I’m breaking out of the meeting rut. More and more lately I’m scheduling my meetings in coffee shops, especially if it’s a one-on-one meeting. At my job I have a private office and access to meeting rooms, and generally the people I’m meeting with do as well. So why coffee shops?
It’s not just my love of coffee – although I do love coffee. Very much. Almost as much as beer, but that’s another post. Scheduling coffee meetings is more about connection.
Meeting in an office creates a sense of formality, and though it is a business meeting, meeting in a less formal setting often feels better. The coffee shop is neutral territory so everyone feels equally at home. I find conversations are more honest when shared over a cup of coffee and a gluten-laden treat. The casual atmosphere supports increased small talk before or after the business discussion, and I’m able to learn more about the people I’m meeting with.
Inevitably the conversation will get to things like whether the person has been there before, where the coffee shop is in proximity to their home, whether they prefer coffee or tea, innocuous chatting that can be an opener for more conversation. I like getting to know people, learning where they’re from, what they like, how they interact with the world outside the structure of the office.
I avoid the chain shops and rotate between a few smaller coffee shops, all funky little places where you can get high quality coffee and a delicious baked good. I always suggest places that are centrally located, easy to find and with relatively good parking so it’s not stressful to meet there. When possible I try to schedule these meetings as the first meeting of the day so we are fresh and focused.
Outside of the formality of the office the conversations are naturally less stilted. People seem more authentic, expressing their emotions more freely than I have experienced in office settings, whether it’s vulnerability, anger, frustration or the simple joy of experiencing a good cup of coffee.
Cultivating this connection improves the business conversation as well. In a more relaxed setting the discussions feel more genuine. In my coffee shop meetings I’ve had hard conversations, planning meetings, check-ins, partnership discussions, conducted negotiations, discussed equity, and engaged in a lot of problem solving.
I’ve found in most instances we can give our full attention to each other and engage. There’s no distraction from ringing phones or knocks on the door or people walking past the meeting room. The chairs are comfortable. No one’s jumping up to write on the white board. And there’s caffeine.
Things also seem less rushed, less on the schedule. There’s a saying in social work that says something like act like you have 5 minutes and people will take all day, but act like you have all day and people will take 5 minutes. I might have mangled that (in which case my social worker friends will no doubt correct me) but I’m clear on the meaning: people respond better when they see that you are focused on them, not your next person, and they believe you will give them as much time as they need.
For most of us, getting out of the office is also its own form of self-care. I normally have between five and eight meetings a day, and some days I don’t get outside my building from the time I arrive until I leave. That can be mentally taxing and physically draining.
But on coffee meeting days, the act of going to another location, interacting with the barista, seeing new people, and engaging in a little small talk before business helps me stay connected with myself and the outside world as well as those I’m working with. I’m more focused, more positive and more productive as I go through the rest of my day. And I’ve had good coffee. It’s a win/win.