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Opinion Editorials

Why “let’s do coffee” is an insulting request

(Business Editorial) You’ve been told by the gurus that you should be sending out mass “let’s do coffee” email requests to influencers, but I’m here to tell you that you’ve been misled.

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let's do coffee

“Let’s do coffee”

So you’ve been told by Jim that Sally (who is a stranger to you) is really connected and it would be beneficial to know her, so you reach out to Sally who points you in Jeff’s position, and you email Jeff casually suggesting that the two of you do coffee.

The request is seemingly innocuous, in fact, you’ve probably been to a dozen seminars where gurus tell you to grab coffee with as many people as possible. You’ve been told that it’s the golden ticket to advance your business.

Wrong.

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What the gurus advised you is true – getting coffee with an “influencer” can certainly advance your career. Your career. Yours. Your career. What a one-sided concept.

So offer to buy the coffee, right?

Let’s say you’re trying to be generous instead of selfish, so you offer to buy your new contact whatever coffee drink they want. That makes up for the lopsided relationship before it is ever even initiated, right?

Wrong.

My husband and I get these emails all the time, and we’re fortunate enough to host a monthly networking event that we can funnel people into instead of falling into the “let’s do coffee” trap on a daily basis, but most people aren’t that lucky.

Most people are faced with a choice, a choice you’re forcing them to make. Do they politely decline and crush your dreams of coffee talk, do they accept based on a pre-determined set of criteria, or do they blindly accept all invitations? And how many invitations do you think they get in a week? The more influential the person is, the more “let’s do coffee” emails they get and are forced to sound rude for rejecting people.

What’s the solution?

Consider this – each time you ask someone to coffee, they not only have to spend the time crafting a response, but they must take the time to look at their schedule and offer you times, then do the email dance of “where do we meet?” and usually, it’s in the middle out of politeness. Then, when coffee day arrives, you’re asking them to stop their work day, get in their car, drive to the mid-point, chat with you about your needs, drive back to work, and one to three hours later, you’re asking them to try to find their focus at work again.

What a huge investment. For what? The chance to be your stepping stone?

There is a solution. Instead of making influencers the bad guy and insulting their value by putting them into a win-lose proposition, invite them to a networking event. Better yet, find out via their social networks what events they already attend and reach out to see if they’d be willing to connect there.

Meeting influencers where they gather is not only a more considerate way to connect, but you may actually win favor by mentioning you aren’t looking to impose on their day, rather connect to see if there is any commonalities between you, given how many people have recommended that you two connect.

From now on, thou shalt not send out endless “let’s do coffee” invites. You make people feel like the bad guy because they have a legitimate job to tend to, and meeting them where they gather is a much more considerate (and potentially memorable) move.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Ricci Neer

    June 24, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Agreed!

  2. Tinu

    June 24, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    My policy is, if there’s even the smallest chance that I will one day want a favor, I do at least two favors first. A favor can be as small as a retweet or as big as buying a round of drinks after a networking event.

    And I do it for the pleasure of it with people I like. That way if it turns out to yield nothing professionally, I file it under friendship.

    I also reject all requests from strangers and just let them know, it’s not personal, it’s my policy. I book appointments with clients a week in advance and I can’t afford to make them wait or reschedule the people who are paying me just because someone’s feelings might get hurt.

    If they think it’s rude that’s their problem. If you want my attention, provide value first.

  3. bobledrew

    June 24, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I’m happy to meet up with people for coffee (especially when they buy) for a couple of reasons.

    When I was fresh out of university, I was in a bit of a state of limbo. 21, ditched a plan to go to grad school, living in a community with a 25% unemployment rate. I literally walked into our local CBC radio station (like the BBC, but Canadian) and said “I’d like to learn how to do radio. Can someone help me?” Someone did, and that changed everything.

    Since then, I have felt a moral obligation to respond when someone reaches out. I like the idea that I could be a stepping stone for someone, or maybe more accurately, to link my hands and maybe give them a boost over a wall.

    I also believe that the law of averages suggests that when I do that enough, someone will do the same for me.

    That being said, there’s a line, and here’s when I draw that line — if I feel like I’m being “pumped” for knowledge or skills that I should be rightfully paid for, I find a way to say no thanks. At one point, someone essentially suggested to me that I could meet up with them every week and teach them about social media in exchange for them buying. That was a no. Also, while I am happy to pursue a long sales funnel, I am not going to have endless dithering coffees with people who just can’t pull the trigger. At some point, if there’s work to be done, you have to s**t or get off the pot.

    I think the insult in the request for a coffee is this: if someone asks me for a coffee, they’re imposing themselves on me. If you follow up that imposition with: being late, taking way longer than promised, a noshow, a blatant and unanticipated sales pitch… that’s insulting.

