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Saying No to Coffee When Networking

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

Here's how to say no to coffee when networking.

Here's how to say no to coffee when networking.

Networking Coffee Invitations

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 did 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 leads 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, and 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.

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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 to continue 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 26, 2020:

Hi Kyson! So true. Too much coffee and too much meeting will do that. :) Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

Kyson Parks from San Diego, CA on April 24, 2020:

This is really helpful! A day with lots of coffee meetings means I won't sleep that night!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 04, 2019:

RTalloni, that is so sweet! :) Thank you for the kind words and rating. Have a beautiful week!

RTalloni on March 04, 2019:

:) :) :) :) :)

I hope the above qualifies as a 5 star review for a useful post.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 22, 2019:

Hi Linda! These coffee dates can certainly become a problem. Thanks so much for chiming in! You have a great week, too!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 22, 2019:

Hi Adrienne! So true! My time is my most precious resource and it's the only thing that helps me make money.

Agreed, it can be intimidating meeting unknown connections at in-person meetings. I usually limit those meetings to those I've connected with on some level in real life, or who I've known for years online.

Doing the virtual meetings has definitely been a win-win for me.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Have a great day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 21, 2019:

You've shared some good suggestions, as always, Heidi. I can certainly see why going for coffee could be a problem in the situations that you describe. I hope you have a great week.

Adrienne Farricelli on January 21, 2019:

I can see how this could become an issue when time is money. Also, meeting unknown people for a coffee can be quite intimidating. Redirecting the request to another way of interacting sounds like a win-win.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 21, 2019:

Liz, well, you're probably right about the caffeine! :)

Good question about a lengthy meeting actually being a good use of time if used wisely. I would say that one longer in-person meeting of a couple hours would be advisable when there's a significant amount of work to be done AND all parties are well prepared to get that work done. It would save the commuting time that would have been wasted for multiple meetings, phone calls, etc.

But the key is the preparedness of those in the meeting. I've been to too many meetings where people were just going to socialize, while others are there to work. So if it's just between two people, and both are willing to get work done, it works. But the more people that join the meeting, the greater the chance that it will turn into a social outing.

Another issue with longer meetings where work needs to get done is that someone has to take a leadership role if there are more that a few people. Somebody has to keep it moving forward. That's tough. And who leads? Again, the personalities and circumstances can help dictate how to best handle.

Thanks for adding that side issue to the conversation! Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 21, 2019:

Lovelli, email can even be more efficient than a phone call! And once we start thinking in those terms, I think we'll find ways to communicate both politely and effectively with the least amount of investment for everyone.

Thanks for adding that angle to the conversation! Have a wonderful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 21, 2019:

Flourish, I wish I felt like a slick, savvy diva! :) I'm still learning to flex my "no" muscle, but getting better. Thanks for the confidence boost! Have a beautiful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 21, 2019:

Hi Lorelei! A "no" policy is so hard to get used to. I'm getting better at it over time, too. Priorities definitely need to dictate policy.

Thanks so much for chiming into the conversation! Have a wonderful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 21, 2019:

Hi Pamela! True, I think I've found a solution that works on both social politeness and practical levels. Phone conversations are the easiest for all parties. And I can see how that would be a solution for your family care situation.

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Have a lovely week!

Liz Westwood from UK on January 21, 2019:

A title can have multiple meanings. My first take on this article was that it was going to advise against drinking too many coffees while networking, because of the dangers of overdoing the caffeine intake. I imagined that this could result in hyperactivity and poor concentration whilst networking! But your article makes perfect sense. Along the same lines, how many lengthy meetings represent economical use of time when broken down into useful work and inconsequential time wasting?

Lovelli Fuad from Southeast Asia and the Pacific on January 20, 2019:

I really enjoyed reading this story, because it's a relatable issue. I love the term 'meeting favor' that you use. It describes exactly what these coffee meet-ups are. Some of these meetings could have easily been an email instead.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 20, 2019:

What a slick, savvy diva you are! I love your advice!

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on January 20, 2019:

There came a point where I began following the No means NO rule. The more times you say it the easier it is to use. Priorities are important in setting down the ground rules for how you spend your time.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 20, 2019:

Heidi, It sounds like you have solved your problem in a very practical way. I don't go out to coffee very often either, but I do have phone conversations occasionally. I think being older has made this problem easier as I am caring for my mother, etc., etc. Your suggestions are good for anyone being bothered frequently by these requests.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 20, 2019:

Bill, I'm kind of feeling like folks think I'm becoming an eccentric recluse, too. :) I really can't justify the massive amount of time these take.

Glad we can chat, sans coffee, online. Happy Sunday to you, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 20, 2019:

I've solved this problem by being an unapproachable recluse. lol and I'm being about 75% serious. I will go out for coffee occasionally, but it will be at my urging and then maybe once every three months. I just don't have time for those types of meetings. :)

Have a splendid Sunday, my friend!

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