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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

“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 top performers work smarter, not harder

(EDITORIAL) People at the top of their game work less, but with more focus – learn how to replicate their good habits to get ahead.

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Practice, practice and more practice will get you to be more competent in what you do, but working smarter isn’t always about competency, at least in business. Productivity expert, Morten T. Hansen’s studies indicate that multitasking is detrimental to working smarter. But it’s only half of the problem.

Hansen discovered that the top performers did not try to do thousands of things at a time. He’s not the only one.

Earl Miller, an MIT neuroscientist outlines why humans cannot multitask. As he puts it, “our brains… delude us into thinking we can do more.” But this is an illusion. When we interrupt the creative process, it takes time to get refocused to be creative and innovative. It’s better to focus on one project for a set amount of time, take a break, then get started on another project.

Hansen also found in his research that the top performers focused on fewer goals. He recommends cutting everything in the day that isn’t producing value. As a small business owner, you have to look at which tasks bring in the most profit. This might mean that you outsource the bookkeeping that takes you hours or give up being on a committee at the Chamber of Commerce that is taking too much time away from your business.

Taking on less work will help you work smarter, but Hansen found that it goes hand-in-hand with obsessing over what you do have to do.

When you have fewer burning fires, you can dedicate your time to these tasks to create quality work. According to Hansen, this one thing took middle performers at the 50th percentile and put them into the 75th percentile. When someone is competent in writing reports, for example, and can focus their energy into that, the work is much better.

Top performers also take breaks to rest their brains. One of my favorite analogies is the one where a lumberjack is given a stack of wood that needs to be cut down. He starts with a sharp ax, but over time, as the ax gets dull it becomes harder to chop the wood. By taking a break and sharpening the ax, more gets accomplished with less effort.

Your brain is like that ax. It works great when you first get to work. You’re excited to get started. In a couple of hours, your brain needs a break. Go outside and take a walk. Get away from your desk. Do something different for 15 minutes. When you come back, you should feel like you have a second jolt of energy to take on tasks until you break for lunch. Science backs the need for breaks during the day.

By taking breaks, obsessing over what you have to do, and laser focusing on fewer goals, you’ll be outperforming your competitors (and even coworkers). Work smarter, not harder.

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Opinion Editorials

How to turn your complaint mindset into constructive actions

(EDITORIAL) Everybody knows someone who complains too much. While being open is important for mental health, constant bellyaching is not.

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Everybody knows someone who complains too much. While being open is important for mental health, constant bellyaching is not, so here are a few tips on turning your complaints into constructive actions.

It’s important to understand the difference between “complaining” and “addressing.” Talking about problems which mandate discussion, bringing up issues slated to cause larger issues down the line, and letting your boss know that you have the sniffles all fall into the latter category due to necessity; complaining is volitional, self-serving, and completely unnecessary in most contexts.

Complaining also puts you in an excessively bad mood, which may prevent you from acknowledging all the reasons you have not to complain.

Another point to keep in mind is that complaining occasionally (and briefly) isn’t usually cause for ostracization. Constant or extensive complaining, however, can lead others to view you as a largely negative, self-centered person — you know, the kind of person literally no one actively seeks out — which is why you should focus more on redirecting that negative energy rather than using it to remind your barista why they gave up their dream of becoming a therapist.

Complaining stems from two main sources: the need to be validated—for example, for others to know what you’re going through—and the need to be comforted. Addressing a chronic complaint mindset, then, is largely about validating and comforting yourself. This is a simple solution which nevertheless can take years to manifest properly, but you can start by doing a couple of things differently.

“Focus on the positive” is perhaps the hokiest advice you’ll get from anyone, but it works. In virtually any situation, you can find a positive aspect—be it an eventual outcome or an auxiliary side-effect—on which you can concentrate. Think about the positive enough, and you’ll talk yourself out of complaining before you’ve even started.

It’s also good to remember that no one, no matter how much they care about you, can handle constant negativity. If you find yourself constantly hitting people with bad news or tragic personal updates, try mixing up the dialogue with some positive stuff. That’s not to say that you can’t be honest with people—friends, family, and colleagues all deserve to know what’s going on in your life—but make sure that you aren’t oversaturating your listeners with sadness.

Lastly, keep your complaining off of social media. It’s all too easy to post a long Facebook rant about being served cold pizza (no one likes cold pizza on day one), but this just results in your loding a complaint reaching a larger number of people than vocalization ever could. If you have to complain about something in earnest, avoid doing it anywhere on the Internet—your future self will thank you.

Being honest about how you feel is never a bad thing, but constant negativity will bring down you and everyone around you. If you can avoid a complaint mindset as a general rule, you’ll one day find that you have significantly less to complain about.

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Opinion Editorials

What Musk’s tweets say about toxicity of modern work culture

(EDITORIAL) Musk is an inspiring figure, but his recent tweets speak volumes of what’s wrong with work culture, especially in tech.

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Oh, Elon. Haven’t you learned yet? No? Your beautiful, sweet, brilliant mind. I don’t know whether you need a hug or a stern talking to — maybe both — after your crazy, erratic tweets, but Elon Musk’s Crazy Tweet of the Week™ shows a huge problem growing in the tech industry and modern work culture.

In case if you missed it, here’s what went down:

1. On Sunday, the WSJ wrote that Tesla is the “hot spot” of young job seekers and engineers, in spite of or even because of Musk.

2. Par for the course, Musk responded on Twitter with the following comments:

3. Twitter exploded with replies such as these:

If anything, this opens a discussion on a toxic tech — and honestly, American — work culture. But we’ve written about that. It seems like we’re slowly learning that 40 hour workweeks are often okay, and here’s why:

Elon isn’t normal and we shouldn’t compare ourselves.

The thing is, Musk does get more done in the average workweek than a normal person. But this is because he’s brilliant and has figured out ways to beat the system, and he has a million different ideas that other people are implementing. Elon shouldn’t compare himself to the average person, because, well, he isn’t. It’s clear he’s brilliant (and knows it), so we shouldn’t compare ourselves to him, either.

Something we can take from him: learning to automate the remedial tasks and spending our time to maximize efficiency and not waste time. And for the average person, that probably means getting a good night’s sleep or eating well (that means not just drinking Soylent. Looking at you, developers!) so you can actually be effective the next day at work or with your loved ones.

Improve your efficiency.

Are there productivity tools that you haven’t been using that you can? Are you tracking your time and how you’re spending it? If you’re an entrepreneur, or better yet, solopreneur, are there small tasks that take a lot of time that you can do better, faster, stronger? If you need some ideas, check out the years of tips accumulated here on AG.

Elon knows where his strengths don’t lie, and he has a lot of people doing those jobs. So take some of the things he does, but take it with a grain of salt. But unlike Musk, treat your employees well, don’t burn them out, and empower them to do the tasks you don’t do as well.

Most “average” humans have normal responsibilities: families, maintaining a healthy lifestyle (this means sleeping well, eating well, and exercising), and maintaining balance with other interests that make us better employees, bosses, and entrepreneurs. Remember: you’re a human being, not just a worker bee. Don’t let Elon’s Tweetstorms lead you astray.

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