When we shift from common phrases like "Can I pick your brain?" to a more equitable exchange, we create an environment where knowledge is valued, and relationships are strengthened.
The psychology of the words you use. may matter more than you think.
To be frank with you, and based on my experiences in life, many of the people who ask "Can I pick your brain?" want to take, and never give. They are the time-wasters, the IP stealers, and sometimes the people who have motives alternative to your success.
However, some people who use that phrase, are simply uncomfortable asking for insight, or are not aware of how that phrase is perceived by others. They may not know that this phrase can prevent them from finding the insight they seek from colleagues.
Let's explore why the well-worn phrase "Can I pick your brain?" might be doing more harm than good, and why it's time for professionals to find a better way to ask for — and offer — help.
The Psychology of Intrusion
When someone asks to "pick your brain," it paints a vivid picture of an intrusion, not a friendly exchange.
It implies stealing something of value without giving anything in return. The phrase, by its very nature, is intrusive and extractive.
It creates a one-sided scenario where the knowledge and experience of one person are reduced to a free and assumed commodity, ripe for the taking.
Forcefulness and Manipulation
There's also a subtle forcefulness to the phrase "Can I pick your brain" that doesn’t sit right.
It puts the recipient in a tough spot: they either agree to give away their expertise for free or risk seeming unhelpful or uncooperative. This forced hand, regardless of the asker's intent, can often feel manipulative.
It disregards the years of effort, learning, and experience that go into the knowledge being requested.
The Value Exchange Discrepancy
The request to "pick your brain" undervalues expertise. It ignores the fact that the insights and advice being sought have worth. In any other context, valuable things cost money.
Yet, when it comes to intellectual capital, there’s an assumption that it should be freely accessible.
This is particularly toxic in professional settings where expertise is precisely what individuals and businesses sell.
A Friendlier Approach
If you truly value someone’s insight, consider a more respectful approach. Offer to pay for their time, ask for a formal consultation, or be forthright about seeking a mentorship.
It’s about recognizing and respecting boundaries and the professional value of knowledge. Propose an exchange that honors the worth of the advice you’re seeking, or be forthright about seeking mentorship within their expertise, to help you grow!
"Can I pick your brain?" is a phrase that’s overdue for retirement.
Instead, let's foster professional relationships built on mutual respect and equitable exchange, and encourage more mentorships.
Whether in sales or networking, the psychology behind our interactions matters.
By promoting a healthier, more respectful way of requesting someone's expertise, this post encourages readers to acknowledge the value of expertise, and approach each other with the courtesy and professionalism that everyone deserves.