“Hello… are you listening?” Sometimes I want to ask this question to folks when we are sitting in a meeting and they are focused on the cold screen before them. I assume that some might be taking notes about the subject; but I also assume that some are trying to multitask by responding to the latest pressing email, updating a schedule, or scrolling through Facebook or LinkedIn.Ironically enough, up until a few months ago, I was one of the people taking notes on my computer at light speeds. With the massive amount of information we take in every day, typing allowed me to make sure I wrote down as much as possible in case I ever needed to retrieve it again. I thought I was getting ahead of the game because I could simply go back to my Microsoft OneNote, press “Ctrl F”, put in a keyword and voilà, here is what we discussed 3 months ago. Then, I had a Eureka moment; “what if my clients, coworkers and friends didn’t think I was taking notes but being rude instead?” For a couple of years now I had changed over to electronic note taking, “had I been giving off the vibe that I was not fully engaged in our meetings?” I thought to myself. As a Project Manager, this is not the type of vibe I ever wanted to give off.
Electronic Note Taking vs Hand Writing Notes
I started to think about this more and more; what are the advantages of electronic note taking vs. hand note taking? The main advantages of electronic note taking is you can type much faster than you can write (try it out), you can retrieve information by using the search functions, and you can store notes in the “cloud”. An advantage of taking notes by hand is that the client’s (or other’s) perception is that you are engaged in the subject of the meeting. Another advantage is retention and understanding. In a recent study, “those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who took notes with their laptops”
- Part of the reason this is true is because you are able to listen better when you are writing notes down instead of typing.
- I will venture a guess and say that 10-15% of your nonverbal communication has the potential to be muffled by using a laptop in a meeting.
As I thought about this some more, another observation I made was that having a computer propped open in front of you blocks some of your upper body at times (depending on the angle). “Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication.
He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc).”
I decided to conduct an experiment of my own and see how it went; I started using the good ole’ marble notebook to take my notes during meetings. I said I would try it for at least a month. Within the first few days, I noticed that I was much more engaged in the conversations during meetings. Even during those dry meetings (yes we all have them) I felt much more in tune to what we were discussing and even found some of them not to be as dry. I also found that my verbal participation and active listening improved. I asked more questions, I responded when someone asked questions, I made eye contact. I was actively listening and selectively writing the most important topics of the conversations. I was not just sitting there scribing the majority of the time. In addition, since I internalized the meetings more, I did not find the need to go back to my notes as often. If I did, I somehow was able to tell what page in my notebook I needed.
Most importantly to me is that I felt I was truly listening and engaging more with my clients, coworkers and friends. Personally, that reason tops all others. Towards the end of my marble notebook trial period, I happened to be sitting in the Hallam-ICS Board of Directors meeting and looked around and NOT ONE person had a laptop open. Everyone had a notebook and a pen, even the people in the video conference. It seems to me I had stumbled on the board’s secret to truly listening to each other!
Technology does have its place, you may need a PowerPoint, or to present to someone in a video conference. However, I will stick to my little marble notebook for now. My next experiment may be to use an electronic notebook such as the Microsoft Surface; this may be the best of both worlds!
PS: I should not have to say this, but stay off your cell phone during meetings.
About the Author
Kristian is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Clarkson University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MS in Engineering & Management Systems. He joined Hallam-ICS as a Senior Project Manager in 2014 after spending 8 years in the rotating equipment field. He focuses on project management, leadership and is also currently the Board of Director’s ESOP representative.
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Hallam-ICS is an engineering and automation company that designs MEP systems for facilities and plants, engineers control and automation solutions, and ensures safety and regulatory compliance through arc flash studies, commissioning, and validation. Our offices are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and North Carolina and our projects take us world-wide.