Ever take notes during a meeting? How about when you’re with a customer or coaching someone? If not managed correctly, the act of taking notes can erode trust and distract you from what really matters.
A few days ago I received an email from a Director of Sales Development with a great question. After reading my book and attending one of my webinars recently, he dove head first into the transformation from manager to coach. My response to his email is likely directly relevant to your coaching efforts as well.
I’m working with several junior managers who each manage about 10-12 people. I’ve noticed that a couple of them take notes on a laptop or notepad during their coaching sessions. I feel that this may result in less than satisfactory coaching, since it could be a distraction, since they are not fully engaged in the conversation. Do you have an opinion on this?
First, let’s look at the two basic communication platforms for coaching. Most of the coaching I’ve done and do today is on the telephone (teleconferencing for team coaching, video conferencing, etc.). The reason is, like many virtual sales teams, my clients are spread out geographically. So, remote coaching is what has dominated my practice over the last 25+ years and what those managers who have remote teams need to engage in consistently to best support their people. Face to face coaching is the second option to deliver coaching, if you are fortunate to have your people local enough or in the same office you work out of, where travel is not an obstacle.
Regardless of the communication platform you use to deliver your coaching, when it comes to taking notes during the coaching session, the one common denominator is this. IF the manager effectively set expectations and created alignment around taking notes during the coaching session with the intention of best supporting their people around achieving their goals; then there is no issue. This is another great example when you can leverage the power of enrollment that I talk about in my book.
However, if expectations are not set and you did not let the person you are coaching know, “Here’s what I’m doing, here’s why I’m doing it and most important, here’s what’s in it for you,” then trust can be eroded very quickly when people don’t know what your intentions are.
And when that’s the case, as human beings, when we are not sure of someone else’s intentions, our default file is fear. For example, if your boss started taking notes during a coaching session, or even during a meeting he was observing you facilitate, without informing you what they are doing and why they are doing it, you could then think, “Why is my boss taking notes? What is he writing down? Is this for HR? Am I in trouble? Great, I better just tell him what I think he wants to hear.”
To combat this, when the manager explains their intentions and what’s in it for their direct report, the manager, as well as the direct report can now feel comfortable about notes being taken during the coaching session. (Keep in mind, the coachee may also be taking notes as well!)
Now, whether or not the manager is fully present, actively listening, focused and engaged is a totally different question. Engagement is a byproduct of being present, tuning out all distractions, turning off your phone and email, and truly focusing all of your energy on that person, their agenda, needs, challenges and their message; without focusing on a solution or how to ‘fix’ them.
The purest form of coaching is when the coach is solely focused on asking the right open ended questions that create new possibilities for the person they are coaching and ultimately having them create a new solution or possibility on their own. This occurs once the gap has been recognized by either the coachee or, if it’s a true blind spot that the person can’t see on their own, then it would be up to the coach to share that gap/observation.
If coaching is delivered correctly and practiced over time, and there is clear alignment around taking notes because the manager set those expectations, it’s certainly okay to write a few notes down regarding key points to remember or what the person you’re coaching has committed to, as long as the manager isn’t trying to transcribe the conversation! If this occurs, or if the manager is more concerned about capturing what the coachee is saying on their laptop (because they fear they may miss something, they’re trying to be perfect or control the conversation/outcome), then the manager has stopped listening. Consequently, if the manager is no longer fully listening, then the quality of their questioning and coaching begins to decline.
Conversely, I find that those managers, including myself, don’t often need to write many things down during the session. In fact, many managers and coaches even wait until the end of the coaching session to log some thoughts and notes, because they were so very much focused on being in the moment, engaged and connected with the person they’re coaching. When this occurs, you’re really paying attention and seeking to authentically understand that person’s situation, opinion and point of view. When managers are authentically able to do this, the real power and impact of coaching is fully leveraged.
Photo Credit: Dustin Askins