3 Tips to Deal with People Who Want to Pick Your Brain

Giving tips and pointers is a nice way to support others in business or just help out a friend. While it’s great to assist here and there when you’re able, it can be hard to draw the line when people solely want free advice without really ever giving anything in return. While one or two questions are okay to answer if you want to mentor someone, if it quickly turns into a free coaching session, you can start to feel that people are taking advantage of you. Here are three tips to combat people that pick your brain.

1. Lay down the law.

I often have people ask me for tips regarding PR. It’s a topic I love to talk about but I’ve learned to steer them towards my blogs posts or not give out so much information for free since it’s what I do as my livelihood. Blog posts are free content purposely put together to inform people completely gratis. So I don’t think it’s rude if someone asks me a question and I send them a blog post about 3 More Ways to Get Media Coverage for Free in place of talking to them on the phone. It answers their questions in detail and is in written form.

Personal Lifestyle Consultant,  Author and Podcaster, Lewis Howes of LewisHowes.com lays out what he calls laws on his contact form which clearly indicate what he will and will not do. This acts as a guide and sets the tone for how to approach working with him. He let’s you know up-front that he is not available to have his brain picked all day in a tactful way. He also gives clear details about how he works with others and in what capacity. You know what to expect right from the beginning.

2. Flip the script.

If things you need to create your own brand, you find it hard to apply these guidelines to what you do and still don’t know what to say, get an informal pep talk about this topic via video by online entrepreneur, Marie Forleo. Find her video on YouTube entitled “How to Say No to People Who Want to Pick Your Brain.” This video gives away three scripts of what to say for different scenarios when people might be looking for a freebie. For example, the first script asks for clarification about the person’s request and outlines options to choose from that include your paid services. It gets to the point and shows that you don’t have time to meet for coffee for free in a nice way. She also highlights what to say in other awkward situations.

Use these scripts as canned responses so you don’t have to constantly remember the perfect thing to say.

3. Read up on this.

Consider reading a book called Give and Take by Wharton Professor, Adam Grant. It highlights how success at work is dependent upon our relationships with others. He identifies people as givers, takers and matchers. Givers are those who help out generously without expecting anything in return. Takers tend to just interact to benefit themselves while matchers will help when something is in it for them.

Takers are on the lookout for givers. So you don’t want to fall in the category of what Grant calls a doormat giver. He explains how being a Superstar giver is ideal and these people tend to be very successful at navigating and gracefully working with all of these different personality types. A superstar giver is someone who’s extremely helpful to everybody but is also accomplishing their own goals and is successful as well.


The key take away from this  book helps you to better utilize others to drive our own success and not let them weigh you down. If you apply the ideas, you may be able to collaborate, negotiate and work better with others once you have a better understanding of the category they fall under. Whenever you are dealing with anyone who you classify as a taker, you have to draw a clear boundary and make them a matcher.

When the boundary is set as to how you will work together, it shows the person that you aren’t going to work with them unless they give in return. It’s very clear cut. They tend to go away because they don’t want to match, they just want to take. It’s an indirect way to make them go away. Think of it as repellent for those who want to constantly pick your brain when there’s no real benefit for you.


The Bottom Line

No matter how you relay the information, establish some ground rules with yourself first about how you will work with others. Then clearly map these ideas out so you have them at the ready when you sense that someone wants to potentially get you in a free advice headlock and has no intention of ever hiring you or giving back in any way.