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Politically Savvy: Navigating Meetings with Diplomacy

By Marsha L. Clark


Have you ever wondered how some people just seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to getting their critical requests approved? Or how they virtually always walk away from key decisions with a win? Odds are high that those people are highly skilled in what is referred to as being politically savvy.


To be clear, the term political savvy is NOT the same as being political—or pushing one’s own agenda to the exclusion of others, often for personal gain. Rather, being politically savvy is about knowing how to navigate the organizational landscape in order to come up with a great, mutually beneficial solution. Being savvy speaks to your ability to identify and process the key players’ perspectives, their motivators, and to be perceptive and shrewd as you formulate solutions that satisfy the needs of the key players AND the interests you represent.


Being politically savvy often means that your most important work happens in the meetings that take place before the meetings, or ‘premeetings.’ In these meetings, you can share your clear position and display your openness to receiving input from others. It’s also important to be aware of and manage the different roles that are typically present in the approval process.


Decision-makers

Most big decisions have multiple people weighing in. These decision-makers will likely reflect a diverse mix of genders, different backgrounds, and will have varying styles and opinions. Work your way up the hierarchy getting buy-in, crafting your message and approach based on the individual decision maker.


The bigger the decision, the harder you’ll have to work to make it happen. Resiliency and transparency are key, so don’t hesitate to try again when you meet a hurdle or respectfully escalate to the next level. Never take ‘no’ as an answer from someone who is not the final decision maker.


Allies

Identify the people who agree with your ideas, approach, recommendations, or solutions and solicit their help. Simply knowing someone is your ally is not enough to ensure their support when it comes time to make the big decisions. Schedule a meeting-before-the-meeting and specifically ask for their vocal public support.


Adversaries

There will always be people who will likely recommend or propose something very different from you. It’s common to want to avoid these particular conversations, but that’s a dangerous thing to do. Meeting ahead of time with your adversaries is more important than almost everyone else. Learning their position gives you the opportunity to neutralize resistance, find new areas of common ground, and identify other items on which to negotiate or compromise. Ultimately, you might find that the resistance is not as significant as what you anticipated.


Gatekeepers

You will come across people who can give (or deny) you access to people, schedules, or information you need to build your business case. These people can be executive assistants, chiefs of staff, financial analysts, or subject-matter experts. This is a large group and reinforces the need to be on good terms with everyone. If you find yourself in a gatekeeper role, be thoughtful in regards to requests for time, people, or information.


Recognize that each of the roles described above changes from situation to situation. One can be an ally in one situation and an adversary in another situation. Be clear as you approach each new scenario.


Taking the time to meet with others before making decisions strengthens both your relationships and your solutions. Once a decision has been made, you can move forward with confidence that you’ve done the legwork to ensure the best possible outcome for all involved.



Marsha L. Clark is an award-winning executive coach with a passion for supporting women in their personal and professional development. Her book Embracing Your Power: A Woman’s Path to Authentic Leadership and Meaningful Relationships is available for purchase now.

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