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Opinion Editorials

Saying “let’s do coffee” is insulting (but I’ve softened my stance)

It is standard in business to say “let’s do coffee” to everyone you come across, but you may actually be shooting yourself in the foot; here’s why.

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“Let’s do coffee!” you say

A few years ago, I penned an editorial on the topic of inviting people to do coffee. The premise is that despite gurus telling you to politely invite people to coffee (and offer to pay if they’re super important), it thrusts the invitee in an awkward position of having to measure their time against your one-sided request (“do coffee with me, for me!”). I suggested that you use the internets to find out where they already gather and ask if they’re willing to connect there (preferably a networking event or conference).

Some people praised me for saying what they’ve always thought but felt rude for saying, noting that if they accepted every offer, “doing coffee” would be their full time job. Others acted as if I was a heartless monster instructing people to drown newborn kittens by hand for no reason.

The reactions gave me inspiration to reevaluate my position

It gave me an opportunity to consider my position, having gone public with such a controversial statement.

One friend shared the story and said that they never decline any invitations and encouraged others to always accept coffee invites. I picked up the phone. It wasn’t confrontational (that’s not my nature), it was inquisitive. I asked how many invitations he gets each week to do coffee. “I get them all the time, at least two or three a week, Lani. Every week!”

My eyes couldn’t roll back in my head further. Okay, I see the disconnect – my original editorial failed to assert the volume of requests in my inbox that I always feel like an asshole declining. I’m not even internet famous, and I average 10 a day, which triples during conference season. I can’t possibly even fit in every request. That’s not self-important, that’s just real. And there are people with much bigger networks than me that are forced to decline the invitations.

So here is how my position has softened

Now, my position has shifted, but only slightly. I have a new filtering system. Here’s how I handle coffee requests today (instead of getting overwhelmed):

First, I try to determine their motive. Types of requests that are immediately disqualified: Anyone trying to sell me something, anyone trying to go over someone’s head in our company, or people hoping to be my best friend forever and braid my hair (I’ve become kind of shy and somewhat anti-social and work 18 hour days, I just don’t have time, mean or not).

Second, I determine whether or not I’m even of value to them. If their time is going to be best spent with someone else in my network, I make the intro and take them off of my to do list. If someone wants to connect to learn more about javascript, that’s not my bag even if I’m entrenched in the tech industry, so I’ll at least help direct traffic.

Third, I do my best to mentor. One type of “let’s do coffee” request I never turn down is someone who is in college looking for guidance, or someone of any age who is hoping to break into the industry. If there is a need that is bigger that myself, I do my best to be of service. It’s a karma thing.

Lastly, I determine whether or not someone’s a brain picker. My time is worth more than a coffee, and if you just want to know how to internet, let me introduce you to Google (or a good consultant). That said, I regularly take brain picking phone calls, but I don’t have to devote half a day of lost productivity to it. I’m considering doing office hours regularly because even this can be overwhelming sometimes.

I also open my phones

If someone is in Austin, I try to funnel people to BASHH (Big Ass Social Happy Hour), a monthly networking event put on by The American Genius. But that doesn’t always work, because I get super busy doing the work of actually putting on the event.

So, during the filtering process, I also try to see if someone’s willing to meet on the phone or Skype so we don’t lose time in the office. If someone makes it through the filter and absolutely cannot do phone or a networking event, I’ll do coffee in person. It’s extremely rare because I really do work 12-18 hours a day, no joke.

The takeaway

If you’re inviting people to coffee willy-nilly, I hope this gives you some context. If you’re hoping to get something out of a meeting with an “influencer,” but aren’t offering anything aside from a free coffee, that’s one-sided and I doubt you’re intending to devalue someone’s time like that.

My hope in writing this is to offer my shifted view. Thank you to everyone who helped by offering up their own stories, you’ve allowed me to refine my process. And I hope this provides you with insight into how you can add your own filters now, or in the future when you’re averaging 100 coffee requests a day!

#LetsDoCoffee

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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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Hank Miller

    March 3, 2016 at 6:40 am

    I might be more anti-social than you, which is fascinating given that I sell real estate. I get these requests – coffee and lunch – and around Atlanta it’s a 30-45 minute drive no matter where you are to wherever you’re going; time I don’t have and will not waste.

    I’ll briefly chat them up on the phone and tell them to shoot me an email overview of what’s on their mind. This tells me whether or not I can help them, if I’m interested, if they’re motivated and clear about what this “coffee” thing is to accomplish and if they are attentive and prompt with requests.

    There’s not much that can’t be handled on line, “doing coffee” or even worse “lunch” isn’t anywhere near my list of things to do. A quick look at my laptop bears witness…Dunkin Donuts stains and bits of bread scattered about.

