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Why Does Networking Make Me Feel Icky?

013-KreugerBy Devin Kreuger

I envy the folks who can, full of confidence and vigor, ‘work the room’ like a pro. It seems like magic to me. They seem to know precisely who to talk to, what to say, and how to get what they want from the event and the people attending. When I see these experts leaving an event, they beam; it’s like they’ve won the SuperBowl.

I have reasonably decent social skills, and I can usually add a thing or two of interest to a conversation. So why is it that I can leave the same event wanting to scrub the whole experience off me?

We have all read about how critical networking is in the business world, and numerous studies back this up with empirical evidence. Yet there has been comparatively little study of its psychological impacts of playing the networking game. Until now, that is.

A recent study conducted from researchers at the University of Toronto, Harvard, and Northwestern has confirmed that I’m not alone. It is not uncommon for people to feel a sense of ‘moral impurity’ and actual ‘physical dirtiness’ when engaging in professional networking activities.

Networking-ImageWhere does this feeling come from?

The researchers were able identify that for many—for people like me—there can be a internalized sense that equates networking activities with ‘using’ people. It’s a feeling of selfishness. Of prioritizing ones’ own needs over others’. And this feeling can hold people back. It certainly does for me.

Of course, I’m pleased to know that I’m not alone in feeling awkward and uncomfortable at networking events. But how do I get over it? Fortunately, the researchers have some advice for me…

The answer lies in recognizing and focusing on networking as being beneficial for all parties. Networking, done well, is a two-way street; It’s not just about pushing forward your own selfish agenda. It’s about sharing wisdom and knowledge with someone who can take value from your insights.

“Don’t underestimate what you can give,” noted one of the researchers.

The next time you see me at a networking event, rest assured I’ll be doing my best to put these research findings into practice. But truth be told, I’ll probably still want a nice hot shower when I get home.

Devin Kreuger is Director of the Office of the Vice-Principal Research at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He can be contacted at [email protected] Visit www.utm.utoronto.ca/research

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