Tiziana Casciaro at the University of Toronto, Francesca Gino at Harvard, and Maryam Kouchaki at Northwestern have done some interesting research for those of us who get the heeby jeebies from the thought of shaking all those hands in pursuit of strong professional relationships: networking makes us feel dirty.
"We argued that, unlike personal networking in pursuit of friendship or emotional support and unlike social ties that emerge spontaneously, instrumental networking in pursuit of professional goals can impinge on an individual's moral purity and thus make him feel dirty," Casciaro and company conclude.
From the working paper The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties: How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty:
We theorize that such feelings of dirtiness decrease the frequency of instrumental networking and, as a result, work performance. We also examine sources of variability in networking – induced feelings of dirtiness by proposing that the amount of power people have when they engage in instrumental networking influences how dirty this networking makes them feel. Three laboratory experiments and a survey study of lawyers in a large North American law firm provide support for our predictions. We call for a new direction in network research that investigates how network – related behaviors associated with building social capital influence individuals’ psychological experiences and work outcomes.
The paper quotes management coach Daisy Wright as saying "As much as networking is an important task, it sometimes has a negative connotation. The term sometimes conjures up images of back-slapping, forced smiles, awkward conversations or brown-nosing, and because of these negative undertones, many people shy away from becoming actively engaged in the process."
Meaning, it's not the awkward exchange of germs through sweaty handshakes that makes us feel so dirty but the butt-kissing.
It's worth noting the paper differentiates between personal networking (as in, joining your state society of CPAs and attending a social mixer held by the society to meet fellow members like yourself) and professional networking (as in, attending Meet the Firms on campus). It's the professional networking that gives us the creeps.
Why does the latter make us feel so bad? The paper suggests it is because professional networking is done solely for personal gain (a job offer, promotion, etc) whereas other forms of networking are done for the better of other people (like, say, if I attend a crazy cat lady fundraiser, the proceeds of which will benefit animals in need and not myself).
So this begs the question: does networking make you feel dirty? Have you ever walked away from an event thinking "man, what a self-centered, cutthroat douche I am for going to that stupid thing"? Inquiring minds want to know.
Now pass the hand sanitizer…