Some newer coaches were talking about the pressure they feel to take a lot of notes during a session, and the need to remember everything their clients say. That got me wondering, “What do I really need to remember as a coach?” And on the flip side, what do I need to forget?
Here’s where my thoughts took me, starting with what to remember:
1. What they’re called
As well, find out your clients’ preferred pronouns, so you can respect them. I’m noticing more and more of my clients and colleagues are sharing pronouns in their email signatures, which tells me how important it is to them.
2. Who they are
When training coaches, we talk about the process of “learning the client,” and what we learn, we need to remember. For example, what is their learning style? Do they process internally or externally?
How much space or silence do they like or need? Some people just need to talk, talk, talk, and then all of a sudden, they get their own answer. With others, the more they talk, the more tangled up they get. And as a coach, you need to know that and remember.
And while we don’t need to remember all the details of their story (we’ll talk more about that in Part 2), we do need to remember the context—their culture. So when I’m coaching a team, I need to understand and remember the culture within their system.
Culture isn’t just about a client’s background or where they live. Each client is also part of a unique culture in their work life, and at home. I sometimes think of this as Big C culture and Little c culture.
Another thing to remember about your client, and who they are, is their big picture goal. This differs from whatever topic they may bring to an individual session. It’s why they come to coaching in the first place. It’s, “Here’s what I want,” or, “Here’s what I want to stop.” We need to remember that, and keep track of how it changes and evolves over time.
3. How to treat them
Stephen Covey offered the idea that we teach people how to treat us by what we will allow. So it’s a process of asking the client, “How do you want me to treat you? How do you want me to show up?”
This starts right from your initial coaching agreement, but can come up anytime during the coaching engagement. One client might come in and say, “I want you to speak very directly,” or, “I really need you to be gentle with your feedback.” Someone may have trauma in their history, or has had issues with authority figures in a particular gender.
When a client makes you aware of something that’s going to affect how you interact with them, that’s important for the coach to remember. Because these might be things that a client really won’t want to have to repeat; feeling like they haven’t been heard might be part of the pattern.
So how do you know if something you’re hearing is something you have to remember (or something you should forget)? Ask your intuition, or, better still, ask your client!
Now that you have some ideas about what you’ll want to remember, think about how you’ll do that. Will you create an actual checklist, with headings and blank spaces to fill in? Will you use a note-taking app on your device? Or an old-fashioned Rolodex of index cards for each client, with relevant notes and a photo?
When I’ve had a full practice of 40+ people at a time, I would sometimes think, “Now, who was it that said this?” And then I would see their picture, or hear their voice, and immediately make that connection again. But just seeing their name wasn’t always enough for me—I needed that photo.
We can’t expect ourselves to remember everything about our clients and our previous conversations; nor should we. It’s not about memorizing everything and keeping it all in your head. It’s about knowing where to look for the information.
It’s like how the iPhone lets you “offline” unused apps to free up space on your phone. Writing things down and keeping them handy for easy reference frees up space in your brain. And then we can be more present to the conversation, which is vital as a coach.