3 Steps to Handling the “Can I Pick Your Brain?” Request

Can I pick your brain


by Michelle Mazur, Ph.D.

There’s probably one of these requests sitting in your inbox right now. I know there is in mine.

“Hi Michelle-

I’ve read your blog since the beginning. I love what you do, and I want to be a public speaking trainer just like you. I’d love to take you out for coffee and pick your brain about how you setup your business.


Well-intentioned Information Seeker”

Sujan Patel wrote in Inc. that requests to pick your brain “basically tells whomever you’re sending a message to that you want to take up his or her time without offering anything of value in return.” He argues that this phrase should be eliminated from email all together.

In a perfect world, no one would ask to pick your brain, but until that time arrives it can be a struggle to figure out how to handle this question.

As women, we feel conflicted by these requests. On one hand you want to be helpful and feel flattered, but on the other hand you’re busy and have other priorities to attend to.

What’s a girl to do? Follow this three step plan for handing the “can I pick your brain?” requests.


Step 1: Does the request energize or drain you?

I love to be helpful. I love chatting with people, but the first thing I do when I get an email like this is ask myself if the request energizes or drains me.

If this person is someone who I know, have cultivated a relationship with over time, or someone I want to connect with, I get excited. Enthusiasm for the request always leads me to a definite yes.

But if the email is from someone I don’t know, I feel drained. If a requests drains my energy, it always a no.

Do your own energetic check before responding. If the thought of spending time with the person makes your excited, say yes. If it leaves you feeling tired before you even start, say no.


Step 2: Respond Yes or No on your own terms

If you’re response is a yes, say yes on your own terms. If you don’t want to meet the person for coffee because you’re schedule is tight, invite them for a coffee date over Skype. If they want an hour of your time, but you only have 30-minutes to spare, then tell them that. Give them what you can, not what they think they need.

You’re providing them with your brain, your talent, and your ideas, the least she can offer in return is to  show up on your terms.

If no is the way to go for you, remember no is a complete sentence. You don’t have to explain why. Tell the other person you’re flattered they reached out, but your answer is no.


Step 3: Even if you’ve said NO – you can still give value

It means that I’m not down with spending my free time talking 1:1 with you about business.

When I say no, I point the person to one of my blog posts that addresses their issue or tell them about a book I read that might help.

If what they want to pick my brain about is something I get paid for doing, I let them know that I consult on this very topic, and would be happy to work with them.

A no doesn’t have to be the ending. It can be the beginning of a relationship where there is an equal exchange of value.

There you have a simple 3-step process to handle those brain picking requests with ease.

Do you have a process you go through when deciding if you want someone to pick your brain? Let me know in the comments below.




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2 Replies to “3 Steps to Handling the “Can I Pick Your Brain?” Request”

  1. Neena

    Hi Michelle – 3 great points! Sometimes I try to talk myself into something because I want to be nice – but then I end up resenting the whole interaction. Got myself into such a pickle next week – but we learn from our mistakes, right?

    I will use your strategies to kindly yet firmly assert my own agenda.


  2. Kim Harrod

    What an incredibly practical and sanity saving approach! We’ve all been on both sides of this quandary, and prioritizing our own time can be a challenge. Applying a “yes” or “no” rule of thumb and then moving on (sans guilt) is something we can all use in our daily lives – business and personal.

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