Does networking make you feel sleazy?
It's a surprisingly common problem. Unlike meeting people to make friends or foster relationships, networking with the purpose of developing professional ties tends to make us want a hot shower -- or, as one study has demonstrated, more partial to cleaning products.
On the other hand, networking is a vital part of long-term career success and even short-term job performance. So how can you network without feeling greasy afterwards?
Change your intention
A series of experiments and surveys found that it's the intention of networking that drives our feelings of dirtiness about it. When you go into a networking situation thinking about how you can build a network that will help your career, it's kind of hard not to feel bad about it.
After all, no one likes to think of themselves as someone who exploits people.
On the other hand, when you go to a party you're probably thinking about how nice it will be to make new friends or catch up with old ones -- no queasy moral issue there.
The lesson is, then, to change your intentions to make networking less about, well, networking, and more about meeting new people and making new friends. Go easy on the punch, of course, but try to approach the situation as a social opportunity. Who are the people you're meeting, really? What do you have in common?
Not everyone you meet will be someone you want to be best friends with, but you might find that approaching each person as a potential friend completely changes the moral character of your interactions -- leaving you less likely to need a shower afterwards.
Pretend you're powerful
Powerful people feel less gross about networking than their lower-ranking peers -- and it's not because the powerful are morally oblivious. Rather, they seem to know that they have a lot to offer, and they follow up on it by giving what they can to their relationships.
So, to wash off some of the sleaze, pretend you're powerful and offer what you can.
No matter what your status or how rigid your firm's hierarchy, you have something that you can give to others. Whether it's a contact, time, pure labor, or a friendly ear, everyone can contribute something.
By shifting your approach from what you can gain to what you can give, you'll remove the moral quagmire that often comes with networking -- and you might also find yourself actually getting more powerful in reality as people come to you for advice, help, or a bit of friendship in an icky networking world.
Focus on belonging
One of the reasons we like personal networking more than its professional counterpart is because personal relationships give us a feeling of belonging. We are part of a group of people who respect and like each other, and that just feels good.
On the other hand, going to the conference for your professional organization might feel like a frenzy of business card exchanges and fake smiles.
But you can change that by focusing on fostering a sense of belonging -- not in yourself, necessarily, but in others.
One great way to do this is to pretend you're the host of the party. People are surprisingly responsive to queries about whether they're having a good time, enjoying the entertainment, or finding the seminars useful. Part of it might be because you acting like a host makes others feel welcomed.
So next time you're at the conference, think like a host and try to make sure that everyone you come in contact with feels a sense of belonging. It might feel awkward at first, but you may quickly find that it's a great role to be in because you're not asking anything from anyone other than that they have a good time.
And there's nothing icky about that.