Networking Doesn’t Have to Leave You Feeling Guilty

Published in UT San Diego, March 2, 2015

A few years ago, I wrote a book, “I’m There For You Baby, the Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Galaxy,” containing “rules” for startups. Rule No. 2 says: “Networking is a profession, become a professional at it.”

Well, it seems that is a more nuanced rule than I first thought, and to explore the issues, we turn once again to my favorite college that did not accept me, Harvard. Professor Francesca Gino has done a study on networking, and she finds that people associate networking with feeling dirty.

Yup, dirty, as in unclean and needing to take a shower. Earlier studies have clearly associated morality with cleanliness — what is called the “Lady Macbeth effect.” You know the “out damn spot” problem. And Gino finds that networking for your profession increases the feelings of dirtiness and by extension a feeling of immorality. She even cites evidence of increased hand-sanitizer use after work-related dinners.

Now, let’s get real. Networking is a skill and it needs to be learned. But Gino points out that there is a difference between networking for professional gain versus networking for personal gain. It seems that if you are intentional in your networking, you go to the stupid dinner because you are determined to meet Joe Blotz, big-time VC, to whom you want to pitch your startup. In that case, you are going to need a scrub-a-dub long shower. But if you happen to just run into Blotz, nothing more than a quick rinse will be required.

Gino did some of her research on lawyers (are you kidding me?), and she learned that the lawyers who did the most networking also billed the most hours. And then she learned that the senior partners felt less dirty than the junior partners when they networked.

So here is the paradox. When you are in a “power” position in the room — i.e. people want to meet you more than you want to meet them — it feels better. (Hey, that is why you are a senior partner). Whereas, the junior associates felt dirtier in that environment.

But, it takes more networking to have more billable hours so you can be promoted to senior partner — in which case, when you go to network, you don’t feel dirty. Whoa. I guess Procter & Gamble needs to market to the legal profession.

Now to button this up, let’s visit my other idol, Dan Kahneman. He is the Nobel Prize-winning expert on “framing,” i.e. how something is presented. It seems that the networking puzzle is best framed between “prevention,” meaning don’t do this, and “promotion,” meaning to do this. And when you network in promotion mode, when you are thinking about your growth, advancement and accomplishments, you need less hand sanitizer. And finally, let’s channel a little Adam Grant, the Wharton author of the book “Give and Take.” The dark secret key to networking is this: You need to appear to be in the giving mode, even though you are secretly in the wanting mode. That is why when you meet someone, you start with “What can I do for you?,” when in fact you are really thinking, “What can they do for me?”

And your counterpart is thinking the exact same thing.

I love working the room. It is a delightful three-dimensional improvisational dance.

There are two schools of dancing. One is to move around the room and meet and greet (the junior associate mode), and the other is to take a spot and don’t budge (senior partner, they will come to you). Just remember to channel the Isley Brothers song “Twist and Shout.”

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Rule No. 390

Take a short shower before and a longer one after.

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