Working as a “staffer” on Capitol Hill can be difficult, to say the least. I had the opportunity this week to deliver a 2-hour seminar to the people who work in the trenches to support our democracy. It was an interesting experience.

This is the second time in as many years that I’ve had the chance to work with the staff of the Members of Congress. This time the audience consisted primarily of chiefs of staff, the individuals who often bear the brunt of the bruises that come with working on the Hill.

Like most of our seminars, this one focused on collective action. However, this time I emphasized two particular aspects of collective action I thought might resonate with Hill staffers: dealing with strong personalities and chaotic environments.

The response was terrific. They were able to relate to my description of the types of personalities that often complicate collective efforts. I used the Muppets to lighten the conversation, specifically Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo. Based on the comments from those in the room, personality truly has the power to define social interactions on the Hill.

You won’t be surprised to learn there are a lot of Miss Piggy’s in Congress. But it wasn’t always this way. There used to be more balance. There were more Kermits, Fozzies, and Gonzos. Our elected officials today seem unable or unwilling to reconstruct the political environment in ways that would invite more harmonious and more cooperative social interaction.

I left my audience with my framework for reducing the noise by appealing to a shared identity and a shared value system. I’m not sure this is going to be enough.

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