Why Networking Makes You Feel Dirty

New Research: The Mindset for Effective Networking

March 3, 2015

by Dan Richards

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Talk to advisors about networking and you will hear two main complaints: It’s uncomfortable to introduce yourself to people you don’t know, and it doesn’t work. Many advisors have tried without success to convert community activity into new clients. Networking might make these advisors feel “dirty.”

My article last fall, Five Steps to Networking Success, described how advisors have successfully expanded their networks. New research from academics at Harvard, Northwestern and the University of Toronto sheds important insight on the mindset needed to network effectively.

Why networking makes you feel dirty

I recently attended a talk by Tiziana Casciaro, professor of organizational behavior in the MBA program at the University of Toronto. She described a puzzling finding from her research with a leading U.S. law firm. She asked 165 senior and junior partners and associates to complete a survey about the frequency of networking activity and how they felt about networking in general.

There was a clear correlation between networking activity on the one hand and hours billed and seniority on the other; senior partners typically had a higher level of engagement in business networking than other respondents. Without exception, the junior partners and associates aspired to rise in the firm.

That led to the question: If networking is correlated with professional success, why don’t junior lawyers make it a priority?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that senior partners have a higher profile and therefore more opportunity to network. But the bigger issue relates to mindset, as senior lawyers had a more positive attitude to professional networking than did their more junior colleagues. Other experiments back this finding, revealing that the thought of professional networking literally makes many people feel “dirty.” It summons up feelings of inauthenticity and even immorality.

Two other factors influenced how people felt about networking:

  • Preplanned networking summoned up stronger feelings of inauthenticity and “dirtiness” than spontaneous networking.
  • Networking for professional gain had more negative connotations than personal networking.  Attending a holiday party to have fun and make friends was viewed in a more positive light than attending a party to make business connections.

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