Is there anything more deflating than being smothered with an ill-timed “We should grab coffee sometime,” at a networking event?
It’s not that the statement itself is wrenching, it’s the assumptions behind it that make it so.
“We should grab a coffee sometime,” is typically the go-to line for a “taker” at a networking event.
Taker (n): Someone who is only in it for him/herself.
“I connected with someone. They haven’t accepted my Linkedin request but we’re grabbing a coffee so let’s see what happens. Maybe I’ll get a job. Maybe he’ll give me all his secrets. Maybe I’ll make millions!”
Calm down, Ringo.
We’ve all been there, though. We survey the room like an Andean condor, seeking the connection and conversation that will benefit us in the shortest amount of time so we can get home and watch Mr. Robot ASAP.
That’s not networking, that’s prostitution.
But it’s just a coffee, Bassam?! What’s the harm in that?
Well it’s not what we say, it’s how someone hears it.
If someone thinks you’re a taker and not a giver, s/he is going to be less inclined - and more annoyed - with obliging your request.
“We should grab a coffee,” is conveniently hiding the "why" behind the statement, but everyone can fill in the why by themselves if you don’t offer it to them.
The Taker’s Take
Typically when a taker states the coffee line, the person being spoken to hears, “We should grab a coffee...so you can tell me how you will help me on my way to world domination.”
The Confused Collaborator
Then there’s the people who find some synergies between their work and yours and after 10 minutes of conversation, they’re ready to team up with you with the ever-popular, “We should grab a coffee...so we can figure out how to team up.” Figure out how to team up? I don’t know you yet. I barely team up with my business partner and she’s literally on my team.
The Giver’s Gain
The only person who should be offering up the coffee conclave is the person who has the most to give because s/he is the one who means it like this, “We should grab a coffee...as I’d like to hear a little bit more about your idea and how I might be able to help you.”
3 Things To Know If You Think You Have Nothing To Give/Share
I realize that what I have written so far has seemingly put the person looking to connect (without having much to give) at a complete disadvantage. Sorry. It’s not that there aren’t any ways to help yourself, you just have to work harder. Try these:
1) I’d love to buy you a coffee someday and...get your insight or input on ABC / ask you some questions about how you were able to DEF. Would that be ok?
Why is this different? First, it’s in the form of a question instead of a statement, giving them a choice in the matter. And second, you stroke their ego a bit and let them know that you’re not trying to use them for personal gain, you are only fact finding and trying to grow.
What you’re actually looking for deep down in that head of yours is immaterial in this argument.
Remember, it’s not what you say, it’s how someone hears it.
If we approach networking as relationship building or planting the seed - instead of prostitution - then things start to change for for the better.
But you may not know who the person is that you find yourself talking to. How do you know if they are worthwhile to chat with? Go to the other end of the spectrum and ask:
2) Hi I’m ______. What are you working on these days? Who could you benefit from meeting?
Yes, even if you are the one looking for a job or a connection. Suddenly, you have put someone else’s best interest in front of yours. Try it. Typically, the person will want to know how s/he might be able to help you.
Knowing this, you should know the answer to the question you just asked. Of course, there is a tactful manner in answering this question if you are indeed looking for a job. Sobbing on their shoulder while grabbing a fistful of lapel isn’t the advisable track. Instead, you can word things like, “Right now I’m looking for some opportunities in the GHI sector,” or “Right now I’m trying to meet with people who have experience in JKL,” or “I’m trying to get an intro to someone at MNO Company or PQR Corporation. Know of anyone?”
You never know what door this individual might be able to open but you have to be able to ask... with some form of decorum, of course.
There’s another question you must know how to answer because it will come your way at a networking event 100% of the time.
“So what do you do?” When you field this one, imagine you were asked:
3) So what do you do…for other people?
How do you make people’s lives better? Why are you an asset to your friends, colleagues, company, investor, would-be employer? What equitable skill do your harbor behind all that passion you say you have?
If you're able to articulate what you do for other people to someone who happens to be in a position to recommend you, connect you, or eventually hire you, you will be the kind of person anyone would want to help.
In the end, networking is about connecting humans, not closing the deal.
(Of course, if you want to be a part of more actionable networking events, you can sign up for my brain child, Magnet.)