coffee_trap_thumbThere is nothing I appreciate more than intelligent conversation and spending time with interesting people. In fact, a big reason why I started 50Kings was so I could enjoy the company of quality people I might not otherwise have met. But lately I’ve found myself increasingly hesitant to talk to people, even those with whom I’m already acquainted. It seemed like the vast majority of folks wanting to meet me or “catch up” were really just looking for an excuse to ask me for a favor or pick my brain.

Since I’m just some dude with a nice set of friends, I figured if this is a problem for me, it has to be a massive problem for people who are more successful than I am. Short of turning away everyone and defaulting to “no,” something many people are essentially forced to do, there had to be a way to separate the people who were actually interested in a conversation from the people who were just looking for a favor.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed that should help you sort the wheat from the chaff:

  1. Beware of people who are just acquaintances who suddenly want to catch up. When someone you’ve only met once or twice or haven’t spoken to in a few years suddenly wants to meet for coffee or schedule a phone call, that’s almost always a trap. If they really just wanted to catch up and had no ulterior motives, they would have sent you an email asking, “Hey, how are you?” Or they could just check your Facebook profile. Going to an out of the blue coffee meeting is like flying into the Death Star. It’s a trap!
  2. When people are slow to reply, understand what that means. Their slow replies indicate that you are not a high priority for them. If the relationship is new or casual for both parties, this is completely understandable. I have friends who I’m not really close to and I expect to be low on their priority list. By itself, this is not a problem. Just be aware of it so when they ask you for a favor you know where you stand with them.
  3. Be cautious of people who show uncommon curiosity about your business. This is a sure sign that they want to pick your brain. Most businesses can be explained very simply in a few sentences over email and you probably have some links, articles, or videos that go into more depth. If someone starts asking to meet and learn about your business beyond that, be prepared to have your brain picked and don’t be surprised if they use that knowledge without paying you or even as a basis for copying you.

Here are some tips for the jackoffs who screw things up for everyone else by expecting free shit.

  1. Just because you’re friends on Facebook with someone does not mean you can ask them for stuff.
  2. If someone agrees to do a favor for you, don’t try to weasel another favor out of them.  There is nothing more annoying than the sneak attack “two-step” favor.
  3. Don’t assume people will come to your office, especially if you’re the one who wanted to meet.
  4. I suggest you earn your favors before you ask for them. I know so many people who have not been helpful or supportive of my efforts in any way, but they have no problem coming on strong when they want something from me.
  5. Understand how much work or what’s on the line for the person you’re asking. For example, I’ve been asked to read and edit thousands of words of horribly written crap as if it’s no big deal. Or worse, people who have shown themselves to be flaky or demanding assume they’re automatically entitled to introductions. Seriously, why the fuck would I do that?

It’s a real shame that it’s come to this. Ideally, people wouldn’t try to take advantage of others, but if nothing changes we may have to start asking people point blank, “Do you really want to meet for coffee or is this some kind of trap?”

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]