He asked if I wanted to have a coffee.
In enterprise-speak, that’s code for “We need to talk,” and it’s not an invite. I learned this the hard way on my first day as an intern, replying “no thanks” to my then manager, thereby forcing him to speak straight for once, all to my colleagues’ great amusement.
Coffee talks fall into four different categories: gossip, secrets, advice, or the beast of the group, all of the above. This particular one, I was to find out, was to be a fine example of a hairy, drooling beast.
For the next (wasted) hour, I found myself bombarded by a myriad of stories, facts (read: assumptions) and advice. I cannot say if it was politeness or fascination that made me continue to listen, but I’d like to think that it was the latter.
As the words kept pouring out of his mouth I silently ticked a checklist in my head.
Discredits others….check…. knows too much about your life (or at least pretends to do so)…check… gives poor advice… check.
As his monologue went on I could feel an irritation, bordering on anger, building up in my chest. I looked at him in sudden amusement and thought to myself:
Who died and made you a Guru?
Here’s the thing: people tend to volunteer to be my (completely unsolicited) mentor. Eager to share their precious (read: questionable) insights and advice, they seldom stop to reflect on whether I want it or not.
Is it my fault? Do I have “come-and-help-me” printed on my innocent-looking forehead?
Sorry babe, it’s not me, it’s you.
My theory is this – self-proclaimed Gurus do not want to help you, but themselves. And when they find someone who is kind and a good listener (read: introvert), they see a golden opportunity to strike with all forces.
You see, what you quickly realize about coffee talks is that the initiator always has an agenda, and most often a dubious one. Out of experience, the winner in the bunch is their need to get your support in some way, for example by forming an alliance against others. Another strong contender is their need to feel good about themselves.
For the invitee, something good rarely comes out of these conversations. At best, it will “only” waste your time, but at worst, it can have a negative impact on your well-being and self-esteem.
My promise to myself – and I encourage you to do the same when in this situation – is to recognize that it is my responsibility to speak up for myself, and make it clear that I am not anyone’s puppet just because I do not take a lot of space (something which is incontestably true).
So how to turn that into action?
First: learn to spot the Gurus. These are the persons who talkfor you rather than with you, and who ask too many probing or otherwise suspect questions. Having heard a sufficient amount of monologues, you will quickly get a familiar feeling in your gut upon entering a conversation with these guys. Trust me on this one.
Second: learn how to tame the beast. You don’t need to be rude or make a scene (good news for the introverts). Simply state that you do not discuss your private thoughts, and/or that you do not have an opinion (though you probably do). If you feel that this is too much for you, simply start by trying not to feed the monologue through nodding or mumbling things such as “ok,” “I see” or “yes.” Be neutral, and non-responsive – this will quickly bore the Guru who seeks agreement and encouragement.
By following these steps, next time you’re confronted with a beast, you will save time, do your blood pressure a favour, and feel better about yourself.
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?
Do you have any other tips on how to deal with Gurus? Post them in the commentary field!