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Opinion Editorials

Funny females are less likely to be promoted

(CAREER) Science says that the funnier a female, the less likely she is to be promoted. Uhh…

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Faceless keyboard warriors around the world have been — incorrectly — lamenting that women just aren’t funny for years now (remember the “Ghostbusters” remake backlash?).The good news is they are obviously wrong. The bad news? When women dare to reveal their comedic side in the workplace they are often perceived as “disruptive” while men are rewarded.

That’s right. Women not only have to worry about being constantly interrupted, receiving raises less frequently than men despite asking for them equally as often, and still making nearly $10,000 less than men each year, but now they have to worry about being too funny at the office.

A recent University of Arizona study asked more than 300 people to read the fictional resume of a clothing store manager with the gender-neutral name “Sam” and watch a video presentation featuring Sam. The videos came in four versions: a serious male speaker, a humorous male speaker, a serious female speaker and a humorous female speaker.

According to the researchers, “humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females.” Translation: Male workers earn respect for being funny while their funny female coworkers are often seen in a more negative light.

There are, of course, several reasons this could be the case. The researchers behind this particular study pointed to the stereotype that women are more dedicated to their families than their work, and being perceived as humorous could convey the sense they don’t take their work as seriously as men.

Psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon offered another take, putting the blame directly on Sam the clothing store manager, calling out their seemingly narcissistic behavior and how society’s tolerance for such behavior is “distinctly gender-based.” She says these biases go back to the social programming of our childhoods and the roles mothers and fathers tend to play in our upbringing.

So what are women supposed to do with this information?

Gourgechon’s status quo advice includes telling women to not stop being funny, but “to be aware of the the feelings and subjectivities of the people around you.” While recommending an empathetic stance isn’t necessarily bad advice, it still puts the onus on women to change their behavior, worry about what everyone else thinks and attempt to please everyone around them.

We already know that professional women can have an extremely hard time remaining true to themselves in the workplace — especially women in the tech industry — and authenticity is often a privilege saved for those who conform to the accepted culture. We obviously still have a long way to go before women stop being “punished” for being funny at work, but things seem to be progressing, however slowly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her thoughts last year on the improvements that have been made and the changes that still need to happen, including encouraging men to step up and do their part. In the wake of the #metoo movement, CNBC recommended five things men can do to support women at work. There are amazing women in STEM positions around the world we can all admire and shine a spotlight on.

All of these steps — both big and small — will continue to chip away at the gender inequality that permeates today’s workplaces. And perhaps one day in the near future, female clothing store manager Sam will be allowed to be just as funny as male clothing store manager Sam.

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Opinion Editorials

Two common business myths that could get you sued

(EDITORIAL) Two misconceptions in the business world can either make or break a small business.

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When you’re an entrepreneur with a small staff, you may be in the habit of running your team casually.

While there’s nothing wrong with creating a casual environment for your team (most people function better in a relaxed environment), it’s wise to pay close attention to certain legal details to make sure you’re covered.

It’s easy to misinterpret certain aspects of labor law since there is a lot of misinformation about what you can and cannot do inside of an employee-employer relationship. And since labor laws vary from state to state, it can be even more confusing.

As an entrepreneur, it might be strange to think of yourself as an employer. But when you’re the boss, there’s no way around it.

Here are two employment myths you might face as an entrepreneur along with the information you need to discern what’s actually true. Because these myths carry a lot of risk to your business, it’s important that you contact an attorney for advice.

1. Employees can waive their meal breaks without compensation

It’s a common assumption that any agreement in writing is an enforceable, legally binding contract, no matter what it contains. And for the most part, that’s true.

However, there are certain rights that cannot be signed away so easily.

For example, many states in the US have strict regulations around when and how employees can forfeit their unpaid meal breaks.

While meal breaks aren’t required at the Federal level, they are mandated at the state level and each state has different requirements that must be followed by employers. While some states allow employees to waive their meal breaks, on the other end of that the employer is usually required to compensate the employee.

For example, in California an employee can waive their 30-minute unpaid meal break only if they do so in writing and their scheduled shift is no more than 6 hours. In other words, when a shift is more than 6 hours, the meal break cannot be waived.

Additionally, when an employee waives their unpaid meal break, they must be paid for an on duty meal break and be compensated with an extra hour of pay for the day.

Vermont, on the other hand, provides no specific provisions for meal breaks and according to the Department of Labor, “Employees are to be given ’reasonable opportunities’ during work periods to eat and use toilet facilities in order to protect the health and hygiene of the employee.”

As you can see, some states have specific regulations while others have general rules that can be interpreted differently by each employer. It’s best not to make any assumptions and contact a labor law attorney to help you determine exactly what laws apply to you.

