Why Advisors Need to Stop Saying, "Can I Pick Your Brain?"

4 min read
May 14, 2020

Anyone with a modicum of professional experience has heard the term “Can I pick your brain?” But did you know these five simple words can be construed as impersonal, entitled, and in some cases, downright rude?

While the root purpose of the ask may be innocuous, the phrase is stale, impersonal, and ambiguous. Open up the conversation with this jargon and you’re likely to find that it doesn’t go where you intended it to or, in the worst-case scenario, is met with indifference and desultory results.

Offering advice is an indication of willingness to give back and to guide others; asking for it is an art and one that requires self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

This may feel daunting but don’t be deterred! Here are some tips on how to approach a professional peer with an ask for advice.

Be Intentional

Before engaging your professional peer, make sure you’ve clearly identified the kind of advice you’re looking for; better still, have an idea of the solution you’re seeking. David Garvin and Joshua Margolism, authors of "The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice", identified four main types of advice you might seek:



Desired Outcomes


Discrete Advice

Identifying options for a single decision

Recommendations for or against a specific option

Which types of financial planning services should I offer my clients?


What custodians are best given the needs of my clients and my comfort level with investment management?


Seeking guidance on how to approach a complex or unfamiliar situation

A framework or process for navigating and understanding

How should I construct my fee schedule to provide the best value for my time?


How would you handle a client that is difficult or one you’ve outgrown as a financial professional?


Enhancing skills, awareness, and management

Personal and professional development

How can I be more effective in my daily/weekly/monthly tasks?


What routes of continuing education would be most valuable given my client base and professional aspirations?


Providing opportunities and self-specific guidance

A relationship for building and sustaining professional and personal advancement

What are my eventual end-goals for my business and its growth?


How can I improve my efficiency and knowledge as a financial planner?

Begin on a Constructive and Practical Note

How you start your conversation will determine the outcome and the advice you might receive therein. Instead of starting the conversation with “Can I pick your brain,” try wording the request in a way that doesn’t sound so much like you’ll only be taking knowledge from the other party.

Use phrases like “I’m aware you’ve worked with X in the past and I’d like to hear your advice on it,” and “Would you be willing to share your experience with Y?” These are great ways to put the other person at ease and also seeks to acknowledge their hard work in getting to a place where they can offer guidance to others.

Be Specific

Once engaged, clearly identify your problem or need so the person offering their advice or guidance knows what exactly you’re asking of them. If you are too vague, they may end up losing interest or even misidentifying the issue you’re looking to solve.

You must also be respectful of the other person’s time, and approach them with a clear understanding of the extent and breadth of the help you’re seeking so as not to misrepresent the effort they’ll need to make to help you.

Be Picky About Not Just What You Ask, But Whom

It may feel more comfortable to ask for help from someone you’re familiar with, say a friend or partner, but it’s likely that they’re either too close to or too far removed from the subject to give you quality advice. Do you think your mom will be able to give you sound guidance on your compliance practices? Unless she’s very familiar with the industry, the answer is likely no.

Seek out someone who can provide the career-related help you need and don’t be afraid to get creative. Ask yourself who may be able to provide relevant insight and identify who has the most relevant experience as it relates to your problem.

Be Humble

Do yourself a favor and check your ego at the door. We frequently have a hard time truly assessing our own competence and often put greater stock in our gut instinct than it’s worth. Avoid asking for advice as a means of gaining validation or fishing for kudos. If you enter into the relationship with this mindset, you may allude yourself into believing that you’ve already solved the problem when in reality you simply sought self-confirmation.

You may also risk alienating yourself from your “mentor” if they become aware of the true purpose of an ask made in this attitude. This person’s time and effort are valuable, and should not be wasted on giving you a confidence boost.

Be Appreciative

SAY THANK YOU! The importance of gratitude cannot be overemphasized here. Showing appreciation for someone who has advised you will never go unnoticed, and failing to do so certainly won't either. A simple email or a quick handwritten note will go a long way in expressing your gratefulness.

And here’s one more tip for the road: follow up with your mentor about how you implemented their advice. This shows firsthand just how much you value their guidance and will undoubtedly pave the way for a continued relationship.

XYPN Kassy Betterley Headshot

About the Author

As part of XYPN’s Member Services team, Kassy helps to personalize advisors’ relationships with XYPN membership and helps to ensure a high quality experience in her role as a Member Experience Specialist (MES). She is passionate about thoughtfully constructed processes and thrives when helping others problem-solve. Connecting people to each other is a great source of joy for her and she does so whenever the opportunity arises.

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