Boring? At first glance, the topic of notetaking may seem to be one of the more mundane items to cover in a blog post on coaching. We beg to differ and propose that good notetaking offers access to an abundance of insight as to what might be going on ‘between the lines’ (no pun intended) during a coaching session.
We believe that in every conversation, fascinating things are unfolding in front of our very eyes… if we only look and listen beyond the obvious, and take note. Whether you are noting things during a session or afterward – try to focus not only on what’s ‘above the surface’, but also on what's ‘below the surface’. The less obvious can be both fleeting and revelatory, and if we don’t capture it when it appears, we risk losing it – and the opportunity to go deeper – forever.
You may be asking, “Why not just interrupt and name what you notice, rather than writing it down?” That may be the choice you make in the moment, yet often it isn’t. You may not wish to distract the coachee from the more obvious things they are sharing. Afterall, to interpret an ‘under the surface’ feeling or non-verbal cue, we first need to understand its ‘above the surface’ context.
Let’s look at the following exchange:
Coachee: “I start out the week fine. By Wednesday, I’ve lost control, it is just impossible.” Looks down and slumps shoulders.
Coach: “What is impossible?”
Coachee: “Everything!” Scowls. “I am tired of feeling overwhelmed. I have been working longer hours. Even that isn’t helping! It is like my ‘to do’ list just expands along with them.” Lips shake.
Coach: “What would make things better?”
Coachee: Silence. Eyes well up. Looks away. Sigh.
Coach: Lowers voice. “Tell me how I can support you.”
Coachee: Pause. Rubs eyes with sleeve. Sits up tall. “That’s easy. Help me prioritize my ‘to do’ list. Help me find a strategy to stay focused on the priorities so that I can check some important things off as done!”
Coach: Smiles. “OK – let’s go!”
Here are the coach’s notes:
“Week, by Wed. lose control. Impossible”. (Slumps)
(me) What is impossible? (Glares. Makes me feel guilty!)
“Overwhelmed, to-do list expands”. (Lips shaking.)
(me) What would make things better? (Eyes well up. Seen this before. What’s the real issue? Job not meaningful?)
(me, gently): How can I support you? (Sits up. + Energy.)
“Strategy to prioritize, focus, check off.” (Confident.)
Brainstorm strategies. (What was behind tears? What is he not ready to share?)
In this example, the coach danced with the coachee. The quick energy change didn’t give the coach the space to name the emotion. But it’s captured in the notes, ready when needed.
In reality, your ‘under the surface’ notes may or may not be of use that day. Sometimes while you are in the flow of coaching, something resonates enough for you to have written it down, even if you are not sure what. The notes may reveal a pattern that you will notice in the future.
Below you will find a robust list of noteworthy items that has been generated over the years by senior leader participants in JJC’s ‘Coaching is an Art’ program.
Above the Surface Observations to Note (requires beginner-level coaching skills)
Below the Surface Things to Note (requires higher-level coaching skills)
We do take notes during our coaching sessions, and we’ve found that by focusing on both dimensions, coachees:
Do you agree that what is happening between the lines is anything but boring? Notetaking is our best tool for capturing this nuanced information, which so often reveals clues and patterns crucial for a deeper understanding of the coachee’s situation. Observing both ‘above’ and ‘below the surface’ is indeed the key to fully supporting our coachees' goals and forward movement.
(1) Putting out fires
(2) Finishing other peoples’ work
(3) Solving others’ problems
And instead START spending MORE TIME on strategic topics and scaling your leadership impact?
Meet Julie in this short video and find out how you can achieve this.
LINK TO QUESTIONNAIRE: https://bit.ly/JJC-CIAA
Transform Your Leadership this 2021: https://bit.ly/JJC-CoachingisanArt