Are you like me and take pride in your pages of notes during a meeting?

What if I told you that it might be the WORST thing you could possibly do??

Here’s some life changing insight I received last week thanks to my fellow leaders in my Executive Coaching program at Case Western Reserve University.

Connecting with people is what’s important. Communicating > Note-taking.

One of the few things I learned in my undergraduate years in college was to be a “good” note-taker. This helped me early on in my career when I would meet with clients. I would take as many notes as possible and go running to my office manager and proclaim, “What do I do???.” I literally had no clue what to do for the next appointment. As a result of my lack of experience and knowledge I didn’t know what parts of the conversation were the most important. So I wrote EVERYTHING down. I didn’t want to miss a word. I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Initially, this was out of necessity. However, as time moved on I didn’t need help making recommendations for my clients, but I kept taking notes like I did. I would always leave my meetings with pages and pages of scribble with pride. I even bought the Samsung Note so I could take MORE notes! I wore my note-taking skills like a badge of honor. My mission to be a note-taking machine had come to fruition!

During my Executive Coaching program we broke out into teams of three to practice coaching each other. I volunteered to go first and spent the next 15 minutes “coaching” a classmate I had just met that day. Afterwards I felt good about my questioning and note-taking. I had a FULL page of notes! I crushed it! Right?

This is when my note-taking heart was smashed to pieces.

My “coachee” and my observer both told me that my note-taking was “distracting” and “interupted the conversation.” I about leaped out of my chair and yelled, “Blasphemy!” However, I kept my cool and asked them to please continue with their feedback and that I needed to know this in order to give my clients and coachees the best experience and service possible.

It hurt at first and I was incredibly frustrated with myself. “I thought I was ready for this!? I thought note-taking was helping me!?” What they both helped me realize was that I was using my note-taking as an instinctual crutch and it was having negative effects on my client and coaching experience.

It took all my willpower to challenge myself to not take notes. “How will I remember anything!? There’s no way I’ll know what to do if I don’t take notes!” However, I nervously gave it a try and it was LIFE CHANGING. Here’s what I learned from not taking notes…

  1. Our line of communication remained open without disruption.
  2. I was able to be more focused and intent on what the person was saying.
  3. I was still able to ask great questions without the “talk, pause, take notes, talk, pause, take notes…” The questions were able to be asked naturally like they would in a normal human conversation.
  4. My memory is way better then I gave it credit for. I was so afraid to forget important parts of the conversation; however, I did remember!
  5. At the conclusion of the conversation is when I wrote down a few notes to confirm I was on the same page and that the person felt they had been heard and understood. (Which is the entire goal of the conversation!)

In closing, I want to thank my classmates for helping me take the leap into trusting myself more than a page of scribble. Secondly, you still need to take notes; however, only when absolutely necessary during the conversation or at the end of the meeting to summarize what was important to them. Lastly, I still plan on taking notes during classes, lectures, presentations, etc. However, my focus will be on the people instead of the paper.

My challenge to you my fellow leaders is to trust yourself. You won’t forget the important parts of the conversation. Ultimately, you will have better discussions simply because they aren’t constantly being interrupted by note-taking. Don’t let your best intentions of note-taking be your worst enemy in connecting with the people.

I look forward to your continued success! Enjoy your day!

— James R. Schleicher