How to Read Signals from Government
Chatting with MPs and staffers at meetings and events can leave you with a range of impressions. It’s easy to interpret niceness as openness to your point of view and curtness as resistance to it, but often what you’re getting can be put down to personal demeanour.
With a long Parliamentary recess and silly season just around the corner, MPs, staffers and advisers are as merry as they will ever be, so making sure you’re getting the right takeaways is crucial.
Here are the major pitfalls to avoid and tips to make sure you’re picking up what they’re putting out.
It’s important to avoid reading too much into the demeanour of the person you’re meeting with. Although picking up on cues and body language is important, a meeting that falls flat and one that’s relatively pleasant are often a better reflection of your contact’s temperament than anything else.
Likewise, although securing a meeting can be a big coup, it’s not always the breakthrough it seems or a sign that a stakeholder is receptive to your message. A politician’s job is to stay informed and consult a range of stakeholders across the spectrum.
Because of this, a meeting can simply be due diligence before making a decision or before announcing one that’s already been made. Be sure to prepare thoroughly, understand how your core messages can fit into their agenda and be prepared to communicate and persuade.
Thanks to the incremental nature of government, nothing that’s communicated is ever as good or as bad as it seems.
In this context, it’s important not to overreact as it can undo good advocacy groundwork. Don’t be disappointed or frustrated if actions don’t seem to line up with the impression you were given.
An undertaking to pursue a policy issue or assurance that you see eye-to-eye is more likely to result in small steps, discussion and shifting an important decision-maker’s view than any concrete action.
Similarly, taking too little from a meeting can undercut your hard work.
Be sure to reflect and think carefully on what your contact has communicated. This includes what they said, how committal or enthusiastic they were, whether they made any specific undertakings, and whether they are waiting on something more from your end.
If you did secure a meeting because they are receptive to your view, ensuring you maximise on the momentum is important to maintain a reputation for reliably following, keep your relationships strong and getting strong outcomes.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you accurately interpret and capitalise on what you take away from valuable contact with staffers and MPs