when you have an ask like an invitation or when sending a position paper. If you are expecting something from politicians or policymakers, the last thing you can do is address them directly.
Go the extra mile
When I organised study visits for Members of the European Parliament to Zeeland, I offered to pick them up from home and return them back myself. For one or two hours I would have a conversation with the MEP and chit-chat about non-work-related things. I would also have croissants, coffee or chocolate bars in the car just in case the politician would get hungry or simply wanted a snack. But you can show you are going the extra mile in various little ways. Like having a train schedule ready for the MEP when his work visit is over, so he/she knows when to catch a train. I once helped an accredited assistant from the European Parliament put an IKEA closet together. I think that might have been too much.
Time as social capital
The best way of bonding with people is by giving them your time. Showing that you are in a hurry or that you have more important things to do is the best way to ruin a rapport. In reverse, I always try to guard the time of my interlocutor. If I know he/she has meetings after our appointment I love to wrap up with: “I am going to guard your agenda, so we need to wrap up”. There is nothing more attentive than guarding other people’s agenda. In short, be generous with your time while guarding other people.
Be attentive and congratulate people when they accomplish something. Like when they give their first maiden speech in parliament or when a major bill is adopted. But even birthdays. People shy away from this because they think it is lame to congratulate politicians’ birthdays, because it might look like you are brown-nosing. This is silly. Everybody likes to be congratulated on his birthday, even ministers or presidents.
Beer, coffee, ice cream, breakfast
Beer and coffee are the engine oil of any political campus. While I am not stimulating you to develop an alcohol habit, I want you to be aware of the social glue of drinking together. This could also be coffee. Knowing where the best coffee in town is, makes you an instant hero. I once had a meeting with a member of the cabinet of a Eurocommissionair, and as it was a hot day I offered to go for ice cream instead of coffee. One of the things I always loved (and still love) doing is offering to have breakfast together. Because everybody is always so busy, agendas are always a constant challenge. However, no one has meetings at 0800 in the morning. When you feel comfortable enough, offer to have a meeting at 0800, with breakfast included. There is nothing more intimate than discussing business while still feeling a bit sleepy.