Why Networking Can Make You Feel Dirty

Pursuing relationships to forward your career aspirations triggers a sense of moral disgust

Photo: Hero Images/Corbis

According to new research, there is actually a scientific reason that you might feel physically gross after making the network rounds at a professional event. Success at these events often is not measured in fun but in potentially beneficial connections, and they can be exhausting, even nauseating. As Fast Company reports, our mind and bodies are responding to the fact that we are shamelessly seeking to forge relationships not out of friendship, but out of selfish greed to better our positions in life.

Those actions, in turn, trigger our innate sense of moral disgust. Fast Company elaborates on this logic: 

We already know that being in a clean-smelling environment makes us more ethical and charitable, and physical cleanliness holds a strong connection to moral purity. The inverse is also true, then, in forming friendships based in our dirtiest motivations: Money and power. Feeling like a business-card hawker gives us the heebie-jeebies.

To arrive at this finding, researchers asked study participants to reflect on a recent networking event where they either gained a one-sided benefit from speaking with someone or else formed a mutually beneficial arrangement. Then, the team asked them to fill in the blanks to form words, Fast Company describes. Some of the letter combinations included W _ _ H, S H _ _ E R, and S _ _ P, for example. Those who thought of the one-sided interactions were twice as likely to fill in dirt-purging words—"wash, shower and soap"—rather than more neutral words—"wish, sharer and slap."

In another survey, that was part of the same study, the researchers found that lawyers who had risen to the top of their firms felt less icky about their networking gains. So it might be that, once success has been achieved, all of that shameless networking seems worthwhile, Fast Company writes. Alternatively, it could just be that people who reach the top tend to have personalities that are more immune to caring about their methods of securing that success. 

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