"Let's grab coffee sometime!"

It's one of the most common things I hear when someone wants to catch up, network or do business. It tends to follow a rote agenda as if it were any other business meeting, and the conversation sometimes stays a bit on the superficial side.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but it is pleasant to meet a colleague at a local coffee shop and have a chat over coffee (or tea, for me). It's easy and familiar.

It's still a bit of a cliché though. Instead of simply defaulting to a coffee date, why not engage in some other interesting, engaging activity with your colleague, friend, or employee? You'll maximize your chance to get more work accomplished, or even just create an authentic, high-quality connection with the other person. Here are some ideas.

1. Go for a walk.  

Steve Jobs was infamous for preferring walking chats over the sitting-down kind. In his biography of the legendary tech giant, Walter Isaacson wrote, "Taking a long walk was his preferred way to have a serious conversation."

Jobs wasn't alone, either. Other famous walk-and-talkers include Harry Truman, Charles Dickens, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Going for a walk is a solid way to counteract the well-documented health risks that come from sitting behind a desk at a computer all day long. Moreover, stretching the legs, getting the heart pumping faster and being outside are inherently pleasurable activities to many folks.

Additionally, some studies show that people actually think more clearly when they're mobile compared to when they're sitting still.  

Personally, I've found it makes talking about work easier because you're in a more relaxed mood. When I get the blood pumping, I get into a flow easier. I'm able to listen more deeply and think more creatively and consciously about what I'm saying to someone. It's perfect for brainstorming.

2. Relax in a park.  

Another constructive way to disrupt the coffee chat is to simply relocate it outdoors. Maybe you don't want to walk, or you or your partner aren't physically able to engage in movement while you talk, or maybe you just like being outside and surrounded by nature.

Being outside in natural light not only promotes well-being and improves your mood, but it can also put you in the company of others who are in good spirits and engaging in high-energy recreation. People walking dogs, kids playing, a beautiful natural setting -- all of this together creates a vibe that's great for conversation.

Unsurprisingly, studies show that spending time in parks and other natural settings reduces anxiety. Green space is restorative, and talking in that kind of environment helps keep you both centered and focused.

3. Run or play a sport together.  

If sitting in a park (or a coffee shop) doesn't really interest you, why not get more active? Going for an easy jog or playing a sport like racquetball or golf still allows for conversation to take place, while also promoting fitness.  

A shared experience like this will also help you build a deeper, more authentic connection together. I remember going for a long run with a new connection I'd made only a few days before, and it helped form a genuine bond with this person in a way I'd never experienced before in such a short period of time.

4. Throw a group event.  

Before grabbing coffee with someone, ask yourself one simple question: Do you really want to chat with them one on one? Sometimes the answer is no. Maybe you just need to get on the same page about a work project, then move on.

In short, are you planning two-person coffee dates when you really want to host a party?

If that answer is yes, by all means, host some kind of social event. Happy hour comes to mind. Any kind of group event that allows for a free flow of mingling and conversation will work.

When you grab coffee, you tend to be locked into one long conversation with one person. When you invite ten people to a laid-back bar for happy hour, your individual conversation with each guests is shorter, but usually people don't feel left out. You also build camaraderie, which is usually a plus in any office.

5. Play a video or board game with them.  

Video or board games are another good alternative to grabbing coffee. It's an indoor activity, which helps on days with bad weather, but you're still engaged in a mutual activity to create a shared fun experience.

At one of my last jobs, a colleague and I played Rocket League together, as a way to catch up with each other and wind down. We could get competitive in a low-stakes way, laugh, and reconnect. It deepened the friendship, which is still there today. And, like many of the activities I've mentioned in this column, it's more easygoing and genuine than the same old same old.

Published on: Aug 14, 2018