    On the other hand, if you contact me and ask for 30 minutes to talk about what’s happening in the city re: social media jobs, show up on time, take 30 minutes, and pay for my coffee, you have respected me and my time.

    • Dennis "DenVan" VanStaalduinen

      June 25, 2014 at 10:57 am

      Hey Bob, you are an awesome influencer and I totally agree with everything you said here, but let’s not grab coffee. Your time is too valuable. Beer is better.

  4. David Holmes

    June 24, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I’ve never turned down a request like this and have always gotten something out of such meetings; from a renewed energy to different perspectives or valuable intelligence.

    When I started doing some new things and needed to request a few meetings of my own, I was astonished that the rest of the world doesn’t see things the way I do.

  5. jmacofearth

    June 24, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Great point. I found myself at a coffee ‘date’ a few weeks ago with a friend of a friend who was sure to have a business deal in the works and could use my expertise. I took the coffee date, but had bought my own beverage long before the gentleman arrived.

    He picked my brain for an hour. I explained how we could work together. And Poof he’s gone and my afternoon had a 2 hour bill-less hole in it.

    Okay, next time, I’m gonna MAKE him send me the “pitch” or idea first, IF I want to invest the time in a business prospect.

    Love the post. Thanks.

  6. Hank Miller

    June 25, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Amen. I don’t do coffee or lunch or dinner….or golf…..

    Best case, email me what you want to discuss I’ll review it and email you back. Failing that, YOU come to my office (bring coffee) and pitch me.

    There’s not a coffee around worth the lost hours “meeting” for this.

  7. It Will Never Be Right

    June 25, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Perhaps this is a trend below the 50-ish group of professionals. The offer to “do coffee,” much less that type of jargon, is not part of my profession. I’m a sole proprietor, a consultant in a specialized area of software expertise, and people are usually asking me to come to them. But not for coffee. Too time consuming, and simply not interested.

  8. LiveFromATX

    June 26, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    There’s obviously a line at which these requests may become too numerous and imposing, but I am against painting them all with the same brush as disrespectful and selfish across the board. Whatever happened to “influencers” using their influence for good, to give younger professionals a bit of advice or mentorship? Or someone established in a specific industry giving some pointers to someone trying to switch careers? I’ve received some of these requests, and I’ve always responded – yes or no – depending on the situation and how I was approached, and I’ve also sent out some of these requests, and have been greatly disappointed when they was simply ignored. Why not handle each one on a case by case basis? The attitude suggested by the author of this piece is reminiscent of Kelly Blazek’s now-infamous LinkedIn diss of an advice seeker, because she was too high and mighty to bother with little plebes.

  9. Scott Langmack

    June 28, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Yikes, the article approaches getting coffee in a way that strips humans of humanity. Instead, define coffee in three different contexts – someone you know, someone you can get a quality introduction to, and someone you don’t know. If you know them, the coffee request is fine. Humans are social animals, tens of thousands of years of community-based instincts is why successful people want to help others they know, and they are flattered when asked. The issue is if you don’t know someone, asking for time/coffee is intrusive. I coach people to have their mutual connection ask their friend to meet, so the favor is split between the asker and the coffee meeting requestor. People have a natural sense of their social capital with others, and wont agree to make the intro if there is not a perceived benefit for both parties in the meeting. Remember that senuir executives are primarily human brokers, they spend the vast majority of their time finding, training, placing, firing, and referring people. When you want to move your career ahead, meet with human brokers who know you or have a strong social connection to you. As far as “blind” requests for coffee, skip it – there is no social contract for the person to accept the meeting or help you if they do.

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Opinion Editorials

How to find the sweet spot between procrastination and desperation

(EDITORIAL) Many intelligent people find themselves stuck in analysis paralysis (procrastination) and missing their window of opportunity. Others make decisions without enough information. How do you find the sweet spot between the two?

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I need to confess something to you

So, a little confession’s good for the soul, right? I feel like I need to confess something to you, dear reader, before we jump right into this article. What follows is an article that I pitched to our editor some months back, and was approved then, but I’ve had the hardest time getting started. It’s not writer’s block, per se; I’ve written scores of other articles here since then, so I can’t use that as an excuse.

It’s become a bit of a punch line around the office, too; I was asked if I was delaying the article about knowing the sweet spot in decision making between procrastination and desperation as some sort of hipster meta joke.

Which would be funny, were it to be true, but it’s not. I just became wrapped up in thinking about where this article was headed, and didn’t put words to paper. Until now.

Analysis by paralysis

“Thinking about something—thinking and thinking and thinking—without having an answer is when you get analysis by paralysis,” said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman, speaking to Fangraphs.

“That’s what happened… I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, or if I was doing anything wrong. I had no idea.” It happens to us all: the decisions we have to make in business loom so large over us, that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary.

