How To Get Comfortable Saying “No” To People Who Want To “Pick Your Brain”

In the process of building your career, it’s essential to have a mentor. It only makes sense that you’d want to learn from those who are ahead of you, to glean from their experience what mistakes to avoid, what choices to make, and what to do along the way.

But how do you find one? Conventional advice says to reach out to someone you really admire, and ask to buy them a cup of coffee and “pick their brain” about a few things.

Despite how common it is, there’s an aspect of this approach few people consider: people who are highly successful probably get requests for this constantly, and likely aren’t going to spend 10-30 hours each week talking to people from whom they are not going to receive anything in return.

If you’re the person in the position of being asked to mentor, advise or at the very least get coffee to talk about your expertise, you’re going to have to get comfortable saying “no” sometimes, or at least finding another way to share important information. Here’s how to start:

1. Write your response ahead of time.

If you feel uncomfortable or guilty for saying “no,” have a pre-written response on hand, such as: “Unfortunately, my schedule does not allow for one-on-one meetings right now, but thank you so much for reaching out.” It’s important that you respond to everyone and connect with them (not responding at all isn’t a great look) but you also have to respect your boundaries and limits.

2. Put together an online course, Q&A session, or host a meet-up.

If you feel passionate about helping others in their careers, consider finding an alternative means of connecting and sharing important knowledge. You can maybe develop an online course that you can sell, or host an Instagram live chat. If you’re located in a big enough city, you can even consider hosting a meet-up where everyone can share ideas.

3. Choose one-on-one meetings wisely.

Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you have to say “no” to every single request that comes through your inbox. In fact, if someone puts a lot of effort in trying to contact you, has been a fan for a long time, or in some other way stands out, maybe make time for them. It’s important to give back, too.

4. Remember that you have to honor your time first.

Beyond anything else, do not forget that you are your first priority, and if you get to a point in which you aren’t comfortable saying “no” at all, you’re going to eat up all of your time tending to other people’s questions and needs… and sooner rather than later, you’re not going to have any advice or experience to share anymore.

Though community is crucial, and it’s incredible to share the wisdom you gain over the years, remember that you are not obligated to anyone but yourself. Navigating this new level of your career will take some practice, but you should ultimately consider it a positive sign that people want to receive advice from you, and make sure you are always grateful to be in that position regardless of whether or not you can offer your time.