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Why Networking Makes You Feel Physically Gross

Ever feel like you needed a long, hot shower after a grueling day of schmoozing with strangers for work? There’s a reason for that.

Why Networking Makes You Feel Physically Gross
[Photo: Flickr user m01229]

If the idea of networking makes you nauseous, you’re not alone–and science backs up your disgust.

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According to research out of the University of Toronto, professional networking feels icky for good reason. Relationships formed based on a career need, rather than for sincere friendship, trigger our moral disgust–linked, in turn, to physical feelings of uncleanliness. The researchers theorized that this visceral reaction makes us network less frequently, and less effectively.

We already know that being in a clean-smelling environment makes us more ethical and charitable, and physical cleanliness holds a strong connection to moral purity. The inverse is also true, then, in forming friendships based in our dirtiest motivations: Money and power. Feeling like a business-card hawker gives us the heebie-jeebies.

The study, set to publish in the Administrative Science Quarterly, asked participants to remember a time when they networked. Half of the group was told to focus on times that were clearly for one-sided gain, and the others thought of times when the connections arose more naturally within their industry. They were then asked to fill in the blanks of words like W _ _ H, S H _ _ E R, and S _ _ P. You can play along with this one: What words would you create?

You could go with neutral words, like “wish, shaker, step.” But if you’re feeling dirty after a particularly saccharine LinkedIn message, you’re more likely to come up with “wash, shower, soap.” The participants who’d recalled selfish networking moments were twice as likely to create words that plead for a bath.

In another part of the same report, researchers asked 165 lawyers from five offices around the country about their networking habits. Lawyers who used professional connections were more successful; and the more powerful they were within the firm, the less they reported feeling “grossed out” by networking. As Melissa Dahl sums up these findings:

That can be interpreted in two ways: Once all your networking has finally gotten you to the top, maybe you feel better about it. Or, maybe people achieve powerful positions partly because they’re less grossed out by networking.

None of this is to discount the value of professional networking: It’s a proven way to improve your career, find valuable connections for inspiring your current work, and a way to make transitions smoother. To make the ladder-climbing process a little less slimy, change your perspective–and your approach–to finding connections that genuinely do interest you beyond professional gain.

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About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.

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