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Worse still are the times that we delay them until after such a time as when making the decision no longer matters because the opportunity or market’s already moved on. So we try to find the avenues for ourselves that will give us the answers we seek, and try to use those answers in a timely fashion. Jim Kaat, the former All-Star pitcher said it well: “If you think long, you think wrong.”

Dumpster Diving in Data

In making a decision, we’re provided an opportunity to answer three basic questions: What? So what? And now what?

The data that you use to inform your decision making process should ideally help you answer the first two of those three questions. But where do you get it from, and how much is enough?

Like many of us, I’m a collector when it comes to decision making. The more data I get to inform my decision, and the sufficient time that I invest to analyze that data, I feel helps me make a better decision.

And while that sounds prudent, and no one would suggest the other alternative of making a decision without data or analysis would be better, it can lead to the pitfall of knowing how much is enough. When looking for data sources to inform your decision making, it’s not necessarily quantity, but an appropriate blend between quantity and quality that will be most useful.

You don’t get brownie points for wading through a ton of data of marginal quality or from the most arcane places you can find them when you’re trying to make an informed decision. The results of your ultimate decision will speak for themselves.

“Effective people,” said Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, “know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information.”

Great. How do I do that?

So, by what factors should you include (and more importantly, exclude) data in your decision making?

Your specific business sector will tell you which data sources most of your competitors use already, as well as the ones that your industry disruptors use to try to gain the edge on you.

Ideally, your data sources should be timely and meaningful to you. Using overly historical data, unless you’re needing that level of support for a trend line prediction, often falls into “That’s neat, but…” land. Also, if you’re wading into data sets that you don’t understand, find ways to either improve (and thus speed) your analysis of them, or find better data sources.

While you should be aware of outliers in the data sets, don’t become so enamored of them and the stories that they may tell that you base your decision making process around the outlier, rather than the most likely scenarios.

And don’t fall into this trap

Another trap with data analysis is the temptation to find meaning where it may not exist. Anyone who’s been through a statistics class is familiar with the axiom correlation doesn’t imply causation. But it’s oh so tempting, isn’t it? To find those patterns where no one saw them before?

There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework and finding real connections, but relying on two data points and then creating the story of their interconnectedness in the vacuum will lead you astray.

Such artificial causations are humorous to see; Tyler Vigen’s work highlights many of them.

My personal favorite is the “correlation” between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and people who died after becoming entangled in their bed sheets. Funny, but unrelated.

So, as you gather information, be certain that you can support your action or non-action with recent, accurate, and relevant data, and gather enough to be thorough, but not so enamored of the details that you start to drown in the collection phase.

Trust issues

For many of us, delegation is an opportunity for growth. General Robert E. Lee had many generals under his command during the American Civil War, but none was so beloved to him as Stonewall Jackson.

Upon Jackson’s death in 1863, Lee commented that Jackson had lost his left arm, but that he, Lee, had lost his right. Part of this affection for Jackson was the ability to trust that Jackson would faithfully carry out Lee’s orders. In preparing for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson approached Lee with a plan for battle:

Lee, Jackson’s boss, opened the conversation: “What do you propose to do?”

Jackson, who was well prepared for the conversation based on his scout’s reports, replied. “I propose to go right around there,” tracing the line on the map between them.

“How many troops will you take?,” Lee queried.

“My whole command,” said Jackson.

“What will you leave me here with?,” asked Lee.

Jackson responded with the names of the divisions he was leaving behind. Lee paused for a moment, but just a moment, before replying, “Well, go ahead.”

And after three questions in the span of less than five minutes, over 30,000 men were moved towards battle.

The takeaway is that Lee trusted Jackson implicitly. It wasn’t a blind trust that Lee had; Jackson had earned it by his preparation and execution, time after time. Lee didn’t see Jackson as perfect, either. He knew the shortcomings that he had, and worked to hone his talents towards making sure those shortcomings were minimized.

Making trust pay off for you

We all deserve to have people around us in the workplace that we can develop into such a trust. When making decisions, large or small, having colleagues that you can rely on to let you know the reality of the situation, provide a valuable alternative perspective, or ask questions that let you know the idea needs more deliberation are invaluable assets.

Finding and cultivating those relationships is a deliberate choice and one that needs considerable and constant investments in your human capital to keep.Click To Tweet

Chris Oberbeck at Entrepreneur identifies five keys to making that investment in trust pay off for you: make authentic connections with those in your employ and on your team, make promises to your staff sparingly, and keep every one of them that you make, set clear expectations about behaviors, communication and output, be vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” and professional enough to then find the right answers, and invest your trust in your employees first, so that they feel comfortable reciprocating.

Beyond developing a relationship of trust between those who work alongside you, let’s talk about trusting yourself.

