The Starbucks Effect … On Conversations

The other day, I was on a coaching call with a client, and the Starbucks name kept coming up.  Strangely enough, it had nothing to do with my asking this client to meet me at the coffee shop.  It came up because I was asking this client to visualize she was meeting me at the coffee shop.  Confused?  Let me explain…

Most of us don’t realize it, but more often than not, there is an actual script that we follow each time we meet someone at a coffee shop.  Once we walk in, order our drink, and sit down, the ritual begins.  We tend to start with small talk, shift into the deeper part of our conversation, and then finish with more small talk.

When I was recently working on sales technique with a client, I was trying to get her to simulate that Starbucks ritual in her dealings with her clients.  Salespeople are known to jump into the deeper parts of a conversation too quickly. I asked her to visualize she was at Starbucks, having coffee with a friend.  “How quickly do you get to the deeper, more difficult parts of the conversation?” She immediately understood she needed to slow down, be patient, and spend some time just enjoying their time together.

At a recent presentation, an audience member mentioned that he wanted to come across as authentic. He followed that up with his concern that it felt forced when he tried to do that. My response?  “Visualize you’re at a Starbucks having coffee with a friend.  How forced are your conversations there?” He immediately understood he had to soften his tone, relax, and stop pressing so hard. 

When I was in a Zoom meeting and someone complimented me on my carefully orchestrated background, I went back to the Starbucks analogy: “Visualize you’re at a Starbucks, and you’ll notice a carefully created, pleasant, environment that encourages relaxation and conversation.  That’s what I’m after here.” She immediately understood she needed to pay more attention to her background, and ultimately toned it down. For the record, when it comes to virtual communication, a poor microphone, a weak internet connection, and poor lighting are still three of the four most common complaints, but none exceed the number of complaints about a poor background.  The environment you create matters. 

Oddly enough, my version of the Starbucks Effect on Conversations has little to do with actually being at the coffee shop itself.  Just visualizing and simulating that experience in your mind will do wonders.  Like many of you, I still spend a lot of time on Zoom. I always encourage my clients to have a cup of coffee or tea with them in their Zoom call.  When I’m meeting with a client virtually, I make sure they see I’m joining them with a thermal cup that looks just like it came from a coffee shop.  (I wrote about this nutty cup in a previous BLArticle® called, “Five Percent Moves.”)

Starbucks changed the way we drink coffee, where we drink coffee, the taste of coffee, and how we consume coffee, but I think it goes deeper than the coffee itself.  Unbeknownst to us, Starbucks became our meeting place – our family room – and a safe place to just be ourselves.  What a perfect way to visualize a conversation with clients. 

Related: It Turns Out Timing Really Is Everything