Over the last couple of days, I’ve been discussing the idea of giving people access to you, for free, to “pick your brain.” I discovered that I seem to disagree somewhat with the “common widsom” that professionals perhaps shouldn’t do this, and I’ve so far outlined two reasons I’ve heard, and why I disagree with them. Following are two more.
3. People will take advantage of me. If you know me, you might know that I am a big advocate for control. It seems to me like people might come to this “don’t let people pick your brain” advice after being “wrung dry” by people who constantly take and never give. But that can only happen if you let it. If you are feeling like you’ve been used, then I’d suggest that you are at least half to blame.
If you meet with someone, and you’d like something in return, then you should ask for it. Here’s an example: “It’s been great chatting with you, I hope I’ve been helpful, thanks for the coffee. Can you think of a friend/client/boss/organization who might be able to benefit from my services? I’d really appreciate a recommendation.”
If they asked for an hour, but you only had 30 minutes, you should have said so. Maybe they emailed you a meeting request that is an hour long. That’s certainly typical. But it doesn’t mean you had to accept the hour. How about, “Thursday at 3 is good, but I’ll only have 30 minutes. I hope that’s ok.”
And finally, if you truly just didn’t have the time, but you gave it to them anyway, then that’s your fault. Your response should have been something along the lines of, “You know what? Things are crazy for me right now, but I think I’ll have more time in June. If you could ping me back then, I’m sure we can get something on the calendar.” Another option, “Darn, my schedule is really busy for lunch right now, but I’m sure I could make time for 20 minutes or so over the phone. Would that be helpful?” Thom gave a great example on his blog of someone who opened his calendar for these types of meetings only at times that were convenient for him: 6:30 or 7am. I think that is totally fair. Another option is double-duty appointments: “I’ll be jogging around the lake at 6pm tomorrow. I’d be happy to chat with you then if you’d like to join me.”
4. My business has taken off, and now that I am more successful, I need to be very careful with my time/I can’t make time for everyone. Well, maybe I’m just not successful enough for this problem. It’s probably true that I can’t get on, say, Oprah Winfrey’s schedule (But then again, I’ve never asked.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m from Boston, and in the northeast, we tend to approach things with a healthy dose of skepticism, especially about what people want from you. I’ve also been a victim of the bait and switch: “Can I pick your brain” turned into “I’m going to try and recruit you to sell my network marketing product.” And that makes me mad. But believe me, if I’m mad at you, you’ll know it. I think smiling to your face while throwing daggers at your back is unethical and inauthentic.
If I had Oprah Winfrey’s level of success, I’d probably be more jaded about people wanting things from me, and I think that might be warranted. But my aspiration is not to be Oprah Winfrey. (Maybe just interviewed by her, or hired by her!) Maybe you do want to be the next Oprah, and when you get there, this post maybe won’t apply to you. But I hope that a national platform, success in my business, and lots of people hearing my message does not turn me in to a person who won’t give free advice (within reason) to people who ask for it. And if it does, I hope you will remind me about this post. (Oprah, since I’m sure you’re reading, what do you think?)
Did I miss any reasons? I’d love to hear on which side of this issue you come down. Think I’m being naïve? I’d like to hear that too. Any and all feedback is welcome. I wanted to share my perspective on this issue, but it’s not right for everyone. When it comes down to it, I think I just believe in karma.
By the way, thinking about this subject also reminded me that Thom and I had a meeting several years ago that I’m not sure was a “can I pick your brain” request. But regardless of what it started as, we had a nice conversation and Thom was very generous with his knowledge, as he had already been speaking for a few years when I was just getting started. And I think I didn’t send a thank you note. I can’t believe I made such a blunder as one of my favorite things to buy and send is pretty, handmade thank you notes, that I often see sitting on people’s desks months after I’ve sent them. So Thom, if I did fail to send you a note, I hope you will extend your statute of limitations for me, and allow me to say, “I’m sincerely sorry. Thank you. Is there anything I can do to help you?
Thanks for reading! And for more beautiful photography by Shawn P. Thomas, visit his Flickr page.