For many, the paralysis of analysis comes not from their perceived lack of data, but their lack of confidence in themselves to make the right decision. “If I choose incorrectly,” they think, “it’s possible that I might ________.” Everyone’s blank is different.

For some, it’s a fear of criticism, either due or undue. For others, it’s a fear of failure and what that may mean. Even in the face of compelling research about the power of a growth mindset, in which mistakes and shortcomings can be seen as opportunities for improvement rather than labels of failure, it’s not uncommon for many of us to have those “tapes” in our head, set to auto play upon a miscue, that remind us that we’ve failed and how that labels us.

“Risk” isn’t just a board game

An uncomfortable fact of life is that, in business, you can do everything right, and yet still fail. All of the research can come back, the trend lines of data suggest the appropriate course of action, your team can bless the decision, and you feel comfortable with it, so action is taken! And it doesn’t work at all. A perfect example of this is the abject failure of New Coke to be accepted by the consumer in 1985.

Not only was it a failure to revive lagging sales, but public outrage was so vehement that the company was forced to backtrack and recall the product from the market. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

You have to be comfortable with your corporate and individual levels of risk when making a decision and taking action. How much risk and how much failure costs you, both in fiscal and emotional terms, is a uniquely personal decision, suited to your circumstances and your predilections. It’s also likely a varying level, too; some decisions are more critical to success and the perceptions of success than others, and will likely cause you more pause than the small decisions we make day-to-day.

In the end, success and failure hinge on the smallest of factors at times, and the temptation is to slow down the decision making process to ensure that nothing’s left to chance.

Go too slowly, however, and you’ve become the captain of a rudderless ship, left aimlessly to float, with decisions never coming, or coming far too late to meet the needs of the market, much less be innovative. Collect the information, work with your team to figure out what it means, and answer the third question of the series (the “what”) by taking action.

#TakeAction

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Opinion Editorials

Starting a business when you’re broke (and how to make it work)

(EDITORIAL) If money isn’t always a prerequisite to entrepreneurship, how can you start something from nothing?

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Breaking into the business world can be an intimidating venture, especially if you don’t have the money or experience to back up your ambitions. Experience, however, can be earned – or at least approached through a “fake it until you make it” style approach. But what can you do if you dream of launching a business but you don’t have the cash? Is money a prerequisite to entrepreneurship?

Money helps but isn’t a requirement for those hoping to start their own business – you simply need to get creative. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things to consider.

One of the best ways to build your confidence around the topic of entrepreneurship is to refocus your attention towards those who also started from nothing, but have since made it big.

Steve Jobs started out tinkering in his garage as a teenager and went on to found the tech giant Apple, while multimillionaire consultant Sam Ovens publically discusses his finances – he was broke just a few years ago but had made over $10 million dollars by the time he turned 26.

Such stories attest to the fact that anyone can ascend to great heights.

Even though many people think money is the most important part of any business endeavor, successful people will tell you that true self-understanding far outranks cash on the list of necessities. Take some time to reflect on your goals and on how you view yourself as you pursue them.

If you think you can’t achieve your goals, then you won’t be able to. The mind is a very powerful thing.

If introspection reveals that you’re low on self-esteem, work on improving your view of yourself and begin developing a more positive perspective. You may find it helpful to write down what you think and then revise this description, working all the time to internalize this improved view of yourself. Though it may seem like a pointless process at first, you’re actually participating in your own transformation.

Another key determinant of success that far surpasses money is passion.

People succeed when they pursue goals that matter to them on a deeper level.

Typically this is the case because passion leads you to accumulate expertise on your chosen topic, and this will draw people to you.

One incredible example of the transformation of passion into profit is 17-year-old Jonah, who makes thousands of dollars a month selling watches online. Jonah comes from a family of jewelers, so he had ready access to the necessary knowledge and cultivated an outstanding selection of timepieces on his site, but it was his ability to combine his material knowledge with real understanding of his customers that made his business successful.

At the end of the day, he wanted his customers to have the perfect watch, and he brought his own passion for the field to bear on creating that experience.

Finally, if you hope to start a business but don’t have any cash resources, the best thing you can do is learn your field and network with those in it – without bringing them on board as professional partners.

It helps to have contacts, but you can’t grow a fledgling business by paying others to do the hard work.

Hunker down and work from home, working at night if you have to keep your current job, and start from the position of humble aspirant. If you show you’re committed to the real work of starting a business, you’ll find that others support you.

If you hope to start a business, but don’t have the money, don’t despair – but also don’t put your dream on hold. The only way to build the foundation you need to live that dream is by doing the hard work in the here and now.

Lots of people started just where you are, but the true successes are the ones who had the courage to push past the barriers without worrying about the financial details. You already have what you need, and that’s the passion for innovation.

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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