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“Oh, no thanks,” I said to Sue, the marketing director for a major bank in Boston I was about to pitch on a sales call, in response to her offer of coffee or water. “I don’t want to be a bother,” I thought to myself. I was running a couple of minutes late, and I wanted to make the most of our time, so I had passed on a cold drink of water that I actually craved. 

 

But I was really thirsty. And that got me to thinking that maybe I should have taken the water. It was hot in that room, I realized. I was nervous about the meeting, too, as it was a big pitch. Nervousness plus the warmth of the room led to some sweat, and now I wanted that glass of water more than ever.

 

As anyone who’s ever been in sales or ever presented for business knows, once you start sweating, it’s simply a bad, bad situation. Now I was so worried that Sue would notice I was sweating profusely, I lost focus on what I was there to do. As you can imagine, Sue’s meeting with sweaty Dave didn’t go very well, and it all started with my saying no to water to keep from being a bother.

 

You surely have had the experience of going somewhere for an interview or meeting and being offered water, coffee, tea, or soda. You may have thought the same thing I thought that day: Don’t be a bother.

 

After that disaster of a meeting with Sue, though, I decided to do an unscientific study. At my next twenty meetings, I alternated between taking the water (or whatever the other party offered) and politely saying no. Then I compared the results of each meeting.

 

As it turns out, it’s best to be a bother if that means taking the coffee, soda, or water you’re offered. The meetings at which I took the offer went significantly better than did the ones at which I didn’t. I know, small sample size and totally unscientific study, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?

 

In doing this experiment I learned that there are two reasons taking the drink sets you up for success. First, it puts you at ease and allows you to relax, cool off, or warm up and get ready for the meeting. Second and more important, it puts the other person at ease.

 

Think about when you have people over to your home. I’m sure you offer them water or a drink or a snack, and typically they take it. When they don’t, it throws you off: “Why won’t this person take my drink or snack?” you think. “Am I a terrible host?” “What’s the deal?” Your mind may wander, and now you’re distracted and maybe even annoyed at your guest for putting you in that situation.

 

When the tables are turned and you’re offered a drink at the start of a meeting, take it. Even if you’re not thirsty, take the drink. If you’re offered coffee and you don’t drink coffee, politely ask for water instead. This very simple act will make the person you’re meeting with feel like a good host, put him at ease, and prime you to be able to read him well and exert influence as needed.

 

Remember, being liked is all about making people feel good, and accepting a drink allows the other person to feel good. Two quick caveats about this approach: First, if you’re not offered a beverage, don’t ask for one; that could easily have the opposite effect, making the other person feel bad that she doesn’t have anything to offer. Second, when food is offered, unless you’re actually having a lunch meeting, it’s best to decline politely. Food is simply too distracting when you want to be at your best.

 

By the way, ever since I completed that study, I always accept a beverage at every meeting. It’s usually water, but I’ve had my share of soda, juice, and even the occasional beer and wine to kick off a meeting. Cheers!

 

FAST First Actions Steps to Take:

  1. Commit to accepting a beverage at all your meetings and interviews.
  2. Be sure to offer one whenever possible when people are meeting you at your office.
  3. When you are waiting for the beverage. use the opportunity to settle in, relax, and set up for success mentally and physically.

 

Above was an excerpt from Dave Kerpen's new book The Art of People. Like what you're reading so far? Order copy your today and be sure to tweet about it using #ArtofPeople!