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Leadership Staff Professional Association Newsletter | Spring 2023

April 11, 2023

Chair's Corner

Welcome to the Leadership Staff Professional Association newsletter! Whether this is the first time you’ve heard of LSPA or you’ve been an active member for years, I hope that you will find this newsletter useful and will continue to look to this group for professional development and networking.

My name is Aurora Hauke and this is my second time serving as chair of LSPA. I was honored to step in when we had a sudden vacancy on the Executive Committee because of all that LSPA has given me since I walked through the door of my first Professional Development Seminar in 2007. As a personal partisan staffer, my position has changed through the years, depending on the position of my boss at the time. In my 23 years with the Alaska State Legislature, I have worked for five legislators, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, on both sides of the aisle, and in both the minority and the majority caucuses. I currently work for a majority Senate Finance Committee member and before that was a Budget and Audit Committee aide and chief of staff to the House majority leader, House minority leader, House minority whip, and a minority House Finance Committee member.

When my boss first became House minority leader, I found myself the lead staff for the House minority, responsible for training new staffers and coordinating various work products among the staff. And I felt completely unprepared to lead. As an introvert and a bit of a loner, I never envisioned myself in a leadership role. Then a postcard landed on my desk inviting me to the Leadership Staff Section (our name has changed since then) Professional Development Seminar in Anchorage. It might be a little dramatic to say it changed my life, but it did. Each session, I was able to gain one more tool or skill to help me be more confident about my role. I was able to make connections with staffers in leadership roles in other states—people I could learn from, people who could help me identify my leadership qualities without the noise of politics interfering.

I continue to be involved in LSPA because even though those insecure days are long behind me, thanks in large part to the association, I continue to learn and grow each time I attend a Professional Development Seminar or make a new connection through the group. LSPA provides a national forum to develop and recognize leadership skills, and to support anyone serving in a personal, caucus, district or leadership staff role or any legislative staffer who is interested in developing their own leadership skills. We also facilitate trainings and conversations throughout the year to compare, contrast and share information with our peers in other states. The job of our organization and its leadership team is to make sure you have the materials and support you need to grow professionally and do the best you can for your states.

To recognize the contributions of staff to their chambers across the country, LSPA Legislative Staff Achievement Award nominations are open until May 12, 2023. Nominations can be made by legislators or fellow staffers, so if you know of an outstanding staffer, I encourage you to nominate them. The winner will receive a plaque and will be honored by NCSL at the “Salute to Legislative Staff” session during the 2023 Legislative Summit in Indianapolis as well as at the LSPA Professional Development Seminar held in Washington, D.C. I encourage you to attend both events. I consider them to be not only career development bedrocks, but also incredibly inspiring—they keep me excited about the work we do and rooted in the principles of the legislative institution.

On behalf of myself; Alicia Henry of the DC Council and LSPA first vice chair; Danielle Baker of the Louisiana House and LSPA second vice chair; and Mechelle Evans of the Louisiana House and LSPA immediate past chair, we look forward to growing with all of you this year and hope to see you at the Summit in August and the LSPA Professional Development Seminar in October.

Aurora Hauke
LSPA Chair

Dealing With Difficult Members 

By Curt Stedron, director, NCSL Legislative Training Institute 

Let’s just stipulate: Dealing with people (in general) is difficult. Dealing with difficult people is ... difficult squared. Add to that the power differential (legislator to legislative staffer) of the legislature and it can be difficult cubed. 

We lose our confidence when we aren’t trusted. We lose our voice when we are bullied. We lose our words because we get nervous or flustered. And it’s not pleasant. 

So here are a few ways to regain those things—our confidence, our words, our voice and our power as professionals doing a difficult job in challenging circumstances. 

  1. Step One: Employ the Pause 

    Emotional Intelligence studies show that the first step to turning potentially (or actual) negative encounters around is to create some space to allow the psychological to resume control over the physiological when we find ourselves in a tough situation. 

    “When a person has a powerful emotional reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens. After that, the physiological response ends, and any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.” 
    —Neuroscientist Jill Taylor

    Her suggestion is to first settle your own body/mind to deal more effectively with the behavior. To detach from the experience and become a less emotionally involved observer. To use the 90 seconds to shift our attention away from the abuse, which allows this physiological ebbing process to occur. Only now are you capable of replacing a negative REACTION with a more useful RESPONSE. 

  2. Step Two: Express yourself/emotions effectively 

    This is hard, in general, for some of us. We get tongue-tied or we ramble. And it’s especially hard when there is a POWER differential.  

