Saying No to Coffee When Networking
A very insightful writer I follow on Instagram was venting and asking for input on how to handle several requests from people to go for coffee to talk about work. She didn’t want to appear rude, but said she just does not have the time to accept all of them. What to do?
I can totally sympathize with the writer! Each “coffee” could take up to 3 hours or more of time when travel time is included. (Been to too many of those!) But time isn’t the only issue.
In other posts, I’ve talked about the dangers of brain picking that coaches and consultants face when accepting invitations to do networking over coffee, lunch, or drinks. While I provided some thoughts about how to sidestep the inevitable shift from conversation to unpaid consulting during these meetings, what could you do to avoid these meetings altogether?
First, though, we should clarify what these networking coffee invitations might really be.
Do They Want a Therapist, Confessional, or Gossip Fest?
Because I don’t know the writer on Instagram personally, I don’t know what exactly was meant by discussing work. But if these invitations are from friends who work with you in some way, these meeting invitations can be quite troubling. Often, they are looking to discuss problems (personal or professional) or gossip. They just don’t want to discuss it within the physical confines of the organization.
This puts you in a very difficult position. First, you don’t want to be their therapist. Even if you’re trained in therapy, this is not the place for this. Like brain picking, it’s unpaid counseling. And what if you give them the wrong advice and it worsens the situation?
Others may just be looking to spread the latest insider “news,” or vent about a person or situation. This also puts you in a difficult position since you may not want to know this information, or their tainted view of it. They may also be looking for allies and to drag you into the drama. You might also not agree with their assessment of the situation, making it even more difficult.
Internal “networking” can be unsettling, time consuming, and career diverting. Be careful.
The Disguised Brain Pick
One-to-one meetings are often encouraged by networking groups with good reason. Socializing can establish and solidify relationships which lead to deeper friendships and better referrals.
In the past couple of years, I’ve declined many networking invitations for coffee. I’ve just gotten into too many compromising and brain picking situations as my business moved to a more service based one. My radar is pretty well attuned at this point that I can sniff out what the agenda is when someone approaches me. If I even suspect it’s a brain pick, or not beneficial to me in some way, I start questioning the person about the purpose and plan for the meeting.
Tips for Ditching Unwanted Coffee Networking Requests
Offer a Time-Saving Alternative
One of the best ways that I’ve been able to sidestep coffee networking requests is to offer a time-saving alternative. That usually means a phone call meeting. I send them my online booking calendar and let them pick a time slot—for a specified time limit—that works for them.
They get some choice in the matter. And I’ve found that those who aren’t serious, or who wanted more from the meeting than just friendly conversation, usually don’t bother booking a time.
I’ve used this technique for meeting requests that I receive online or in person. This establishes that I have limited time and respect their time, too. Also, it offers us a chance to establish if going forward with a relationship—which may include in-person meetings in the future—makes sense.
Set the Purpose and the Plan
When I approach someone, I tell them why I want to meet. We have a specific purpose and plan for our visit, whether that’s in person or virtual. This can be established with a couple of questions, similar to the following, to set the stage.
For new connections, especially those that seem to be an unlikely fit:
How do you see us working together that would make it good for us to meet?
This question can be quite unnerving for the other person. If there really is no purpose, she may try to save face by responding that she just wants to get to know you, wants to become a referral partner (even though you know it’s a remote chance), etc. Then what could you say without being rude?
Okay, let’s do this. Let’s plan to briefly talk on the phone to get better acquainted and then we can go from there. Here’s the link to my online calendar so you can pick a time that works for you.
For established or friendly connections that may be time wasters:
While it’s always great to catch up, we both have limited time. Let’s plan to talk on the phone. I’ll send the link to my online calendar so you can pick a time that’s good for you.
Notice how both of these situations direct people to your online calendar. This respects your time and puts the onus on the other person for continuing the process. I’ve found that people often don’t take that next step, usually because I’ve caused them to rethink why they even want to connect with me. Those that genuinely do, make the effort.
Also note that it doesn’t ask for permission from the other person by asking, “Can we talk on the phone?” That opens the door for, “I’d really rather meet in person.” Stay in control! Don’t let those people who want a meeting favor from you take even more away from you.
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© 2019 Heidi Thorne