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4 Tips for Dealing with Conflict on Political Campaigns

Michelle Stockwell

Passions on a campaign can run high and sometimes, so do tensions. It can be so frustrating to feel like other staffers or departments are slowing you down, or worse, hindering your progress. At the end of the day, you’re all working towards the same goal: electing a candidate who can deliver a brighter future for your community.

We chatted with veteran campaigners to talk about how to put your best foot forward with other teams, while still keeping a sharp focus on your own priorities. 


1. Ask all of the questions.

antenna-503044-unsplash (1)Whether you are working on your first campaign or your fifth, you’ll always have blind spots. It is impossible for you to understand every aspect of the race. 

Yes, you’ll have to learn on your feet, but there’s a difference between learning on the go and making it all up. Making it up and fumbling through the basics leads to unnecessary mistakes. And those mistakes create mistrust and resentment.

When you don’t understand an assignment or aren’t sure what you’re responsible for on a project, ask questions until you do. Before you rush off to your next meeting, take some notes for yourself so that you can refer back to the conversation.

If you’re managing a team, pay attention to the questions you hear. Actively listening to your staff can help highlight your team's blindspots. Think of yourself as an advocate for your staff and make sure that everyone has the information that they need to achieve their goals. 


2. Make friends on every team.

rawpixel-659479-unsplashMake friends with someone on every team. Keep them updated on your work and stay curious about what they’re doing. When they're working overtime, bring them a coffee. If you can help them without neglecting your own priorities, step up and lend a hand. 

Not only will these friendships provide personal support for you throughout the campaign, these informal channels of information can be invaluable, making sure that opportunities never slip through the cracks.

When time and money are both short, it can be hard to advocate for the resources you need. But if you’re able to make your ask, while acknowledging the challenges that the other teams are facing, you’re much more likely to hear a yes. Show up for your colleagues when you’re able to. They’ll have your back too.


3. Consider the big picture.

Your campaign has two major goals: mobilizing voters and raising enough money to reach those voters. Each department should be fully invested in reaching these goals and should understand how their work fits into the larger picture.

If it feels like your goals are at odds, with other teams, step back and consider their priorities and their pain points. More often than not, the conflict will center on a few of these things:


Scheduling and Pace

Digital staffers are taught to move quickly, while fundraisers are incredibly detail-oriented. Identify the members of your team that are exceptional at scheduling and encourage them to take the lead here.

From my time as a fundraiser, I can attest that scheduling and organization are learnable skills. If you’re struggling with these, ask someone to help you create structure and checklists for yourself.  Chat with other teams about their processes and find out where your input fits in with their existing workflow.


Incomplete Information

When harmful miscommunications occur, step back to assess why they’ve happened. Are teams closely guarding information that it is actually okay to share internally? Do staffers understand what information should be shared up the chain of command? Answering (and addressing) these questions will clear up blindspots moving forward.


Competition for Resources

Campaign staffers are notoriously scrappy, always doing more with less. Sometimes you’re certain that an ad buy, direct mail piece, or new staffer will move the ball father across the goal line than any other spend. To ensure that this never comes to fisticuffs, establish a procedure for budget requests and for assessing the return on investment of each action.

4. Fail Fast and Move On


Especially if you’re waging a campaign in a competitive district, you need to encourage your colleagues to make bold moves and take smart risks. Mistakes are inevitable. Your campaign’s internal culture (and external impact) will be defined by how you respond to those mistakes.

When initiatives fail, figure out what went wrong, talk openly about the lessons you learned, and move forward. Firing a talented staffer for a single mistake will never make your campaign stronger. Instead, it will quiet your staff down.  People need to know that it is safe for them to propose bold new ideas. 


You share goals and values with the entire campaign. By asking more questions, opening informal channels of communication, empathizing with other teams, and handling failure gracefully, you can help build a smarter and more agile campaign that is set to win in November. 

Topics: Insider, Culture, Organizing, Digital, Fundraising, Advocacy, VAN, GOTV, campaigns