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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

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

You already blew your new year’s resolutions, but it’s not your fault

(EDITORIAL) Your new year’s resolutions are already making you feel like a failure. The whole process is flawed – let me tell you why it’s not your fault (yet).

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new year's resolutions - oops.

It’s estimated that only about 8.0 percent of people keep their new year’s resolutions. Most fail by the end of January, and here we are – almost at the end of the month. But it’s not your fault (yet) – let’s discuss.

Face it, you’re doomed before you ever get started. It doesn’t matter what your goal is, if you don’t approach it the right way, you’ll never reach it. If you really want to change your life in 2019, you’re going to have to get serious.

Here’s my innovative approach. Stop making resolutions.

Making new year’s resolutions sounds good in theory. But they’re really problematic. New year’s resolutions often don’t take into account what is realistic. Resolutions don’t let you adjust when life gets in the way. You’re setting yourself up for failure when you make resolutions. You may have good intentions, but you know you’ll fall back into your old habits.

What’s the solution?

A resolution is defined as “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” Changing your behavior isn’t that easy. Psychology Today offers eight different reasons why it’s so difficult to make long-term sustained change.

The all-or-nothing thinking of resolutions traps you into a no-win situation.

To really make change, you’re going to have to approach it differently. Resolutions tend to come from negative emotions. Real change comes from place of self-edification. Resolutions tend to be sweeping changes. You determine to completely change your lifestyle. Small habits are easier to implement. Over time, those small changes can become big changes.

Setting goals is good. Breaking down your goals into bite-sized pieces helps you reach those goals. Want to lose weight? Instead of jumping in and throwing out all the sugar in your cupboards, work with a dietician for a month to see where you can make changes to your meals that fit your lifestyle.

Failure is a given.

Know that you’re going to mess up. Failure is part of the process. It helps you learn where to put your attention and energy. Coming home late and eating a pizza instead of something healthier isn’t a reason to stop trying to lose weight. It just means that you need to think about the reasons that caused you to blow your diet. Was it lack a planning? Did you just need comfort food? Was it just convenient? Look back at why you indulged to meet the challenge next time.

Give yourself a break.

Change isn’t easy. Don’t keep kicking yourself when you don’t hit your goals. Consider what’s keeping you back. Maybe the goals aren’t a priority right now. Maybe you’re taking on too much. Maybe the timing isn’t right. Maybe you have other commitments that need your resources.

Make 2019 your best year by not setting resolutions, but by making small changes in your life.

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Opinion Editorials

Do women that downplay their gender get ahead faster?

(OPINION) A new study about gender in the workplace is being perceived differently than we are viewing it – let’s discuss.

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women downplay gender

The Harvard Business Review reports that women benefit professionally when they downplay their gender, as opposed to trying to focus on their “differences” as professional strength.

The article includes a lot of interesting concepts underneath its click-bait-y title. According to the study by Professors Ashley Martin and Katherine Phillips, women felt increasingly confident when they pivoted from focusing on highlighting potential differences in their perceived abilities based on their gender and instead gave their attention to cultivating qualities that are traditionally coded as male*.

Does this really mean that women need to “downplay” their gender? Does it really mean women who attempt this get ahead in this world faster?

I don’t think so.

The article seems to imply that “celebrating diversity” in workers is akin to giving femme-identified employees a hot pink briefcase – it actually calls attention to stereotyped behaviors. I would argue that this is not the case (and, for the record, rock a hot pink briefcase if you want to, that sounds pretty badass).

I believe that we should instead highlight the fact that this study shows the benefits that come when everyone expands preconceived notions of gender.

Dr. Martin and her interviewer touch on this when they discuss the difference between gender “awareness” and “blindness.” As Dr. Martin explains, “Gender blindness doesn’t mean that women should act more like men; it diminishes the idea that certain qualities are associated with men and women.”

It is the paradox of studies like this one that, in order to interrogate how noxious gendered beliefs are, researchers must create categories to place otherwise gender-neutral qualities and actions in, thus emphasizing the sort of stereotypes being investigated. Regardless, there is a silver lining here as said by Dr. Martin herself:

“[People] are not naturally better suited to different roles, and [people] aren’t better or worse at certain things.”

Regardless of a worker’s gender identity, they are capable of excelling at whatever their skills and talent help them to.

*Though the HBR article and study perpetuate a binary gender structure, for the purposes of our discussion in this article, I expand its “diversity” to include femme-identified individuals, nonbinary and trans workers, and anybody else that does not benefit from traditional notions of power that place cisgendered men at the top of the social totem pole.

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Opinion Editorials

Why I paused my career to raise our child

(OPINION) Our children are like tiny little sponges that absorb everything that we give them — your job and the sentiments it produces and evokes included.

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motherhood pause career

I never dreamed of being a stay-at-home-mom. Not in a million years did I think I’d find myself choosing to press pause on my career, but here I am, a mother for just nine months, doing just that.

HBR recently published an article about how our careers impact our children focusing on parental values and the emotional toll of our career involvement on our families. It got me thinking about my own childhood.

Growing up, my parents’ discussion of work was almost always negative. A job was something you had to do whether you liked it or not. As a child, I listened to my parents fight over money; I observed them in constant worry about the future. I watched them stress over unsatisfying jobs.

There was never any room for risk, no money to invest in a new career path, and no financial cushion to fall back on to give a new career time to grow.

Later, when choosing a path of my own, I would often wonder what my parents had wanted to be or who they could’ve been if they would’ve been able to choose careers they might’ve thrived in. All I ever knew is that my parents hated their jobs. While they’re on better financial footing now, the residue of their negativity persists in the career choices of their children.

While I was pregnant, I was working at an international tech startup in Silicon Valley. The company suffered from poor leadership; the week I was hired, my team quit and I was left to piece together a position for myself. The company continued to flounder, its culture unable to recover from interim toxic leadership.

I constantly worried about my son and the stress of a toxic culture on my pregnancy. Going into the office made me anxious. Leaving left me feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Instead of imagining a bright, beautiful baby boy, I closed my eyes and saw a dark and anxious bundle of nerves. Of course, I blamed myself for everything.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I promised my baby that when he arrived, I would do things differently. This would be the last time I accepted a job that I only felt lukewarm about. Never again would I participate in a culture that could diminish my talents and self-worth. I’d seen this kind of thing during my childhood and I’d be damned to repeat it.

During my career, I’ve watched coworkers hire full time live-in nannies, missing their baby’s developmental milestones and their children’s school events. I listened as one CMO talked about moving into his backyard yurt when the pains of parenthood became too much for him. He left his three preteen sons alone to fend for themselves in the mansion they shared in Silicon Valley.

We pride ourselves on the amount of work we put into our careers, but we rarely measure our success through the eyes of our children.

Children are mimics, they absorb everything we do, even during infancy. So, what are we offering them when we abandon them to make conference calls from yurts? What message are we sending them when our eyes are glued to texts, emails and push notifications? What are we teaching them when we come home stressed out, energy depleted and our values compromised?

We try “disrupting” anything these days so what about the working parent model? Would it be worth it?

My husband and I decided that it was and we’re doing things differently.

My husband works in the service industry. He doesn’t leave for work until late in the afternoon which means he spends all day with our son. At nine months old, my son has a strong emotional relationship with his father.

I carve out time during my days and nights to schedule writing work. I’ve recently returned to freelancing and I find that when I’m working with clients I believe in and doing work that I enjoy, we’re all much happier.

Everyone who’s ever had children says the first year goes by incredibly quickly. It’s true. My career will be there next year and for years after that. My son is only a baby once and I wouldn’t miss it for all the money in the world.

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