According to a research paper reported in Harvard Business School’s HBS Working Knowledge, professional networking makes us feel dirty, immoral even. The difficulty is that they also note that networking helps us to develop our careers. The researchers, Tiziana Cascara, Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki, noted this awkwardness, stating, “The overall findings pose a paradox: Networking makes low-power employees feel unclean, which understandably makes them not want to network. But if they don’t network, they may not become high-power employees—who no longer feel dirty when they network.”
The researchers discuss possible methods to counter the aversion to networking, including reframing our perspectives of it. I would suggest that an authentic conversational approach, where we are diligent to our art of conversation, is an antidote to the practice of networking.
Networking engenders a sense of proactive interaction with a manipulative intention. Conversely, authentic conversation should be engaged in with openness, without an agenda. It should reflect Martin Buber’s “I – You” and not “I – It” framework. Conversation should possess a freedom that Kwame Appiah describes when he says, “The point about conversation is that it has no point.”
How then does that help us when we are trying to aid people in career development? The purpose of networking is deliberately to form professional connections. We never truly know, though, who may be helpful in our career or, indeed, our lives. A conversational approach enables connections that have a solid bond made of sincerity, as opposed to the fragility of connections built from networked indifference. Wharton professor Adam Grant’s work discussed in his book Give and Take illustrates how an outwardly focused approach can yield far better long term outcomes than short term selfish approaches.
Networking is a proactive, planned encounter. An authentic conversational life, however, opens us to the fertile potential of chance, to forming connection with others in unexpected ways. If we plan our encounters, placing dates and times for forming relationships with others in our work calendars, we diminish the possible outcomes both for that event and for all those dates and times we haven’t allocated for networking. If we are attentive to our conversational behavior in every aspect of our lives, and permit ourselves to be touched by multiple worlds of experience, who knows what possibilities we may come by?
Stop networking. Go and have conversations.