Taking notes in coaching and mentoring

In meetings, people often take copious notes. The problem is that the more notes you take, the less you attend. Our brains don’t have dedicated circuits for writing, so they have to cannibalise circuits that would otherwise be used for listening.

Coaching and mentoring require intense listening skills and mindfulness. The coach or mentor needs to be fully present and attentive. So taking notes in the flow of the conversation isn’t recommended. Instead, take advantage of occasional pauses in the conversation to invite the learner to summarise the key points of what has been said. This has the advantage that it captures what they think is important (not what you think) and gives you deeper understanding of how they are making sense of their issue. You can, of course, then offer some thoughts of your own, if you think they will be helpful.

Capturing the thoughts from this summary gives a much more useful and focused picture of what’s important and insightful. Both you and the learner can subsequently use the notes you take during these summaries (you might have up to 10 over the course of an hour) for reflection.

© David Clutterbuck, 2014

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