Spilling the beans: Why inviting someone to ‘grab a coffee’ is disingenuous and unnecessary


DARE Group Australia founder Sue Parker. Source: supplied.

Easter is a great time for caffeine and chocolate egg indulgences. But I am compelled to drop a hefty egg of recalibration on an epidemic causing much tension and mayhem.

The CURB epidemic — ‘coffee catch-up request bullshit’ — needs to be immobilised in 2019. We must sip some collective truth and call it out for the caffeine bullshit and poppycock it is.

You see, I do not want to grab or have a coffee with you. Oh, that sounds harsh, doesn’t it? What I meant to say is I do want to have a mutually meaningful and productive meeting with you. And if coffee is included that will be a great bonus.

The aroma of roasted beans at home, the office or a cafe is a joy that never wanes. And conversations that are open, gratifying and purposeful are sought and revered.

A chat, natter, chinwag, dialogue or whatever you choose to call the verbal sharing of ideas and genuine interest is the wheels which drive business relationships. And with many platforms facilitating conversations (such as Zoom, Skype and mobiles) geography and access is never a barrier to connect.

But equal to a predilection for caffeine and valuable conversations is an unwavering and deep respect for transparency and time — mine, yours and everyone’s.

So unless we are friends or family there simply needs to be a good reason to grab or have a business coffee. Those reasons are varied and acceptance is based on mutual agreement.

I am also aware of the thirst for real human connection as evidenced in the surge of networking groups and meet-ups. It’s tacit that people hanker for more than a keyboard interlude. But with the scarcity of hours per day, ROI and productivity needs, sound decisions on time management allocations must be made continually.

Congruently, with the desire to take online conversations offline, we can talk with and eyeball anyone in the world from our office chairs with ease. Frankly, people are tired of the clichéd dumbing down of purpose with CURBs being thrown around like wedding confetti without any thought of the stains and impact.

There are two types of CURBs. The first is just a simple polite way to close off communication. Both sides know full well that sharing of the coveted bean is as likely as the Easter Bunny turning into Santa Claus. Though miracles and surprises can happen.

The second CURB has clear intent to meet up. This is demonstrated with a direct request and suggestions of dates and times.

Yet, only a small percentage of such requests come with detail on what they would like to discuss. The invitation has no agenda, context or objective. Simply it’s ‘would be great to meet you in person’. Most strangely, they can be after several online messages and what should be assumed of prior research and due diligence.

But a secondary issue occurs when the invitee is asked for some information and context for that coffee catch-up. Even with the most polite and respectful manner, the response can be appallingly vague, zilch, let’s just meet and talk in person or gushing flattery without any framework of intention.

Why do people think that giving compliments will automatically elicit an acceptance of spending an hour meeting with them? Admiration is wonderful when manipulation isn’t involved. And disturbingly, many responses have a push back tone of ‘how dare you ask for a purpose as you should be honoured I want to meet you’.

Often people prey on the fact others will cave into pressure when face to face. Hence the ‘pick your brains’ mindset of intention. The psychology of manipulation is not a subject I can discuss with academic gravitas, but suffice to say people will and do attempt to take advantage commercially. And with so much free and rich social media content advice at the ready are we creating the pathway for an expectation of more? Pick your brains … no thanks.

Coffee catch-ups or meetings

Let’s take a granular look into the whole bullshit of coffees versus a meeting. A ‘let’s grab or have a coffee’ without any agenda and expressed objectives feels non-committal, flippant and disingenuous. Unless you are a desperate Andy or Annie that’s not a very inspiring invitation.

A request without a framework shows a lack of responsibility and brevity of superficiality. After all, a coffee catch-up is designed to be short and sharp. And if you are going to drive 45 mins each way for a coffee catch-up, half your day has gone. Time is money and unless you are donating time for charity and altruistic volunteering then you need to set strong boundaries.

A ‘meeting’, however, has more gravitas and respect. The great irony today is research and knowledge is at our fingertips. So by the time you are face to face a bucket load of knowledge and insights have been consumed. Therefore meetings should have meat and substance.

And the truth is, as an invitee, you should only request meeting people whose sector or services are ones you have a genuine interest to buy, refer, collaborate with. Sure you may not proceed with any business, but the honest intention to evaluate and qualify should be inherent.

Similarly, when hiring interviews are made. Often the poor unsuspecting candidates trot into a meeting after much preparation without any hope of getting the job. The reason is hiring decisions had well and truly been made and companies wanted to pick market IP, other company insights or comparisons. Candidates in the hiring ecosystem share similarities with businesses during business development and client acquisition realm. Both sides of the fence deserve honesty and integrity of intentions.    

A meeting should be an open and robust discussion. And that can only be done with appropriate time allocated, prior research and a commitment to an agenda.

But it begs the question, given business is national and international with technologies at the ready, why do you need a coffee meeting unless it’s paramount to the work and involved? Again I truly believe the CURB epidemic has sprung from a lazy and duplicitous framework for picking brains for free information.

This has borne out time and time again, you meet someone in good faith and they haven’t invested any time researching your website prior to the meeting. Now, this isn’t the case 100% of the time, but a sizeable majority. This is borne in the very fact a coffee catch-up has duplicitous intent and is not viewed with respect.

For the inviter

  • Stop, think and respect the other person before you shoot off a confetti CURB.
  • What are your honest intentions? 
  • Do you just want to pick their brains?
  • What is your purpose?
  • Could you have a video or phone chat first?
  • Research the person and business you are meeting with.
  • Bring in an equal mindset of two professionals meeting in good faith.
  • Let others decide if your agenda meets theirs.  

For the invitee

  • Always feel empowered and valuable.
  • Ask for a general agenda outline and discussion points.
  • Be thankful, gracious and respectful.
  • Pick up the phone. Often, after receiving an invitation for coffee, I have picked up the phone and it was evident there was no real value in meeting.  
  • Suggest a Zoom or Skype instead initially.
  • Encourage the inviter to read and review specific articles or website links to discuss together (this really cuts the noise and pick the brains nonsense).

For both the inviter and invitee

  • Have meaningful meetings and be transparent.
  • Ditch the cliché of coffee and be more direct.  
  • Ask for a meeting with intent and provide the venue if not your office.
  • Question and analyse your own cognitive biases and fears.  
  • Your personal brand is in part how you communicate and respect others, so be mindful.

Everyone in business is trying to survive and thrive, build meaningful relationships and circumnavigate pressures. 

NOW READ: Stop telling us how busy you are, it’s boring and charmless

NOW READ: Are you missing out on opportunities and damaging your personal brand?


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2 years ago

In my field we struggle to attract staff, often money is not the key motivator so we offer potentials a coffee and chat. This removes any pressure and allows the potential employee an opportunity to get a ”feel’ for the place. It works really well. Other times I can meet someone and sense there is a bit of connection/congruance and suggest a coffee catch-up. There is no specific agenda aside from finding out more about the person and their business. I have a set of specific questions to keep the conversation moving and they can often be extremely valuable. As an aside I don’t even drink coffee so usually buy mineral water.