The Unexpected Lessons I Learned Working in Politics
We asked some of the sharpest women in politics what it takes to triumph in an industry rife with double-talk, enmity, and epic egos. (And you thought your job was tough)
By Karen Schwartz
Get People to Confide in You
Information is power, but getting someone to dish the dirt "shouldn't be mercenary," says CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash. The key is trust. "I've been scooped more times than I'd like to admit by people who ran with a story I was keeping in confidence. But I've never regretted it. [Your source] will remember and give you other leads." And if you do blabber about an off-therecord earful? "Enjoy it," she says, "because you can be sure they won't let you burn them again."
Become a Media Darling
"Winning over the media is no different than winning over a table in conversation," says Kim Kingsley, chief operating officer of Politico. Her advice: Keep it real. "If you areor come off as an inauthentic, selfserving person, everyone will want to run from that table as soon as possible." Instead, create connections by making curiosity a two-way street. "Show a genuine interest in them as people, not just yourself."
Win Over a Room Full of Sharks
"You can't allow yourself to be intimidated," says Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who, as chair of the Democratic National Committee, butts heads regularly with her GOP counterparts. "Remind yourself that you earned your place at the table." The veteran legislator also thaws frosty relations by asking about her foes' families. "Everyone is disarmed when they talk about people they love."
Collaborate with Rivals
The first step, says congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the freshman Democrat from Hawaii, is finding common ground. The trick? Take your ego out of it. Period. "It's not about you; it's about getting something accomplished," she says.
Forge Ahead After an Epic Failure
"Use it as an opportunity," says Nicolle Wallace, a senior adviser to John McCain's failed 2008 presidential bid, who adds that her biggest career flop was "mishandling Sarah Palin." Your first move after a drubbing: Shrink your circle of input. "Focus on the people whose opinions really matter to you," she says. "Make yourself a better person. Be kinder." Most important: Avoid bitterness. "It only makes things worse."
Call in Favors
"We all have that person whose name shows up in our inbox and we think, What do they want this time?" says political strategist Angela Rye, principal and CEO of D.C.-based consulting firm IMPACT Strategies. "You don't want to be that person." Here's how Rye, a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, avoids such status: "Be the person that does for folks. People never feel put out by someone who they know has other people's backs."
Know How to Champion Unpopular Positions
"It's all about the prep work," says Sally Kohn, a liberal lesbian pundit who, for two years, was a contributor on conservative Fox News. She held her own by shoring up allies. "You'll need supporters to have your back for the inevitable blowback," says Kohn, now at CNN and a columnist for The Daily Beast.
Avoid Saying Something You'll Regret in a Crisis
"You want to respond, not react," says Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Facing fire is part of her job description. "When I've said things in interviews that I've regretted, it's because I felt the need to jump in quickly and make my point." To maintain poise, take a deep breath. "Nobody will recall the three seconds it took you to collect yourself, and you'll deliver your message with steadiness and control."
Embrace Criticism and Your Critics
"A sense of humor is the best thing you can have," says Dana Perino, the former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush and current cohost of Fox News' The Five. Perino cites both Bush and President Obama as masters of deflecting criticism with wit. "A selfdeprecating joke shows you have the intelligence and confidence to wear things lightly."
Photo Credits: Getty/Corbis/Zaid Hamid/Courtesy of Subject