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Hill Navigator: It’s Not Our Fault!

How to break bad news to your boss’s buddy and deal with a saboteur

CQ Roll Call’s Hill Navigator advice column helps staffers with sticky or complicated situations they find themselves in on Capitol Hill. Each week, we take the most interesting submissions from our inbox and answer your concerns.

Fall on Your Sword

Q. What’s the best way to give a lobbyist bad news? Like a lobbyist you know your boss is friends with?

A. Always remember: It’s never your boss’s fault.

The consummate staffer will fall on his sword before delivering bad news that in any way could reflect badly on the boss. But most lobbyists were staffers themselves; they can often read between the lines and see that if a request was pulled or a sponsorship was denied, it’s usually the boss that’s giving the final say-so, not the staffer.

The best (and worst) part about D.C. is that everyone winds up working together again, so when you’re delivering the rejection or bad news, do it in a most polite, charming way that indicates a willingness to work together in the future. Be responsive, be upfront and be kind. That way, even when you have to be the bearer of bad news, you’re putting your own best side forward.

Out to Get You

Q. What’s the key to handling a manipulative co-worker who is willing to sabotage your work to make you look bad and get to the top?

A. Unfortunately, silver bullets don’t work on Hill staffers. But sabotage is pretty serious business. If you have someone out to get you at work, you’ve got options:

1. Write that stuff down. If and when you have to take formal action, documentation with dates and notes will help your case.

2. Talk to your direct boss. If the boss won’t listen, talk to your member of Congress. If someone’s trying to take you down, he’s likely doing other antics that misrepresent the office.

3. Get professional help. In addition to your friends here at Hill Navigator, the Office of Employee Assistance (202-225-2400) is a good resource available to you. And when you go, bring your documentation with you.

Still Waiting …

Q. Recently, my immediate supervisor, the legislative director, stopped responding to my emails promptly. He responds to other staffers’ emails on a timely basis because I’m cc’ed on them, but mine go ignored. Should I be worried?

A. No need for anxiety yet, but it’s worth paying attention to the emails he does respond to. Are the emails more urgent? More succinct? More relevant to your boss’s larger agenda? If you’re finding a pattern, perhaps you can adjust the emails you send to be more timely/relevant/applicable to the boss.

But if you suspect his lack of response is an indication of how he feels about your input, it’s worth finding a nonbusy time for a nonconfrontational talk about how you can communicate better.

Maybe email isn’t his forte — maybe he is still rocking a flip phone. I’ve had co-workers who believe email is a one-way communication device — they read messages but feel responses are optional. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t getting the message or valuing your input.

Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Send us your questions, concerns or just regular confusion about how it all works. Want to submit a question? Email us at or through the form at All submissions are treated anonymously.

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