    Templates make thinking easier by providing a mental Plug and Play.  This template is from mediation and couple’s therapy. XYZ Method: 

    • When you do X 

    • It makes me feel Y 

    • And I’d rather you did Z 

    Three things are clearly communicated: What YOU are feeling (Y); What the other person’s role in it is (X); Prescription for how they can change (Z). 

    This template is much more effective than bottling up feelings, or expressing them in unhealthy ways (body language; tone) that often escalates, rather than de-escalates the conflict. 

  3. Step Three: Responding to a lack of trust 

    Let’s face it: People don’t like to hear what they don’t want to hear. But as professional staffers in the legislature, unfortunately you often have to tell hard truths to people who often don’t want to hear them. 

    And while they might feel many emotions when your deliver unpleasant news (anger, frustration), one thing they often express is MISTRUST: Because I don’t like what you told me, I don’t trust you. 

    So how does anyone respond to a person who is conveying a sense of mistrust, especially when that person is in a position of power? A few techniques/tips from the conflict resolution literature: 

    Make Eye contact: studies consistently show that a lack of eye contact is perceived as evasive, or untrustworthy.   

    “An increase in the amount of eye contact generated by a speaker significantly increased the speaker’s credibility in terms of qualification and honesty.” (Texas State University) 

    Take notes—either in the moment or immediately afterwards.  This serves as a marker for future conversations, and sets a benchmark, or standard, of “Objective” truth—this is what I said; this is what you said; this is what we agreed on.  Especially with busy, often overloaded legislators—THEY OFTEN DON’T RECALL.  Your notes provide that recall.  Notes = authority on the development of that subject. 

    Benchmark the Disagreement: make them create a “trust standard” for the situation.  When you start to feel that mistrust building, don’t try to argue back in the moment (they have deaf ears—they don’t trust you!).  Instead, ask something that falls under the umbrella of: “What could I do to, or what would, make you trust me more about this issue?” Is there a more satisfactory source I could provide?  If you heard it from X would you accept it? What new information/evidence WOULD change your mind? 

    First, you get out of the immediate conflict and buy time. 

    Second, very often you can meet their own standard—and since they created it, they can’t mistrust it. 

  4. Step Four: Words Matter: the language we employ in any negative situation has the power to either make things better or worse.  Unfortunately, when we don’t PAUSE we often use emotionally charged words, expressed inelegantly (not in an XYZ).  This is even more pronounced when we think we are not being trusted. 

    So start to develop a database of go-to phrases that soften the blow of your comment, but still get the point across (like a velvet hammer).  That de-escalates a conflict.  Some suggestions from the conflict resolution experts: 

    “I’m curious why you feel that way…”   

    Gives them a chance to vent, and for you to collect more insight into the real issue. 

    “My understanding of what you are saying is…” 

     Make them feel heard! (often the real problem); solves misunderstandings; drops a “truth pin.” 

    “Does what I’m saying sound reasonable to you?”   

    Another way to collect data; might get them to create a meetable standard/benchmark 

    “Is this something that we need to agree on?” 

    Sometimes it’s not!  Can we agree to disagree and end the conflict? 

    The bottom line is that being a staffer dealing with a difficult legislator is a tough situation to be in, and unfortunately there is no “Jedi Mind Trick” one can use to shift the dynamic.  The best we can do is: 

    Set the foundation: pause to get control, and then respond clearly (XYZ). 

    Look them in the eye; take notes. 

    Make them determine the TRUST STANDARD. 

    Use the right language to both de-escalate and to gain useful information. 

Hopefully a few of these techniques can improve the quality of the interactions you have with difficult members going forward. 

Curt Stedron is the director of The NCSL Legislative Training Institute which offers free virtual and on-site training on a variety of subjects for legislative staff and legislators. 

Perusing Parliamentary Procedure: Resources for Mason’s Manual and Beyond 

Used by more than 70% of American state legislatures, Mason’s Manual, originally created in 1935 by Paul Mason, is the only parliamentary procedure manual created specifically for state legislatures. NCSL holds the copyright and is responsible, along with a committee composed of members of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries (ASLCS), for updating and printing the manual every 10 years. 

While every legislative assembly has the right to govern its own procedure and have its own chamber rules and traditions, many often choose a parliamentary manual for guidance and to cover issues not addressed by their own rules. Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure serves as the “back-up” manual for most state legislatures. 

