How about a coffee together?

Shall we meet for a coffee? Or for lunch, even?

So many times are we all faced with those questions. In my profession, as a management consultant focusing on leadership, board and executive search, selecting how to allocate one’s time is a daily as well as a lifetime priority.

I find reading Sarah Peck extremely inspiring. This has been since the first time I came across one of her posts, several months ago. Her “itstartswith.com” is home to a number of very thorough and thought-provoking thoughts. One of Ms Peck’s recent posts, when she first tweeted it, sounded as follows:

Her argument: if I say “yes” to all the requests to meet up face to face, this will disrupt my time, making it hard for me to do what I like. Her argument continued, as follows:

I’d much rather do a phone call. 15-20 minutes, tell me what you need, let’s jam while I walk to my next destination. Better yet, send me all the research you’ve done in an email, let me skim it, and specify exactly what you want in clear language and how I can help you. If you tell me what to do, I can help.

My immediate reaction was agreement with how Ms Peck described the challenge (how do I say “no” when needed), in combination with a radically different additional point: more than just learning how to say “no”, our real challenge is learning when and how to say “yes” to that coffee.

Face to face interaction can be so much more effective in establishing trust and building relationship. This, however, on condition that we connect with people wisely. Hence, in a number of occasions, a face to face coffee would end up to be so much more fruitful than a 20 minute call or an email. The tricky aspect, though, is how to detect those instances. I have already written separately that someone living their life in professional services, since their mid thirties, is more likely to have known, in the broadest sense of the meaning, between four and in some cases as many as ten thousand people (think about all the people you’ve known during your school life, then the university, then your colleagues at work…). We live a life of overexposure to connecting, not the opposite.

Let me share three thoughts about how I try to decide when it’s time for that coffee:

  • We might have connected with those people asking for a coffee, as it happens most often, through someone else we trust and who likes them. People may ask to see me as they seek advice, or want to share advice, as well as thoughts and opportunities, as a result of someone else we trust who addressed them to me. In other words, someone else has acted as indirect builder of a bridge of trust towards us. Most often, this gives more than a reasonable chance that the relationship of trust we enjoy with that former person can easily be transferred to the latter person asking for a coffee. If this is the case, this opens up the possibility of building a new and fruitful relationship which will give excellent results and satisfaction over time. Hence, let’s find proper quality time and have that coffee;
  • Alternatively, we might have good feelings about them, for what they have said, for what we have listened from them. This is more difficult, as there is no bridge-building of trust. Moreover, this requires us to be able to listen to our counterpart, leaving proper room for them to express their needs and feeling. This is lot more difficult than in the previous case. Our ability to listen can be practised and trained but it requires time, effort and willingness. Not least, we are exposed to the risk of making significant mistakes;
  • Finally, though, there’s a more general, and much more difficult point. How good are we at listening to ourselves and understanding whom we like? What we need is full awareness of what and whom we like and what and whom we don’t. This may require a thorough introspection, years of psychoanalytical work or else. I have written a number of times about how we need to increase awareness of our choices and our inner feelings. This can only be earned individually, through our own introspective work over time.

In all cases, there’s a combination of leveraging on existing trust, as well as on the ability to listen to others, and finally, but most importantly, the ability of listening to ourselves and to whom makes us happy.

There’s a lot, indeed, before sharing that coffee.

Tommaso Arenare

One thought on “How about a coffee together?

  1. Tommaso, great piece of writing. Having said that, of the three reasons listed above (to have cold call/coffee with people), the first one often transforms itself to our aspiration to make the source happy; in other words, we aspire to strengthen our relation with the source and use the coffee meeting to “check the box”!

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