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Six Words You Should Never Say When You Network

Six words that can destroy your chances of networking success are, "I want to pick your brain." There are two reasons why these six words will hurt you, not help you. I'll explain what those two reasons are. Then I'll suggest better alternatives.

"I Want To Pick Your Brain" Is A Disgusting Expression

The first time someone said this to me, I envisioned a torture scene from a horror movie. I knew the person speaking to me meant me no harm, but it was still off-putting.

When you're networking and you meet someone who has knowledge or skill you'd like to have yourself, using a phrase that sounds like an act of vengeance from a Quentin Tarantino film isn't a great idea.

"I Want To Pick Your Brain" Is All About You

Telling someone you don't know that you want something from them is the worst way to begin a business relationship. If the first two words out of your mouth are "I want," you lose the chance to connect with someone who has something to offer you.

Suppose you meet Successful Published Author at a party. You know and love the book she has written, and you've always wanted to write a bestselling book. Saying "I want to pick your brain" puts her in the uncomfortable position of having to find a way to say "no."

You're more likely to learn how she did it by giving something to her rather than taking something from her.

Here are several better alternatives to "I want to pick your brain." Each one is predicated upon your having something of value to offer to the writer.

Three Better Alternatives To "I Want To Pick Your Brain"

"I'd Love To Have You On My Podcast To Talk About Your Book"

Everyone wins with this. Successful Published Author gets to promote her book and possibly make some sales, your audience is treated to her wisdom and you get to have an in-depth conversation with a luminary. You're giving to give, but in doing so, you also get.

"I'd Love To Write A Blog Post About Your Book"

Another winner. Like the podcast example, it's about helping Successful Published Author get the word out about her book. Who would turn that down? You could interview her for your blog and get firsthand quotations instead of appropriating what she has said elsewhere.

"I'd Like To Feature Your Book In Our Company's Weekly Email For Employees"

This is a unique PR opportunity that a smart writer will jump at. Proposing an email with a hyperlink to the publisher's or Amazon's page is sure to wow her with your creativity (assuming you're in a position to make this happen).


"My podcast or blog has a small audience. Why would a bestselling author want to be interviewed for it?"

This is a self-defeating way to think. As someone who has written or edited eight books, I can assure you that writers love to talk about their work at every opportunity. Successful Published Author will be delighted to be interviewed for your podcast, and that interview will always be readily available on the Internet.

"I'm not a good interviewer."

No one is born a good interviewer. It's a skill you can develop, just like anything else. The best interviewers are sincerely curious about what their guests do, so if you have this, you're already most of the way there.

"I'm not comfortable asking for an interview with a famous, successful or powerful person."

If you're comfortable enough to say, "I want to pick your brain," you have the wherewithal to ask for an interview. Besides, being uncomfortable in a situation like this is an opportunity for personal growth, if you have the courage to move beyond your discomfort.

So what are you waiting for?

About the author: Bruce Weinstein

Through interactive keynote speeches on business ethics and leadership, I show global companies why high-character leader are the key to their financial success. I received a B.A. in philosophy from Swarthmore College, a Ph.D. in philosophy and bioethics from Georgetown University and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, and a Kellogg National Fellowship in Leadership Development from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. I serve as the CEO of the Institute for High-Character Leadership, based in New York but serving the world. My signature business ethics keynote speech is Why High-Character Leaders are the Key to Your Company's Financial Success, and my latest books are The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees, Ethical Intelligence, and for teens, Is It Still Cheating If I Don't Get Caught? Take my free ethics quiz and sign up for my weekly email on high-character leadership at

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