Lessons learned from an unpleasant coffee meeting

Coffee stains and notebooks go hand in hand," © 2011 Jeremiah Andrick

If you are a salesperson, business owner or are unemployed, you most likely do a lot of networking. This often means coffee and lunch dates with people who have complementary businesses or who can be helpful to you in some way.

A friend had a coffee meeting with someone that left her feeling rather angry. She was so bothered by the encounter she thought it would be helpful if I shared the story.

A young man who attended a presentation my friend attended followed up with her asking if she could meet for coffee. She had not met him at the event and felt it would be one of those one-sided sales jobs she tries to avoid. So, she ignored his request to meet. He bombarded her with appeals to get together. He sent her a LinkedIn request and messages, and he called and emailed her several times. Finally in exasperation she responded that she didn’t think it made sense for them to meet because she didn’t need his services.

He replied that even though she didn’t need his services, he thought he could help her business through referrals. She reluctantly agreed to meet for coffee.

When the coffee date arrived, she showed up a few minutes early to the meeting. He wasn’t there, so she went ahead and ordered a beverage. She waited, and finally he showed up almost 15 minutes late. He came over, looked at her drink and said, “Oh darn, I wanted to get that for you.” He said he didn’t need a beverage.

They spent the first 45 minutes getting to know each other, with her doing most of the asking and listening. He never got to the reason why he wanted to meet. At one point she saw him look at his watch. So, she asked, “How can I help you?” His response was to pull out a folder with information on his business. He then spent ten or so minutes telling her about his business and what kind of client he was looking for.

Finally, he said to her, “What about your business? How can I help you?” She started to tell him what to listen for in meetings with prospects and clients which might suggest they need her services. She spoke for about two minutes before he looked at his watch and said, “Oh, I’ve got to go.” He jumped up and had she not jumped up too, he would have been gone before she could say “goodbye”.

My friend felt used and abused and more than a little miffed that she let him talk her into meeting. She thought he was incredibly rude and disrespectful on many levels. I would agree. What went wrong?

To begin with, he should have showed up on time to the meeting. Then, being late, he should have apologized for being tardy, which he didn’t do. Because he called the meeting, it was his responsibility to buy my friend a beverage. Perhaps he showed up late so that he could avoid doing so.

Because he had said he wanted to meet to help her business, he should have asked her about her business and how he could help her much sooner in the conversation, instead of waiting for her to ask him about his business. As the person who called the meeting, he was responsible for steering the conversation, instead of waiting for my friend to get down to business

Typically in a business meeting over coffee, you should exchange pleasantries for about five to 10 minutes and then start discussing business.

Lastly, he never followed-up with her to thank her for the meeting. It was as if they had never met. Sadly, she wishes they hadn’t.

In all, she was left with a bad impression of him and his company. My friend will never refer business to him, and to be honest neither will I, given how he conducted himself. It’s too bad. I think his mistakes were due to a lack of maturity and professional know how. Hopefully his mistakes will help others avoid making the same etiquette gaffes.

Have you ever had a meeting with someone that went terribly wrong or left you feeling frustrated and angry for wasting your time? Do tell.


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Abi on October 26, 2016 at 2:18 am

    There is no excuse for his terrible behaviour – this is a great anecdote on how you should never behave in a business, let alone during a business meeting!

  2. Arden on October 29, 2016 at 10:12 am

    Hi Abi,

    Thanks for commenting. Yes, it was impolite behaviour. I chalk it up to ignorance.

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