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I'm a software engineer with 20+ years of experience. I am used to people taking notes in meetings and outside meetings and I have been more or less fine with that. I have a new colleague who literally writes down every word I say in every conversation. While we are talking he is writing. It makes me very uncomfortable. I feel like I am been more or less recorded. Am I in my rights to ask my colleagues to not take notes outside a meeting? I may say things I think at that moment but do not think 15 minutes later, and so on.

In meetings, is it normal to have one person just sitting and writing everything the others are saying in personal notes? It is almost like being recorded. Should he ask for permission for this level of detailed paperwork, especially when these notes are not shared?

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    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 10 at 18:10
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    "I may say things I think at that moment but do not think 15 minutes later, and so on." There appear to be deeper issues at play, here. Can you give some examples of things your colleage shouldn't have taken notes?
    – T. Sar
    Commented Apr 11 at 15:35
  • @T.Sar I didn't read any deeper meaning in OP's words. It's quite normal in ordinary conversation to say things casually without much thought that you may then later change your mind about or not really have meant at the time, etc. Commented Apr 12 at 10:07
  • @JonBentley "who told you to do things like this? This solution sucks!" Pulls notes "Bob told me to do like this last Friday. Here is his briefing."
    – T. Sar
    Commented Apr 13 at 17:49

9 Answers 9

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Am I in my rights to ask a collegue to not take notes in everything I say outside a meeting

You are within your rights to ask and unless there is a company policy that forbids employees from doing this, they are within their rights to refuse.

Some people have difficulties remembering things which is why they write things down, or record them through some other means.

If you are worried about them recording unprofessional things that you say then you probably should refrain from saying those sorts of things at your workplace.

When it comes to meetings and taking notes from meetings. Is it normal to have one person that is just sitting and writing everything the others are sayig in personal notes ?

Personally, I have never attended a meeting where at least one person wasn't taking notes throughout the meeting. Many times several people do so. The level of detail depends on the sort of information that person needs/wants to know.

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    Some people take class notes. Some take minutes. I've been known to take seconds, using a sort of homebrew shorthand to reinforce memory.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 8 at 20:21
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    You can gauge how the colleague uses the notes. If it is for personal use, then there is little harm, unless you're doing something shady and underhanded, but that's your problem really. If he's using the notes in a way that's bad for you, then you can most certainly ask him to stop doing the bad thing (e.g.: pointing out your mistakes.
    – Nelson
    Commented Apr 10 at 2:53
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    "I have never attended a meeting where at least one person wasn't taking notes throughout the meeting.". You probably meant "I have never attended a meeting where there wasn't at least one person taking notes throughout the meeting." especially in light of the following remark: "Many times several people do so."
    – hkBst
    Commented Apr 10 at 6:41
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    If the other employee is taking notes to accommodate a disability (not uncommon), it may not be within one's rights to ask them to stop taking notes. Commented Apr 10 at 8:24
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    @keshlam you might be interested "Gregg Shorthand" from the 19th century; a phonetic alphabet used for making written transcriptions in real-time at the speed of speech (in any language). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregg_shorthand Commented Apr 10 at 13:13
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For some folks this is a necessary adaptive technique. Be careful to understand why they are doing it before challenging it.

After that: "Hey, I see you're taking notes. If you send me a copy, I'd be glad to check them for accuracy, and that'll save me the trouble of taking notes."

After that: Learn to ignore that which is not harmful. They may be odd, but you're overreacting.

