So you met someone cool, they’re charming, intelligent, and have great penmanship (you notice that kind of thing). You have a lot in common, and your visions of the future are one and the same. The two of you could really get into something good. You agree to grab coffee, trade numbers, and text each other the deets of your date; this isn’t romance, its 21st century business.
This is a usual scene in our modern professional landscape. It’s relaxed and public. No need for the stuffy office or boardroom; we’re adults, it’s 2018, and we’re acting like it.
But, even in the age of the professional hoodie, there remain a few tried and true strategies to preserve your low-key rep while keeping professional distance and personal integrity during a cafe pow wow.
I have seven tips to ensure that the future of your professional coffee date is stronger than the brew.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin
The two of you plan to speak about something specific and your goal for this meeting is to learn about this persons professional interests and how you can help one another. Therefore, you need to prepare the right questions. This is as much for them as it is for you. They have something to give and you want to give them the opportunity express it. Jot down a few questions beforehand:
How long have they been interested in x,y,z,?
What have they done in the past 6 months to make x,y,z happen?
What are some of their long-term professional goals regarding, but not limited to x,y,z?
Who do they admire/who inspires them?
You will know by the end of the first meeting whether you are ready, willing, or able to work together.
2) Make your expectations clear (but open).
“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”
― Brandon Sanderson
Be sure to set clear parameters around the meeting. Getting to know one another is key, but you want to make sure you both understand what you plan to discuss and where you want talks to lead. If you are unsure if you made your intentions clear enough, or you want to reiterate your expectations before the meeting, text/message a quick reminder of the meeting date, time, and location and say “I am really excited to discuss the future of x,y,z” or something like that; you get the picture.
3) Respect the start and finish lines.
“If you want to be regarded as a valuer of life, then first value time.”
Get there at least 5 minutes early; not only to make sure you leave a good impression but also to make yourself comfortable before jumping into the conversation. Also, be sure to end the meeting on time. The worst meetings are the ones that draaag on. Prepare an exit line before you go, something like: “Hey, I’m so glad we could get together and I am excited to see where this can go”. If you enjoyed yourself and see genuine possibilities, follow up with them afterward and ask if they would like to meet again to dig deeper into the discussion. The follow up email is crucial to furthering the relationship. This lets them know that you like them and that you are interested in learning more.
4) To buy or not to buy?
“Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.” – Christopher Marlow
It is totally fine to let someone pay for their own coffee, especially if your budget doesn’t allow for extra spending. However, if you invited them to sit with you it can a great sign of appreciation to foot the bean bill. But don’t show up late just to avoid any awkward payment situations, it’s bad form.
5) Be an active listener.
“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” -Bernard Baruch
Even if they weren’t the person you expected, or they somehow have terrible ideas, be generous enough to hear them out and remain an active listener. Give body cues that express interest and attention. And, at the end you can say it was a great chat, but you want to explore some additional opportunities and will be in touch if you can find a fit for them.
6) Don’t gossip.
“A dog that will fetch a bone, will carry a bone.” – unknown
You may think that discussing the private lives of your mutual friends will strengthen your connection and fill any awkward lulls in conversation; it won’t. It only erodes any trust that had an opportunity to grow. Resist the temptation or just save the scoop for better friends.
7) Show gratitude.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward
Make sure that you express thanks and gratitude for their showing up and giving you some of their time. End with a firm handshake, a smile and, a “It was great to chat”.
Our modes of communication change every day but what never looses it’s cool is good old fashioned manners. With these 7 tips your next coffee meeting will be lit (with possibilities).