The Election Connection: Using Political Campaign Tactics (Not the Sleazy Ones) to Get What you Want

Even if you try to avoid politics like the plague, it will not be a shock to learn that this is an election year – and not just any election year, a presidential election year. Believe it or not, as irritating as the campaigns can be, they offer a number of important lessons in effective influence, beyond just the fact that it takes a billion dollars to run a presidential campaign (no joke, it does).

Most important lesson: if you don’t take the most basic steps toward achieving the outcome you desire, you don’t get to whine about what you wind up with.

Here’s how I see this conversation playing out in the political arena:

Outraged citizen: “I’m really mad about ‘those people’ in Washington, D.C. They’re all crooks.”
Me: “Did you work to get someone else elected?”
Outraged citizen: “No. There’s no one good.”
Me: “Did you vote?”
Outraged citizen: “No. My vote doesn’t matter.”
Me: “Did you tell anyone who can actually fix the problem that you’re mad about ‘those people’?”
Outraged citizen: “No. No one listens.”

Here’s how I see this conversation playing out in the real world:

Outraged person-who-wants-something-like-a-job: No one is hiring out there.”
Me: “Have you researched some of the companies you’d like to work at and tried to demonstrate your potential value to them?
Outraged person-who-wants-something-like-a-job: “No, that never works.”
Me: “Well, have you sent out any resumes to people you know are hiring?”
Outraged person-who-wants-something-like-a-job: “No, I’d never get those jobs.”

Huh? How do you expect to get a job if you don’t at least let people know you want one? How can you use the idea of the “Election Connection” to your advantage? Here are a few thoughts:

  • As you’re building your reputation in the workplace, “netplay” (I never “network”: it sounds too hard) to make connections. It’s kind of like registering people to vote – for you!
  • When you want a job, send out thoughtful, personalized resumes and cover letters that demonstrate you know something about the people you “really” want to work with. For campaigns, this means personal phone calls, e-mails and even door-belling to make direct connections with voters.
  • When pitching a product, learn something about the potential client. Who influences them? What are their goals? How would what you’re selling help them achieve what they want? Yep, that’s voter research in the political world.
  • If you’re trying to get in to a certain college, find out who graduated from that college (and maybe even makes alumni contributions) and ask them to write you a recommendation. You’re demonstrating that you know who influences admissions officers. In the election arena, this has “endorsements” written all over it.
  • If you’re interested in a certain career, volunteer or intern at a relevant company and make yourself invaluable. This is similar to volunteering at a polling place – once you’re in, you’re in.

Sure, there are some “conscientious objectors” to the voting process, and that’s cool. But for the rest of us, when you don’t participate in the very process designed to try to get you the representation you want, then you don’t get to complain. If you do vote and don’t get what you want, complain away. But politely.

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