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If you feel like a slimeball working the room and handing out business cards at an industry event, you’re not alone.
In 2014, researchers found scientific evidence of a phenomenon many of us had already experienced: Professional networking can make us feel dirty. But the more powerful you are, the less dirty you feel.
For example, the researchers surveyed lawyers at a North American business law firm. Results showed that senior members of the firm were less likely than junior members to associate professional networking with words like “dirty” and “ashamed.”
In a new article for The Harvard Business Review, the researchers write that these findings make logical sense. “When people believe they have a lot to offer others, such as wise advice, mentorship, access, and resources, networking feels easier and less selfish.”
That’s why the key to feeling more comfortable with networking is thinking of yourself as someone with something to give.
One way to help others, no matter your status in an organization, is simply to express gratitude. The authors write that “the more heartfelt the expression of gratitude, the greater its value to the recipient.”
Say you praise your boss to your coworkers and superiors, explaining how you’ve grown with their help. That could in turn help your boss and bolster their reputation around the office.
The researchers also point out that young professionals may know more than their senior colleagues about generational trends and new markets and technologies. Sharing this valuable knowledge with your more seasoned coworkers is another way to reciprocate a favor.
The main idea here is that you don’t have to offer people something tangible, like a career advice or a job opening.
Think about where your expertise lies and how you can share that knowledge with other people. Moreover, consider how you can give back to those who have helped you in a way that could potentially improve their career.
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In fact, some would say that figuring out how you can help those you’re networking with isn’t just a bonus – it’s crucial.
According to Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local, the very first question you should ask when you meet an influential person is, “How can I help you?” (Of course, you should already have some idea of how you can provide assistance.)
Kerpen says that, even if the person doesn’t take you up on your offer, they’ll feel warmer toward you and will be more likely to help you when you need it.
Ultimately, knowing that your relationships are always a two-way street should make you feel slightly less slimy about your interactions.