2. You own the copyright to all employee works

So you’ve hired both an employee and an independent contractor to design some graphics for your website. You might assume you automatically own the copyright to those graphics. After all, if you paid money, shouldn’t you own it?

While you may have paid a small fortune for your graphics, you may not be the legal copyright holder.

Employees vs. independent contractors:

When your employee creates a work (like graphic design) as part of their job, it’s automatically considered a “work made for hire,” which means you own the copyright. An independent contractor, however, is different.

While any legitimate work made for hire will give you the copyright, just because you created a work for hire agreement with your independent contractor doesn’t mean the work actually falls under the category of a work made for hire.

According to the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 101) a work made for hire is defined as “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas.”

This means that unless your graphic design work (or other work you paid for) meets these requirements, it’s not a work made for hire.

In order to obtain the copyright, you need to obtain a copyright transfer directly from the creator, even though you’ve already paid for the work.

The boundaries of intellectual property rights can be confusing. You can protect your business by playing it safe and not making any assumptions before consulting an attorney to help you discern the specific laws in your state.

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Opinion Editorials

Living as a 7 in the Instagram world of 11s (why hotties rule IG)

(OPINION) Hot people have it, not people want it, Instagram perpetuates it – beauty, and it’s a prime ingredient for success.

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Who runs the world? Girls. Who runs the social media world (read: Instagram)? Hot girls. And hot guys.

Social media has always fascinated me. When I was a freshman in high school I got a Facebook – all you older millennials that had to wait ‘til college can hop off because I wasn’t allowed to have Myspace / Xanga / any other predecessor social sites.

That Facebook allowed me to connect to my camp friends, one of whom lived in a different country, family in other states and the friends that I saw every day.

My story is pretty predictable after that. Social media blew up, I did my millennial duty to help the creation and exposure of new sites and now here we are. Living in a society where hot girls on Instagram selling tea that makes you poo make more money than that girl with multiple degrees.

I’m not gonna blame millennials, but I kind of am, but everyone had a hand in this.

As a society we value celebrity. When I was a child that value manifested into society with tabloid magazines and copying haircuts (hello, Rachel Green). As a teen, that value on celebrity pivoted into the daytime/nighttime / anytime talk show. Now, as an adult that missed the opportunity to make an ascent into stardom via YouTube, celebrity is valued by way of social media.

EVEN CELEBRITIES HAVE THEIR CELEBRITY VALUE MEASURE BY SOCIAL MEDIA FOLLOWERS.

Don’t get me wrong. Several *actually* talented and wonderful people have leveraged social media in niche ways and created a nice lifestyle for themselves. However, I’m also going to assert that 80% of social media influencers / modern celebrities would be nothing if they weren’t hot.

Singers that have worked their way up the ranks with 6 second Vine video snippets and two minute YouTube videos can have insanely gifted voices but it also doesn’t hurt that were nice to look at while they hit that E5 note.

Artists and illustrators that have busted their butts and their hands creating and making stunning visual pieces can create one-of-a-kind masterpieces but it also helps that they throw the occasional full-glam face selfie.

That one guy or gal that posts photos of (seemingly) delectable food can have grown a 100% organic following by creating content that people want to see but it will also never be a negative for them to post a photo of them in their swimsuit on that tropical island they got paid to visit.

And please hear me when I say this: being attractive helps offline too. The amount of times my insanely attractive guy friend has profited from his jawline jaw line is almost as crazy as the amount of times my unfairly gorgeous gal pal has reaped the benefits of having phenomenal facial symmetry. Hell, even I’ve used a hair flip and batted an eye in lieu of twisting arms.

I’m pretty sure there’s some science somewhere that says that its natural for people to be inherently attracted to attractive people. I’m not sure why that is, but at least in my life, I’ve found it to be true. Unashamedly (and slightly shamefully) I’ve listened to authority figures better when they were kind on the eyes, I’ve gone to the cash register with the prettier human, I’ve followed the accounts of people who created an aesthetic I vibed with more.

Sometimes it just feels like that if a quarter of the pictures on a highly followed account – skilled or otherwise — weren’t of the person made up, or shirtless, or provocatively posed, they might not have the same level of following or at least engagement. Honestly, it makes the whole exchange feel insincere (which is a funny thing to say about internet interactions to begin with). Like, even if I buy that gadget / get those clothes / put that makeup on / fill-in-the-blank from that #ad on your Instagram story the exact way you do I still won’t look like you.

Reminds me of that old saying, “you can put lipstick on a pig but its still a pig.” You can buy that stuff off that one hottie’s Instagram but you’re still going to be you.

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