6 Ways to Let People Pick Your Brain Without Wasting Your Time

The question I dread the most from business people is “Can I pick your brain?” While I believe in helping others and paying it forward, I am not even sure how this expression got started since it is so visually unappealing. Why would I want someone to literally look inside my brain and take whatever they want? Sounds like the first ever “business horror” flick!

Before giving advice, set clear expectations.

While I understand that not every interaction needs to have financial return, there should be rules that are followed if someone needs “friendly” advice so there is still time to get your work done.

Here are six questions to ask if someone wants assistance without you losing track of your own time and goals:

1.  Paid or peer advice? Small business advice begins by classifying the listener

Say: “Do you need help as a possible paying customer or just some friendly advice?” This sets expectations on both sides. In each case, you can determine if this a future paying customer or if they just need some casual advice.

2. Be specific. Effective time management isn’t rambling

Say: “How can I actually help you?” This focuses the questions so the “brain picker” does not ramble on without finding the help they specifically need. In fact, you have more of a chance to actually help this person in a short period of time if you focus on just one area.

3. Use the phone. Communicate informally, out of sight

 Say: “Sorry, I can’t do lunch. Can we talk briefly by phone?” I can’t meet everyone in terms of time—and probably weight gain. It takes at least two hours to have lunch between getting to the appointment and having the meal. I know that things can be more productive in person, but in this case, just say no.

4. Make it convenient for you. Effective time management blocks time when YOU want

Say: “This is when I can talk to you.” Take these calls strategically and conveniently. I typically do them while I am driving or waiting for a flight at the airport. These are times where I am not looking to accomplish heavy work, but can still focus my energies on helping the person with what they need.

5. Set a time limit and stick to it. Small business advice isn’t turning on the faucet, and letting it run

Say: “I have 10 minutes.” I tell people that I have a limited amount of time and announce it at the beginning of the call. This will also focus their questions. If you haven’t been able to help the person in 10 minutes, then they need to seek a free resource that is available or pay you for your time.

6. Set limits. Courteously

Say: “If you have further questions, please e-mail me.”  Limit another phone call. Tell them they can follow up by e-mail, but if more than a few e-mails are sent, see advice in No. 5. While there may be some people you want to invest in on an ongoing basis, these are the guidelines you need to follow for everyone else.

As the guest contributor for this week, Barry Moltz is a small business speaker, consultant and author who helps entrepreneurs unlock their potential and march forward. This post originally appeared in AMEX Open Forum.

Photo courtesy of Techopidia.com

Do you have tips that help you politely limit how much unpaid advice you share? If so, spill below.

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  • http://laura-e-kelly.com Laura

    I’ve been horrible at setting time limits and qualifying the conversation before it starts, and so have wasted hours of time getting my brain picked. Thanks so much for this actionable advice. Will print it out for future ref.

  • ann

    i am a speechtherapist and i just took a job with a home health agency. Another speech therapist WHO works for that company came up to me and said..i would like to go out on site with you and pick your brain…this made me sick….i have decided to tell her that my schedule is busy and referred her to read a particular book..

    • http://www.mojo40.com/ Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      That is EXACTLY what I mean. People who don’t do the work, but want the learnings. In this world, it is better to come up with an idea that shows you are working to learn, and you can give back, BEFORE asking.

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