One of your best management tools may be a
coffee cup. The simple act of taking someone to coffee gives you
an opportunity to sit with them, listen, and learn. That kind of
a conversation can be powerful employee motivation. It can head
off conflict and violence. Just sharing a cup of coffee gives
you a great chance to learn important information about
yourself, your employees, your company, and even your
Coffee with Your Employees
Do you have regular meetings with each of your
key employees, your direct reports? Are these weekly meeting
frequently interrupted because both of you are so busy and
someone always has a "crisis" that needs one or the other of you
to deal with it? Do you ever feel you could get more done if you
just had a half hour without interruptions? Get out of your
office and take the other person out for a cup of coffee.
One place I worked had a coffee shop in the
ground floor of the building and another across the street.
There was also a breakfast restaurant half a
block away where you could get coffee. One supervisor I know,
however, would just sneak off to the employee lunch room. He
would "buy" a cup of coffee for the person he was meeting with
and they would sit at one of the tables and talk. No phones, no
cell phones, and they ignored the pagers.
Coffee Isn't Always Coffee
"Grabbing a cup off coffee together" doesn't have
to only mean coffee. If you or the person with whom you are
meeting doesn't care for coffee, or just wants a break from it,
there are plenty of alternatives. Tea and cocoa are a couple of
other alternatives that come to mind. In fact, in many
countries, tea may be the preferred alternative. However, it
doesn't have to stop there. The whole point is to get away from
the distractions for a little while, so the beverage really
doesn't matter. Bottled water may suit. Sports drinks, fruit
juices, and sodas are all acceptable. It only needs to be
something relatively inexpensive that is readily available, can
be served quickly, and that you can linger over while you talk.
Coffee Has No Alcohol
The one thing you want to avoid is anything
alcoholic. Regardless of the time of day, going out for a "beer"
or "having a glass of wine" makes it more of a social event than
a business meeting. Besides, you don't want either of you to be
impaired, and alcohol can do that. Certainly, there can be the
temptation to get the other person to relax a little so they
will be more open with you, but using alcohol to do so is
ethical and underhanded. Being open and honest with them will
produce the same results without the potential embarrassment.
Listen. Really Listen.
Remember the reason you are having this chat in
the coffee shop instead of your office is to learn something
from the other person. It might be that you want them to get all
the way through the trouble report without an interruption. It
could be that you want to hear their ideas for the new product
or how to fix the old one. It can be just as important to check
their temperature as to check the coffee's and to find out if
they are overstressed and why. The key element in all of these
is you need to keep your mouth shut and your ears open.
Listening, of course, is more than just
letting the other person speak. You have to focus your undivided
attention on what they are saying. Remember you left the office
to get away from the distractions there, so don't distract
yourself here by letting your mind wander. Actively listening
also means occasionally repeating a statement of theirs back to
them to show you are listening and to encourage them to keep
talking. The Japanese even have a word for this, aizuchi.
Manage This Issue
- A coffee break gives you a chance to get
away from the distractions and interruptions.
- Coffee, tea, soda, or water. The beverage
- Pick a beverage that is inexpensive and
quick, but that you can linger over.
- Cell phone and pagers should be turned
off or at least ignored.
- Alcohol is out.
- Actively listen to the other person.
That's the purpose for this getaway.