THE BLOG
02/09/2016 02:39 pm ET | Updated Feb 08, 2017

The Problem With Agreeing To Let Someone "Pick Your Brain"

"Could we meet and have a cup of coffee, so I can pick your brain?"

Sound familiar? I'll bet it does. When you're a business owner who has had success in building and growing your company, aspiring entrepreneurs will naturally want your advice and insight.

And you might feel some obligation to help them by sharing your words of wisdom and lessons learned. I relate to that completely--it feels wonderful to help others avoid some of the pitfalls I've experienced along the way.

But I've learned it's not always in our best interest to accept every request from those who enthusiastically want to pick our brains. As guilty as you may feel about saying "no," sometimes it's the right thing to do. Not all brain pickers have the best timing or intentions. Below are some reasons why I believe you're justified in not accepting every pick-your-brain request that comes your way.

Three Reasons To Say No When Someone Asks To Pick Your Brain

- When someone asks to pick your brain, it steals time you could be using to work on your business. Even if the meeting won't interfere with other tasks or commitments that day, you will be forfeiting time you could be using to strategize and plan for growth. It's often difficult to carve out time for revisiting your marketing strategy, reviewing financials, and other business-critical activities. Don't let pick-your-brain requests distract you from paying attention to the big picture.

- Sometimes brain pickers will ask for what equates to a professional business consultation for free. This is especially bad for business if you would typically charge clients for the type of info the person expects you to provide during your meeting. Be fair to yourself and your clients--don't give away your billable time for free to brain pickers.

- You might unintentionally give a competitor too much information. If the brain picker does similar work to what you do or aspires to start a company offering the same products and services as your business, beware! You may, without realizing it, give them more insight than you really should into the secrets of your success. That could put you at a disadvantage if ultimately you and the brain picker will be competing for the same customers. Set boundaries on what you'll share and with whom you'll share it.

Final Points To Keep In Mind About Pick-Your-Brain Requests
It's not always easy to assess people's intentions and integrity, so always consider each request carefully before agreeing to sit down and share information with others. As a rule, if I can spare the time, I will accept pick-my-brain requests from people who I find genuine, honorable, and sincere. If, however, I sense that a brain picker has an ulterior motive--a goal of trying to compete with me or one-up me in some way--I graciously decline the "opportunity."

Also, realize that saying "no" to people takes practice. You may feel uncomfortable with it at first, but believe me, it gets easier the more you do it--especially when you remind yourself that your business's well-being depends on you being choosy about how you spend your time and who you share your secrets to success with.