It’s likely everyone has met someone who bears no shame in using intrusive networking habits. Like the type of person who enters conversations with the sole purpose of explaining how great he is and then exits without showing even a glimmer of curiosity about the people who listened to his drawn-out monologue about his accomplishments. Or the person who asks virtual strangers to put in a good word for him as he hands out business cards like they’re autographed copies of a rare baseball card.
Unfortunately, some people approach networking as if other people should leap at the opportunity to host their parasitic intentions. This cringe-worthy behavior leaves many people with a bad taste in their mouths when they think about networking.
If the thought of handing out business cards at a tradeshow or the mention of attending social hour at a convention turns your stomach, you’re not alone.
The researchers discovered that people with more power are less likely to report feeling dirty when they network. It’s not clear whether people who rise to the top do so because they benefited from networking, or if they feel more comfortable with networking because they’re already in a position of power. But one thing is certain – people in a position of power network more often.
This sets up an interesting dynamic. The people who could benefit most from developing beneficial relationships – those who haven’t reached the top rungs of the corporate ladder – aren’t as likely to engage in networking activities because it makes them feel dirty.
The unscrupulous feelings that get conjured up when thinking about schmoozing derive from the idea that networking is selfish. Asking someone in a position of power to add you on LinkedIn or to share all their business secrets with the sole purpose of advancing your career may feel somewhat reprehensible. But, you don’t need to compromise your values to get ahead.
Rather than avoid meet-and-greet opportunities because it makes you feel dirty, change the way you approach networking. Instead of using people to gain professional advancement, turn networking into an opportunity to form mutually beneficial relationships. Here are some strategies that can help you feel more comfortable about networking:
1. Think about what you have to offer, not just what you want to gain.
If you only view networking as a self-serving promotional tool, you’re likely to feel a little sleazy. Before you approach your next networking opportunity, think about what you can give, not just what you want to gain. Everyone has skills, tips, and strategies that can help others.
2. Recognize the value in networking with your peers.
Networking doesn’t have to be about trying to impress those above you on the corporate ladder. Instead, you can network with your counterparts. Developing relationships with peers who can offer advice and assistance can reduce isolation and improve job satisfaction. After all, your peers are the people who can truly relate to the challenges you face on a daily basis.
3. Participate in professional organizations.
Joining professional organizations provides opportunities to learn about changes in business trends and gain education that can improve your performance. Events and meetings within professional organizations lead to natural networking opportunities. Joining a professional organization may open the door to finding a mentor or it may give you a chance to mentor someone else.
4. Network with people outside of your profession.
Don’t limit networking to people within your profession. You may learn the most effective social media tips or discover the most useful customer service strategies from people with a completely different outlook. Whether you network with customers or you attend a workshop focused on personal development, meeting and greeting people with a different perspective can open your eyes to new opportunities. Focus on getting to know people and hearing about what they do and you’ll begin networking naturally.
5. Focus on sharpening your networking skills.
Instead of measuring your networking success by how many LinkedIn connections you made or how many newsletter subscribers you gained, consider success to be any opportunity that sharpened your networking skills. You can greatly improve your networking skills with practice, as long as you’re open to learning.
Networking may be more important than ever in a world where many workers are fairly isolated. Salespeople are often on the road more than they are in the office. Telecommuters have fewer opportunities to interact face-to-face. Increased freelancing means many people don’t maintain long-term relationships with companies.
Throughout the past decade, research studies have shown benefits of networking range from improved job satisfaction to increased organizational commitment. But the benefits aren’t just professional – networking can also serve as a proactive approach to personal growth and development.
Changing the way you think about networking will change the way you feel about it and the way you approach making new connections. Look for opportunities to speak with people who do really cool things, and if the conversation happens to provide you with an opportunity that could advance your career, consider it a bonus. In the meantime, make sure you have plenty of interesting tidbits, anecdotes, and strategies to share with others. Sharing information that can benefit others will help you walk away from a conversation without feeling dirty.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of forthcoming book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
This article was written by Amy Morin from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.