Politically Sleazy vs. Politically Savvy: Being political doesn’t have to be dirty (including tips on keeping it clean!)

Early on in my career, I had a strong aversion to the concept of being political. The word political seemed like the ultimate corporate dirty word. I avoided creating scenarios that would allow anyone to associate me with being political. I was wrong.

I had this incorrect notion that it was more noble to remain unapologetically unpolitical. I hadn’t yet learned the vast difference between politically sleazy and politically savvy.

I am sure that my personality mixed with a sales environment created a much bigger monster than ever existed. Political was a fire-breathing dragon that burned everything in its path with complete disregard for others.

Luckily, I had leaders who displayed political savvy and I learned how to change my perspective. Being political does not have to be dirty if you learn the difference between sleazy and savvy.

The Cambridge definitions of “sleazy” and “savvy” couldn’t be more perfect to illustrate my point and highlight the dilemma I faced when I first joined the workforce. At that time, I associated all political actions with sleaziness.

Sleazy: adjective /ˈsli·zi/ morally bad and low in quality, but trying to attract people by a showy appearance or false manner

Savvy: noun /ˈsæv·i/ practical knowledge and ability

To be clear, being political can be sleazy. Signs of political sleaziness include but are not limited to purposefully using others to get what you want, disregard for the impact actions have on others, creating singularly beneficial “relationships”,  undermining success and stealing recognition.

I am so thankful for the many true leaders I met who displayed political savviness so I was not forever stuck with the wrong understanding. Being politically savvy is about emotional intelligence. It means you build relationships. You learn to recognize who are the influencers and who are decision makers. It allows you to tailor your message to the audience at hand.

I witnessed leaders who had high emotional IQs and genuinely cared about people “being political” and it suddenly dawned on me that building professional relationships was no different than building personal ones.

Dr. Will Meek shared the below keys to healthy relationships on Psychology Today with research from the University of Iowa and the Gottman Institute. The list is applicable to all facets of life.

Keys to Healthy Relationships

1. Taking Interest

2. Acceptance & Respect

3. Positive Regard

4. Meeting Basic Needs

5. Positive Interactions

6. Solve Problems

7. Rupture & Repair

8. Reciprocity

Being politically savvy means utilizing emotional intelligence and creating healthy relationships. I have found the shift in perspective on political purpose has made all the difference.

Once you change your perspective on the definition of political, it is time to put it into action. Here are some of the ways you can be more politically savvy starting right now.

  • Take a genuine interest in others by learning more about them professionally and personally.
  • Identify and manage your emotions.
  • Learn to read the room so you can understand others emotions. Non-verbal queues speak volumes to those who look for them.
  • Understand not only the corporate culture but also the business unit culture (they should mirror each other but there are always nuances).
  • Learn the hierarchy and know who reports to whom and who the real decision maker will be.
  • Utilize your network to expand connections and find solutions.
  • Find a mentor who excels at relationship building.
  • Become a mentor and focus on developing someone else.
  • Practice problem solving with an emphasis on collaborative solutions ending with win-win results.
  • Seek out ways to help others learn and grow.
  • Always show authentic appreciation when you receive assistance.

Being political is about bringing people together to achieve results. Rarely can a one-person show do the job, so learning how to manage your professional relationships proactively is important.

Slay the sleazy dragon and find ways to be politically savvy sooner rather than later, as it can change the course of your career.


About Alicia Gross

Living in Des Moines, Alicia unexpectedly and ironically found a career in insurance. She graduated with a Bachelors in Corporate Communications and Marketing and also obtained an MBA in Executive Development. Alicia started as a licensed agent in 2006 and then transitioned into sales operations focusing on project management and continuous improvement. She shifted from direct sales to product management in 2015. Today, she is responsible for the growth and profitability of auto and home lines in her assigned states. She loves that the role is a mix of analytics, collaboration, communication, and strategy. Alicia is involved with various associate resource groups, mentoring opportunities and recruiting efforts. Outside insurance, she is passionate about family, traveling and giving back.

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