The Writing Dilemma


On the issue of taking notes during a coaching session…

This is a question that often surfaces in coaching training. Is it ok for the coach to write while conducting a coaching session? What are the pros and cons of taking notes in coaching?

When it comes to coaching, I usually try to stay away from “black and white” answers.
Coaching is a human-to-human interaction, and as so, full of gray areas.

Writing while coaching is possibly one of them.

What I believe is important is to be aware and purposeful about the decisions we make when we are in front of our clients. Every time I see a coach or a student in one of my practicums or a mentee in a recorded session taking notes, I always wonder about the true motivations behind that action.

What is prompting the coach to write this piece of information? What is the decision process happening behind the scenes? Is this just a habit, a crutch? How much has the coach thought about this choice?

When I ask the student what made them take that step, the answer is usually around the idea of not forgetting that piece of information. “If I don’t write it down, I will forget.” “I must remember these facts.” “It helps ME to organize MY thoughts.”

As you can see, all these statements are coach centered. We are writing for us. We are taking notes out of fear that we might forget. We are writing out of personal preference. In doing so, our focus is on ourselves. Perhaps with good intentions, but bottom line, we write to fulfill our own needs, not the clients.

Other reasons I hear are: “I write so I can bring back these points at a later time.” “I write so I can show my clients that I remember.” (Somehow this statement seems contradictory to me.) “I write so I show efficiency.”

Here comes the issue of the value of coaching. Remember that coaching is not solution-based, but discovery-based. Our value is not on the archiving of details, but on how we create the structure of the coaching conversation that provides the client the space for exploration. More important than remembering the exact words, our focus needs to be broader and deeper, trusting that when we are anchored to the essence, the pieces will come together.

While we do want to remember certain points and relevant facts, most importantly is that we are present in the moment and to the core of what our client is experiencing.

Regardless of skills or tricks, we have created, or whether we are coaching in person, on Zoom, or even over the phone, the fact is that when we look down and we start taking notes, at some level, we break the connection with our client. And that connection, in itself, is more valuable than any piece of information.

The funny part is that once you establish this level of coaching presence, remembering details is the easy part.

I am always amazed at how much information surfaces right at the time when it is most relevant. That is because I am present. That is because I am connected with my client.

You can see that my strong recommendation to all my students and mentees is to put the pen down. Look at your client and truly, intentionally be present. That alone can be the transformative action that will make a tremendous difference in your client’s life.

If you have the habit of taking notes while you coach, I suggest you pay very close attention to the true reason for this. Your client needs you more than your memory. Details can be remembered and refreshed. Words can be substituted by meaning and experiences. More important is that you stay with your client every second and establish a true connection at every moment.

Having said that…

When I am coaching, I always keep a pen and paper close by. In all my years of experience as a coach, there have been a few times when it seemed important to jot a few things down. When this happens, the decision to write is conscious and they are always preceded by some sort of statement that makes the client aware I will be taking that step. This shows my clients that we are doing this together and that we are partnering even in the act of taking notes.

One more point…

Remember that in coaching, the client is the one in the driver’s seat. Oftentimes, if there is something that really needs to be recorded, I am of the mindset that perhaps it is the client’s job to do so. This may be one of the few moments that making a request is in order.

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