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  • -1: asking to see the notes afterwards is fairly useless; it allows you to see what was written but it doesn't change the fact that they exist and that someone (maybe multiple people) have a permanent record of everything you have ever said in their presence. Visit any courtroom and you will see how written evidence can definitely be harmful to a party in all sorts of contexts; especially if the evidence is capturing moments where you aren't self-filtering. Notes are fine but recording everything at all times is extreme; I do not believe OP is overreacting in this specific case. Commented Apr 12 at 10:11
  • @JonBentley: If your concern is being misquoted, seeing the notes gives you s chance to correct them and/or warning about their contents. If your concern is that you just don't like people taking notes, get over it and/or learn to watch your tongue. Or, I say again, talk to the individual, non-confrontationally, about why they're doing it and why it makes you uncomfortable and whether there's an alternative that satisfies both parties' needs. My answer stands.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 12 at 14:24
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There are two scenarios:

  1. If he takes notes when you talk about work-related issues, then let him take notes.
  2. However, if he takes notes when you talk about something NOT related to work, then tell him to stop taking notes.

If someone takes notes while you're talking about a technical topic, it is NOT a negative sign. Instead, it is a sign that he respects or values your opinion.

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I agree with your concerns. It definitely changes the dynamic if you're having a "normal, informal conversation" and somebody is taking notes as if you're delivering a lecture. If I was having a friendly chat with a coworker and they were taking notes, it would be very very strange.

At the same time they may have a reason to do it. I would just ask them about it. "We're not in a meeting, may I ask why you are taking notes?" If they don't have a reason, they may stop; maybe it's just an odd habit. Maybe they will explain themselves. Maybe they will do any of a huge variety of things; no way to know unless you ask. You sometimes get advice on this forum from paranoid litigious people to "document everything" -- maybe they got this advice and are currently in, or expecting/hoping to be, in a serious workplace conflict. In that case, probably keep your distance.

If they continue to do so, I would probably just stop having informal chats with this person. Not because I'm saying anything I'm afraid of "getting out" -- you shouldn't really be saying things like that in the workplace, or at all, honestly, with some exceptions -- but just because it messes with the social dynamic. If they want every conversation to be treated as a formal meeting or lecture, then only give them that. That's their choice.

Basically I guess talk to them like an adult and figure out what's going on. Try not to be overly confrontational or rude about it. Once you know what's up, make a choice. This probably applies well to any unusual-but-not-illegal behavior in the workplace.

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    It could be something that has nothing to do with his colleagues. He may have some sort of brain injury that causes short term memory problems. If he doesn't write something down, he will never remember.
    – Futoque
    Commented Apr 9 at 13:33
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    @Futoque absolutely! This is why I recommend semi-casually, but directly, bringing it up. Definitely a good case for "adults talking and listening to each other" over "appealing to rules." Commented Apr 9 at 16:41
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    @futoque even just being postpartum can give a person brain fog. For a couple of years after I had my daughter it felt like my brain was a sieve and could not remember anything. I got into the habit of taking a lot of notes during meetings. The brain fog cleared but the habit stuck for me. I still take a lot of notes, but only while in meetings or talking about work to colleagues.
    – stanri
    Commented Apr 11 at 4:11
  • @Futoque But the issue here isn't taking notes per se, it's taking notes indiscriminately. A person with a brain injury doesn't need to write down or remember a casual joke or a shared piece of personal information or a negative personal opinion of a colleague etc. These are the kinds of things people exchange among each other casually without expecting a record to be kept. It's not the same at all as making a note about something work-related. Commented Apr 12 at 10:18
  • @JonBentley The original poster hasn't established that the note taking is including casual jokes, etc. The question, "hey what are you writing there?" hasn't even been asked. When he is writing, is he writing what is being spoken or adding comments or followup for later on? The OP has no idea what is written on that paper.
    – Futoque
    Commented Apr 12 at 14:48
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Personally, I like to take notes to record a conversation, but also to pay attention, organize my own thoughts, and assign myself to-do items.

Also, taking notes helps me slow down and not speak 90% of the time. For instance, if I have a question, instead of interrupting the speaker, I like to write the question down and wait to see if my answer gets answered (before I ask it). Or if I'm brand new to this work and I don't want to ask too many dumb questions, I'll write my questions down so that I can research them later. Or if I want to switch topic, I'll make a note of the new topic I want to address, but I'll wait until the other person is finished with their train of thought before I start going off on a tangent.