New to or want to brush up on parliamentary procedure? Here are some resources both specifically for Mason’s Manual and for general parliamentary procedure in state legislatures: 

LSPA Member Questions: How Do You Recruit? 

We asked our LSPA members the following questions: 

1. How does your office handle recruitment (session only and/or full-time) in your office? (Are folks hired and onboarded by a central HR or other office or do individual members or caucuses handle recruitment?) 

  • Alaska: Senate Minority Staff
    We don’t really do active recruitment. People come to us with their resumes or bring names to us of people who are looking or would be good. The most active recruitment a legislator might do for personal staff is to try to keep an eye on the staff that will be losing their boss because they’re not running or because they lost their election and trying to pick that person up (that’s how I was brought into this office—the previous office, my boss resigned and the new leader picked me up). Sometimes we’ll ask people we trust if they know anyone who is looking for work. In addition, there are certain offices in the building that keep files of resumes for people to look through. Traditionally, those were the Senate/House offices that represented the capital city, but I kept up my file even after I stopped working for the previous Representative because I had done it for so long and the new Representative never picked it up.
  • Arizona: House Minority Caucus Staff
    Our office hires full-time staff. The onboarding process on ethics is handled by our rules attorneys but all of the other information is provided by our staff. 
  • Colorado: Senate Minority Staff 
    Legislative Aides. Typically, individual members hire their own legislative aides, however, our office aide coordinator maintains a pool of interested applicants from which he can draw upon in the event that a member has not hired their own legislative aides.
  • Connecticut: Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity
    HR does all onboarding, but caucuses hire their own staff. 
  • Michigan: Senate Majority Leadership Staff
    Central HR office does the onboarding and will assist and post positions for partisan offices as requested. A lot of the recruiting for partisan offices are handled by the individual caucuses.  
  • Michigan: Senate Majority Personal Staffers
    Session recruitment is organized by our member liaison, options provided to us, and our individual offices conduct interview processes and hire.  HR supports our hiring paperwork process and session staff are onboarded by Senate administration.  Then in-office training occurs.  
  • New Hampshire: New Hampshire House Majority Leadership Staff
    Typically, the division director (staff) leads the recruitment effort and interview process. I usually enter the process as a second/final interview. All staff are on-boarded by our central HR office (General Court Administrative Office). Division directors then lead the training process. 
  • Washington D.C.: Council Majority Leadership Staff
    Our office recruits as needed throughout the year.  Depending on the position, the Legislative & Committee Director and/or I conduct first-level level interviews then the top candidates are scheduled for subsequent interviews with the chairman, who, in consultation with me and the Legislative & Committee Director, ultimately makes the hiring decision.  However, the official offer and onboarding are conducted by the DC Council’s HR department. 

2. Any trends you’re noticing or tips for successful recruitment in today’s tough market? 

  • Alaska: Senate Minority Staff 
    Nope—but I will say I’ve had less resumes than I normally do and this year EVERY SINGLE ONE got a job in the building—which is the first time that’s ever happened.
  • Arizona: House Minority Caucus Staff
    Our tips for successful recruitment is keeping a listserv of former interns. We make sure that we allow former interns throughout the legislature to have an opportunity to become full time staff because they have learned information that others not in the legislature do not know.  
  • Colorado: Senate Minority Staff
    Session-only Staff. Our caucus employs several session-only staff members. As the name implies, these individuals are employed only as long as we are in session. These employees don’t work for individual members but assist the full-time caucus staff in providing communication and policy support to the members. The caucus posts job openings on the caucus website as well as on LinkedIn. The resumes of interested applicants are then forwarded on to the appropriate “shop” (e.g., policy, communications). 
  • Connecticut: Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity
    It’s a mixed bag in some jobs its tougher to get candidates but we also get a lot in entry level jobs. Our jobs tend to be very specific so not a ton of candidates out there anyway. 
  • Michigan: Senate Majority Leadership Staff
    Wish I had some great insights to share here, but not really. Our best source of new employees has been and continues to be the use of internships. 
  • Michigan: Senate Majority Personal Staffers
    We have plenty of applicants, but they take jobs before we start session, so we get stuck without someone, sometimes.  So, even if we make attempts to go through a process, we end up with the last taken by another job.  
  • New Hampshire: New Hampshire House Majority Leadership Staff
    The toughest positions for us to recruit for seem to be those either preferring or requiring advanced degrees, such as bill drafting attorneys and researchers.
  • Washington D.C.: Council Majority Leadership Staff
    As you are aware, the pandemic forced us into full-time telework status and employees have gotten used to that option. So, going forward, I believe the telework option will be a major draw for successful recruitment.  In addition, I believe paid family leave and with the rising cost of college, some type of higher education assistance (tuition assistance/reimbursement) will also contribute to successful recruitment. 

