Should a coach take notes?

Ah, yes, here we are again quoting the golden rule of coaching: “It all depends”. So I am sorry if you came here for a yes / no answer to the closed question above, you will be disappointed. But you still might learn from the considerations below.

Note taking “pros”:

Note taking helps some coaches focus

I have a friend, Jenny, who takes a lot of notes during classes and lectures — she says it gives her something to do while listening even though she never looks at her notes afterwards. A lot of coaches have told me that taking down helps them focus during the session.

Note taking can help steer the conversation

When you have paper and pen in your hands, you have a natural focus other than the client. You can use that focus to help you with “turn-taking” in the conversation. As you are waiting for the client to think and give you an answer, it is sometimes easier to look at the piece of paper than at your client. Or you might look at the client expectantly with pen in hand and they know that it is still their turn to speak and not yours.

Note taking can serve to stress what is important

You are waiting for the important words of your client — and when you raise your eyebrows, smile and take note of something, the client usually gets the impression that they have just said something important. If you write down the keywords of the client, the words that are about important and meaningful things that the client wants or past successes and resources, they are naturally stressed in the conversation

Note taking helps you remember the keywords

Using the exact same language the client uses is much better than “paraphrasing” — you create less misunderstandings, the conversation flows more naturally (since you don’t have these pesky stops about what means what — nobody knows this anyway). So if you want help remembering the exact key words, writing them down is a good option.

Note taking can help you remember what happened in the session

If you keep your notes from the last coaching session, you can review the notes before the next session to be up to speed. I only take minimal notes, but reviewing them with the client next time is helpful

Note taking can help to structure the coaching conversation

I take minimal notes together with the client. When the client has told me what they have accomplished between sessions, I ask the client how we should capture this and write down a few bullet points (electronically, as all of my coaching happens online). When we are coming to an agreement for the session, I stop again and ask, if I can write down the agreement. When the client has experiments for after the session, I write down the experiments. What is important to me is that I NEVER write anything down that I don’t share with the client.

With all of this, you now might think that I certainly write down a lot of stuff when coaching. Well, I don’t, but that’s only me — you might find the pros outweigh the cons for you :-).

Here are the cons:

Note taking can look like you are evaluating the client

If you are not careful and collaborative (as described above), note taking can appear secretive and judgmental (picture psychologist making secret notes). This may throw the client out of her agency into expecting you to solve their problem — so if you are taking notes, do it collaboratively.

Note taking can interfere with listening and being present

When I am taking notes, I have a second process going on in my mind apart from listening to the client. I am thinking about what to write down, about the paper, the pen, etc. Personally, I have an easier time listening to the client when I don’t take notes. However, I have a good memory and usually can remember the keywords, also I have become more patient over time so that I don’t really need a different focus point than the client.

After note taking — you have notes

And then you have to deal with them — as I said above, I never write anything down that I do not share with the client. To me, they are the owners of the material we created in the session. I also am very adamant about destroying everything after the coaching process is finished. I tell the client that I will destroy my notes after the last session, ask them to check if they have everything and once they give my the go, I press “delete”.

As you see — no clear answer, but I hope my musings were helpful.

If you are interested in my very short form with which I take notes, click here:

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