Many people find professional networking so distasteful that it makes them feel morally and physically dirty. In a controlled experiment, we asked 306 adults working at various organizations to write about times when they engaged either in networking for professional advancement or in social networking to make friends. We then asked them to complete word fragments, such as W _ _ H, S H _ _ E R, and S _ _ P—a measure of subconscious preferences first used by Chen-Bo Zhong, of the Rotman School of Management, and Katie Liljenquist, of the Marriott School of Management.
Participants who had recalled professional networking wrote “WASH,”“SHOWER,” and “SOAP”—words associated with cleanliness—twice as frequently as those who had recalled social networking, who more often wrote neutral words such as “WISH,” “SHAKER,” and “STEP.” In other words, although most participants viewed networking to socialize and make friends as positive, they saw networking to enhance their careers as distinctly negative. Their negativity was not simply dislike or discomfort. It was a deeper feeling of moral contamination and inauthenticity.
However, even those with lower rank and less power almost certainly have more to offer than they realize. In their book Influence Without Authority, Allan Cohen and David Bradford note that most people tend to think too narrowly about the resources they have that others might value. They focus on tangible, task-related things such as money, social connections, technical support, and information, while ignoring less obvious assets such as gratitude, recognition, and enhanced reputation. For instance, although mentors typically like helping others, they tend to enjoy it all the more when they are thanked for their assistance.
The more heartfelt the expression of gratitude, the greater its value to the recipient. One young professional we know told us that when she turned 30, she wrote to the 30 people she felt had contributed the most to her professional growth, thanking them and describing the specific ways each had helped her. The recipients no doubt appreciated the personalized update and acknowledgement.
When gratitude is expressed publicly, it can also enhance an adviser’s reputation in the workplace. Think of the effect you have when you sing your boss’s praises to your colleagues and superiors, outlining all the ways you’ve progressed under his or her tutelage.