Whenever I’m offered coffee in a meeting, I say yes. Even if I don’t want one.
I know it’s not cool to admit it but I quite enjoy the last few drops of the ice cold coffee that lie in wait at the bottom of a cup at the end of a business meeting. They have an “I’m-ready-to-leave-and-be-on-my-way” taste about them. An acquired flavour for sure and one I discovered quite by accident.
My weekend coffee is another matter; piping hot, brewed perfectly and preferably grown on an ecologically sustainable plantation by fairly paid workers (have I missed anything?). But in a work setting my coffee standards are rather different.
The first time I accepted a hot drink (to be honest I can’t remember if it was tea or coffee) at a business meeting it was in response to “I’m having a coffee, would you like one too?” offer from the customer I was meeting about his office phones. “Great,” I thought, “a cuppa will be lovely”. And as the meeting progressed I realised that the mood was quite relaxed as we sipped away whilst discussing the relative merits of two different telephone systems.
This was the start of the “great coffee experiment” I conducted over the next few years of my sales career. Where I found that not only did accepting a refreshment make the meeting more relaxed it also gave some natural structure to it’s pace. Small talk (relationship building!) until the coffee arrived, a segue into the business discussion as the coffee is stirred and then down to business.
The great accidental discovery that I made (a bit like Penicillin but without the Nobel prize) was that I could influence how long I got to spend with a customer based on how slowly I drank. Most people are generally polite. Particularly those who offer you a coffee in the first place. And they don’t tend to kick you out if they know that you’re still drinking. (I’ve found that it does help to hold the cup in your hand if you don’t want there to be any doubt that you are still enjoying their hospitality).
This discovery gave me the opportunity to gain a few extra precious minutes of discussion that were so important to ensuring that I had built as much rapport as possible and had the time at the end of the meeting that I like to confirm the participants understanding of where we had got to and to clarify next steps. Items that all so often get sacrificed as people are rushing off to their next back-to-back appointment.
In many years of field testing I can report that it works with all types of beverages but hot ones are best as you can work in the “wow, this coffee is taking a while to cool down” into the conversation. And it works in reverse. A meeting not going as well as expected can be hurried along (a little bit) by drinking up nice and quickly.
The cold coffee technique can also be applied in internal meetings, networking catch-ups and with most anyone. I’ve broadened my acceptance criteria from the ‘I’ll-have-one-if-you-have one’ response to a yes to any tea, coffee or water that is offered; and whether it’s offered by the person I’m actually meeting with or the assistant who is setting up the meeting.
This is not for the purpose of outstaying your welcome, being disrespectful of others time or wasting it. You need to use the extra time you buy for good (business discussion, asking questions, building rapport) and not evil (talking drivel, being repetitive, delving into detail that others don’t need to hear about).
It’s a bit like the law of gravity where when the apple leaves the tree there’s nothing stopping it headed downwards, once the coffee’s on the table it might go cold but I can control how fast it goes.
And that tastes good.
Karen is a leading expert in career skill development for women in today’s business world and author of best-selling career guide “Hot Tips for Career Chicks; Unlocking the CODE to success”. You can connect with Karen on her blog, via Facebook or on Twitter
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