Networking the wrong way makes you feel physically dirty

One-sided relationships make us feel bad

Two men shaking hands, one of them thinking about how he'd rather be wearing rubber gloves

Have you ever had that icky feeling when you’re networking? You know, that one that pops up while you’re speaking to someone who could potentially help you professionally? Well, it’s not just you. Networking in pursuit of professional goals can make some people feel literally dirty, according to new research from the University of Toronto, Harvard Business School and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

In the paper that’s to be published in the journal Administrative Science Quarterly, the study’s authors said that professional relationships that are formed primarily for getting ahead are typically one-sided and selfish compared with relationships that emerge from spontaneous social ties for emotional support or friendship. In instances like people imagining exchanging business cards or asking someone “please add me to your LinkedIn network”—where reciprocity is a secondary concern between participants —those individuals involved felt immoral and physically dirty after the exchange.

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The researchers say that having feelings of dirtiness while networking could actually decrease the frequency that someone networks for professional reasons, and as a result, it could affect their work performance. One experiment showed that people in roles of power at the office were less likely to report feeling dirty when it came to networking and engaged in it more frequently, which could mean two things: Once someone has networked their way to the top of the corporate ladder, they might feel better about it; or, a reason why they’re in positions of power is partly because they don’t feel as grossed out about networking.

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Just because you’re uncomfortable with networking, doesn’t mean your career is going to tailspin. The paper suggests that reframing the way you think about what you’re doing while networking can help you feel “cleaner.” The researchers propose you look to form personal, mutual beneficial connections instead of ones where you’re constantly thinking: “How can this person help me?” Key takeaway: Networking is gross—but it doesn’t have to be.