Writing when you speak preserves eye contact

Writing only when you are speaking maintains normal eye contact. This serves to normalise the interaction, reassures the client that they have your attention and that you are writing what they are saying.

Writing while the other person is speaking reverses the normal pattern of eye contact.

Anyone who has had a medical appointment will know the unease associated with describing your symptoms to the top of your doctor’s head. They write feverishly while you speak, only meeting your gaze to ask a question, then dive back into their notes again as you begin your answer. All the while you’re asking yourself: what is it that they’re writing about me?

In normal conversation the listener looks at the speaker. This indicates to the speaker that they have the listener’s full attention and also permits them to monitor the listener’s expression for reactions to the speaker’s pronouncements and disclosures.

In normal conversation, the speaker can look where they please. Speakers are more likely to look away from the listener with an occasional glance back to check the listener’s attention and expression.

Your turn to speak is your opportunity to write. If you are speaking you may look away from the client and at the wall, door, clock…or your notes. Your client will (or ought to) wait until you’ve finished speaking, which should permit you sufficient time to write what you need.

Write only what you’re saying. Writing one thing and saying another would be a difficult task, but there should be no need for this: notes can be embellished with commentary once the session is over, but in-session notes are usually factual. If you say aloud what you’re writing, the client is reassured as to the content (and accuracy) of your notes. You can then make additional comments or ask questions once you’ve finished writing.

Speaking while writing may feel strange, even childish. One of your main achievements in primary school was to read and write silently. Writing is slower than speech, so you may feel that you’re holding up the conversation and be tempted to scrawl your notes, but a little practice should demonstrate the advantages of a more leisurely delivery.

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