3. Do you work with any outside organizations or institutions for recruitment (schools/universities, municipalities, recruitment firms, etc.) 

  • Alaska: Senate Minority Staff
    Not really, unless you count the interns through the University of Alaska program that are asked to stay or come back. Not all of them are, though.
  • Arizona: House Minority Caucus Staff
    When recruiting we share the information with all of our connections and make sure it is also posted on the state jobs website. 
  • Colorado: Senate Minority Staff
    Full-time Caucus Staff. Full time caucus staff positions are also posted on the caucus website and LinkedIn. They undergo a similar hiring and onboarding process as the session-only staff. 

    Tip: Begin the search early! Find time between drafting deadlines and interim committees to solicit and sift through resumes. Come opening day, you’ll be happy you did.  

    Several universities and colleges have long-standing aide and intern placement arrangements with the legislature. Generally, a professor or a placement program administrator from the school will coordinate with individual members in placing students with members. 
  • Connecticut: Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity
    We do post jobs when it makes sense through colleges and law schools, we use the CT Conference of Municipalities (CCM) employment site and government jobs. We do not use recruiters
  • Michigan: Senate Majority Leadership Staff
    We have had an on and off relationship with universities putting together internship programs over the years. Still our best opportunity to find new talent long term when we do have a strong internship program going.
  • Michigan: Senate Majority Personal Staffers
    I don’t, but maybe others do. In the past, I’ve had organizations/job boards post jobs.  Not this year. 
  • New Hampshire: New Hampshire House Majority Leadership Staff
    Generally, no. However, our recent difficulty in recruitment of bill-drafting attorneys has led to discussions with UNH Law to identify law degree candidates with an interest in public service and/or promote positions with the General Court to soon-to-be graduates.
  • Washington D.C.: Council Majority Leadership Staff
    Our office does not usually work with any outside organizations or institutions for recruitment. However, on occasion we have experienced working with outside organizations to attract candidates for certain positions.   

Mark Your Calendars: Upcoming Training Opportunities for LSPA Members 

Get Ready to Apply for the 2023 Legislative Staff Institutional Essentials

Now in its fourth year, NCSL’s annual Legislative Staff Institutional Essentials (formerly the Legislative Staff Certificate Program) application period will open May 22, 2023, and close June 23, 2023. 

The program will be held online in fall 2023 during approximately five two-hour sessions. This monthlong training is for newer legislative staff who are seeking a broader context about legislatures and the legislative process and will focus on five core competencies. Staff with one to three years of legislative employment are invited to apply, with the approval of their director or supervisor. 

NCSL Legislative Summit: INDY 2023 
Aug. 14-16, 2023 

The Legislative Summit is NCSL’s premier annual event and provides a platform for legislators, staff and other public policy professionals to learn from the nation’s foremost experts, as well as each other, about solutions to the country’s most pressing issues. LSPA members will enjoy programming planned by and for legislative staff along with a tour of the Indiana State Capitol and a roundtable with other LSPA members and Indiana Leadership Staff.  

2023 Leadership Staff Professional Development Seminar 

LSPA will be holding its annual Professional Development Seminar along with the Legislative Information and Communication Staff Association (LINCS) in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2-4 at the Royal Sonesta Dupont Circle. Programming for the two-and-a-half-day seminar will include soft and hard skill topics designed by and for staff in leadership, caucus, member and district offices and lots of opportunities for networking and getting to know legislative staff in similar roles across the nation. Also in the works are programming and tours of significant D.C. landmarks and local speakers. Registration and hotel booking will open in the next couple of weeks. Notice will be sent via the LSPA email list when registration is available. 

NCSL Base Camp Virtual Professional Development Conference 
Nov. 8-9, 2023 

In a dynamic online setting, NCSL Base Camp 2023 brings together a wide range of experts to educate policymakers and legislative staff. 

NCSL Forecast ’23 
Winter 2023 

As always, NCSL has the facts, the figures and the forecast to help legislators and staff prepare for the new session. From education to the environment, from elections to energy, use the slider below to find NCSL experts’ insights on what lies ahead for state lawmakers in 2023. 

Upcoming Virtual Trainings

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