Taking notes helps me also remain present in the moment. For instance, if I get distracted by a topic (it doesn't even have to be a work-related topic), I can just write a keyword in the margins of my notes and put 100% of my focus back on the person talking.

Should he ask for permission for this level of detailed paperwork especialy when this notes are not shared.

No, he can ask, but he shouldn't have to.

If these personal notes are not shared with anyone, then it's not actual "paperwork".

After all I may be saying all kind of bullshit or things

It sounds to me like you should be talking less and taking notes also.

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    If you don't want to be quoted saying bullshit, that has nothing to do with whether people are writing things down or doing it from memory...
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 10 at 3:17
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Try asking them why are they doing it. Just like Keshlam said, there are people who have difficulty remembering important information so they tend to put everything down.

If he's taking notes just for his knowledge and reference and this reason still doesn't make you feel any more comfortable, then you can sure be vocal about this and probably suggest him to rather send you an email on points that got discussed so that if he missed out any crucial info, you can write them on email.

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I have only a few less years experience than you but I'll frequently take a note pad with me to an in person meeting, especially with someone senior. I don't transcribe every word and try to keep my eyes up and face engaged, but these are soft skills you develop over time.

I encourage interns/juniors I work with to do the same. A lot of new graduates are used to having all the lecture slides and assignments in one central repository, available anytime.

Our office doesn't work like that. Someone will tell you, verbally, "add a new widget to the login screen" and they expect to come back in two weeks to a new widget. That's a challenge for a lot of people.

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    Rather than just taking notes and blindly folowing, shouldn't you ask the ceo/cto then: "oh that's a great idea, write a formal mail/task so I can pick it up" impromptu? Otherwise you are just going to let some higher senior person command you arround, that's not how things work we're not slaves of the more senior people.
    – paul23
    Commented Apr 10 at 10:25
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    @paul23 I don't see anything in the answer about blindly following? Just taking notes to make sure you don't forget important details? Btw, senior spending time on writing down all details they said seems like doing homework for the junior. Of course specs should be written down, and if a task for 2 weeks is given verbally, this is a failure on the senior's side from the get-go - but detailed explanations or generic advice are not covered by that.
    – Frax
    Commented Apr 12 at 8:55
  • Well I see it under: someone will tell you to do xyz and then you are apparently supposed to remember it, instead of having a proper protocol for work that needs to be done and reviewed.
    – paul23
    Commented Apr 12 at 13:07
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What defines a "meeting" to you may not be the same to your colleague. You're talking to him while you're both at work so perhaps while you view your conversation as shooting the breeze by the water cooler, he views this as a meeting and is trying to be disciplined about understanding and remembering what's going on in the meeting.

Maybe he has struggled in the past with forgetting details and is trying to cope by recording everything so that he doesn't loose what later would turn out to be an important detail.

Maybe you should be flattered that he thinks your words are worth remembering.

Maybe you could offer to follow up afterwards to clear up any points you are concerned about?

No one can read his mind as to his motivations, so just accept this as a quirk he has and instead focus on you: what exactly about this makes you uncomfortable? If you are worried he is trying to "build evidence" or that his notes would come back to bite you in the future, you will have to decide what you can do to limit that: do you avoid talking to him, communicating only via e-mail? Make sure there is always a 3rd party present when talking with him?

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You say he's a new colleague. It might even be his first "real" job. I remember that, when I started my current job, I also took a lot of notes. Not to the extreme you describe, but there were a lot of details to take in, and I was worried I might be seen as unprofessional if I asked about a topic that someone had already explained to me. He might be taking notes as a reminder of things you consider completely insignificant or not even directly work-related, but that he considers relevant to succeed at his new job.

Since you see seem to talk frequently enough for this to become annoying, you could use the opportunity to directly ask him why he's doing it. If as part of this conversation you point out that his current behaviour might make his coworkers feel uncomfortable, you might actually do him a favour.

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