Networking: Are you Making the Most of your Third Place? (i.e. Starbucks!)

Here is a guest blog from another Raeallan team member – Morgan Rosenberg.

Are you making the most of your third place?

Have you ever been to Starbucks? (Duh). Is it the third most common place you’re at during the week?

Ray Oldenburg, PhD, identified the human need for a “third place” to visit during our time in-between home and work. What about university students? We have no defined workspace during the school year.  Most of us share a house with roommates for 8 months, and our family during the summer. This third place is instrumental to student life. We’re there all the time!

For most of us, and the rest of the working world, “there” is Starbucks. It offers people an escape to slow down, relax and be themselves. This is an awesome environment to network and it’s definitely a more accommodating environment to start meaningful connections than say, in an elevator or on the way to class. Now the weird part. Although we’re often on red alert for networking opportunities at home and work (or school), most students are oblivious to the wealth of networking opportunities sipping lattes two tables over.

So why don’t we network at Starbuck?

It seems like the perfect opportunity to form new, meaningful connections. I suspect it’s for fear of becoming the recipient of the dirty “how dare you disrupt my coffee time” glare. If you have this fear, then stop. Close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting in your favourite coffee shop, sipping your double shot hazelnut latte, when a wide-eyed, energetic student walks up to you and says “hi”. What would you do? Would you give them “the glare” and go back to sipping your coffee? I doubt it (if you would glare, then maybe it’s you and you could use a hug).

When this exact situation happened to me, compliments of a plucky grade nine on lunch break, I said hi back. We talked for five minutes about high school. Then I gave him my business card with the promise of free advice and went back to sipping my coffee. No glare given.

Here’s the thing, I actually was busy. I was studying for an exam. However, out of the 7 hours I was planning to spend studying at Starbucks, I could certainly spare five minutes. According to Bobby Umar, “networking, much like leadership, is about giving.” And what do you know? After our conversation, I returned to my textbook with a new enthusiasm to tackle the challenge I was faced with.

People like to connect!

They like to help and they love to talk about themselves. Just showing genuine interest in what they’re saying is often all it takes to start a connection. So if you politely walk up to someone in their third place, and try to strike up a conversation, chances are, they’ll engage. To make sure this wasn’t just my perspective, I tested it out.

I visited 3 different Starbucks, strode up to people with my grandé Zen tea, and introduced myself.

Hi, my name is Morgan.

I explained why I wanted to meet them

I’m looking to expand my professional network, and I thought Starbucks would be a great place to meet interesting people.

Next, I engaged them

If you have a second, I’d really like to hear about what you do.

And simple as that, it worked. I’ll admit that I was the recipient of one or two lame excuses to duck the conversation. One guy actually told me that he was late for a coffee date with himself – I guess he just really needed his caffeine fix. Regardless, that’s okay! I didn’t expect to form a lasting connection with everyone with whom I spoke. On the flip side, no one was upset by me introducing myself, and I still achieved my goal of expanding my network. You hear that? Not a single person got upset! Not one!

So here are the rules for connecting over coffee:

1) Respect their privacy. At the end of the day, you are interrupting what they’re doing. If you’re trying to join a conversation, explain that you find it interesting and ask if you can offer your ideas. If you’re trying to start a conversation, make sure you aren’t interrupting something important (if you accidentally do, apologize, and wait for them to finish).

2) Be up-front (honest). If you spend five minutes on meaningless small talk, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. Moreover, most people can see through conversational guise. If you’re interested in connecting to develop your professional network, explain that to them. This is not to say you can’t start the conversation with something more casual or personal, as long as it’s sincere. For example, a great way to start any conversation is with a compliment; if you like their tie, tattoo or laptop sticker, tell them.

3) Be concise. The advantage you gain by approaching people in a relaxed setting goes out the window if you waste their time rambling. Starting a meaningful connection is not dependent on the amount of time you spend talking, but rather what you talk about. Keeping it short and sweet makes sure you have a meaningful discussion without eating up their entire Starbucks break.

4) Have a follow up strategy. This is the most important part of forming any sort of meaningful connection, anywhere, ever. This is more than just adding them on LinkedIn, and never seeing them again. Once you form a connection, you need to continue to connect. Knowing how you’re going to do this is essential, as meaningful connections are not formed over one conversation. Before you go out to network, figure out how you want to stay connected with the people you meet. How are you most likely to follow up? Then DO IT.

5) Have fun. This is just common sense. It will be more enjoyable for both you and the person you’re speaking with if you have fun. It will also give you something to build your connection from when you follow up. For example: “I met you the other day over coffee, and you bet me that I couldn’t host a pet shark in my house. I thought I’d photoshop you a picture of my future apartment, note the two story fish tank”.

That’s it. You’re ready to tackle coffee shop connections, so get to it! And if you see a guy with crazy hair and a smile, walk up to him. It’s probably just me and I’d love to connect!

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One thought on “Networking: Are you Making the Most of your Third Place? (i.e. Starbucks!)

  1. Excellent article, I just started a sales position with a large corp calling on grocery retail. These concise tips can be used in my conversations with store managers (without the coffee) to break the ice and begin relationship with them. Thanks!

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