04/08/2013 06:51 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2013

One Cup of Coffee at a Time

Having meetings at a favorite coffee hangout near my office almost every weekday for the last six years has led friends and colleagues to give me the nickname "mayor" as they liken my daily presence at the corner table by the fireplace to holding court. The friendly employees all know my name and walking in each morning makes me feel a little like Norm from the TV classic Cheers!

You might think my fondness for this restaurant is connected to my love of good coffee and the convenient location. Possibly, but my love of coffee meetings more accurately stems from the belief that this is a great way to build relationships and conduct business. I strongly prefer the relaxed feeling of a meeting over coffee to a lunch or dinner meeting with overly attentive waiters at your elbow interrupting the flow of conversation. I have never conducted business after hours over drinks; in my opinion, alcohol and serious business conversations don't mix well.

Coffee meetings can be the great "equalizer" and have a way of producing a relaxed atmosphere with a level playing field. Inviting people from your network and client prospects to join you for coffee, regardless of title, results in a more casual conversation with an appropriate focus on getting to know each other. This is important, as I strive to be authentic and transparent with everyone I know. I find that a willingness to be candid about my life and interests first provides an open invitation for my guest to do the same. Pretty soon we recognize how much we may have in common and the ensuing conversation is more productive and enjoyable. We have established a relationship rather than conducted a transaction and the business relationship can later grow from this healthy foundation.

Other benefits of coffee meetings:

  • Coffee meetings are easy to schedule and typically occur before the workday begins, freeing up more time to focus on work and other interests.
  • They don't encroach on personal time as an after-work get-together would. I long ago committed to being home for dinner with my family each night, which seems to be a more common desire these days.
  • In the current atmosphere of tight budgets and closely watched expenses, coffee meetings are one of the least expensive ways to conduct business.
  • If you are struggling to pin down a client prospect or other important contact for a meeting, offer to meet them at a coffee shop near their office or at a convenient spot on their way to work one morning. This is often the least invasive way to get on their calendar and the least likely appointment for them to reschedule.
  • There is certain predictability to having a favorite coffee spot where you know the food/beverage quality, the quality of the customer service and peak busy times to avoid.

I have told friends and colleagues for years that I am a blue-collar guy in a white-collar world. I certainly enjoy the food at great restaurants, but I often feel business meetings in these places can be contrived and pretentious. There is often a feeling of tension in the air with too much focus on being seen, impressing your guests and people-watching versus intentional listening and a sincere desire to learn about the people at your table. Building honest and collaborative relationships with my ever-expanding network is much more important than simply closing the deal. I would rather do business with my friends after we establish a trusting relationship, and the coffee meeting is simply my preferred vehicle for making this possible.

You may read this and be unconvinced about the benefits of coffee meetings. You should do whatever works best for you. My fondness for the subject of this post stems from years of growing self-awareness about who I am and how I prefer to interact with people. You may enjoy tremendous business success over lunch or cocktails and if it feels comfortable, keep at it. As for me, I will be at my favorite hangout five days a week building relationships -- one cup of coffee at a time.

For more by Randy Hain, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.

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