How to deal with the ‘Can I pick your brain’ question

If you’re a dependable person, you’ve probably heard the question “Can I pick your brain?”. 

For a lot of us, that question can be inconvenient. Or, an invitation to give your time away without compensation.  After all, that person could ask you a question about virtually any subject. You might feel unprepared or anxious. But, remember the position you’re in.

They are coming to you because they see value in your perspective. Respect that. But, that does not necessarily mean that you need to drop everything, either.

Here are 5 ways to thoughtfully and respectfully respond to the question “Can I pick your brain?”

It’s okay to say no

If you are right in the middle of something, don’t be afraid to say no. Or at the very least, “not right now”. Losing focus on something important can be devastating to your productivity. Learn to say no masterfully

Saying no might sound something like, “I’m sorry but I’m not able to help right now, but you might want to ask Julie, who’s done something like that before.

Ask them to schedule a time

This might sound rude, but remember that your time is valuable. Especially if you are in a position of influence or authority, you might be asked this question a lot.

It’s okay to schedule a time so you can devote your attention to each person rather than trying to multitask, which is something most of us don’t do very well. 

Try something like, “I am completely swamped right now. Could we schedule a time for later on so we can talk?

Charge an hourly rate for your time

Again, your time is valuable. If you earn a living answering questions for people (aka “consulting”), then stick to your guns. Do not let people monopolize your time or ask for things, for which you would normally charge, for free.

Respond with, “My hourly consulting rate is $x/per. Would you like me to get you on the schedule?

Say yes, but be efficient with your time

People have a way of compromising your time if you let them. If you are able to help, then consider setting a very specific time limit on your help. And, don’t make it sound like you’re available to chat for hours (or you might just do that!).

Instead, try something like, “Sure, but I only have about 10 minutes. Can we just have a quick chat?

Ask for an email instead

Even if you do have the time to chat, consider asking that person to email you instead. This means you can continue focusing on what you were doing, and responding to an email will give you an opportunity to think about your answer and craft a more complete and thoughtful response.

Try this: “Sure, but I am a little busy right now. Can you send me an email so I can take a look at it a bit later?

Remember: There is nothing wrong with lending your brain to someone else’s problem. But, be careful not to let people control your time or get something from you for free. It’s your time. And, you have spent many years accumulating wisdom over the years. 

It’s okay to protect that.