It’s not every day that you have to give highly-anticipated testimony about your work experiences before a panel of 15 US senators.
It’s even less common for one of these Senate Intelligence Committee members to compliment you on your note-taking ability during a discussion about the leader of the free world’s alleged misconduct.
But that’s exactly what happened to former FBI Director James Comey during his live testimony in Thursday’s Senate hearing – and, despite its high-profile nature, it’s a great example of why you, too, should take meticulous notes at work.
Sen. James Risch complimented Comey on his seven-page written testimony, where Comey details nine private encounters during a period of four months – dinners, phone calls, briefings, and meetings in the Oval Office – with President Trump.
“This is as good as it gets, and I really appreciate that, not only the conciseness and the clearness of it, but also the fact that you have things that were written down contemporaneously when they happened – and you actually put them in quotes, so we know exactly what happened and we’re not getting some rendition of it that’s in your mind – so you’re to be complimented on that,” Risch said.
Comey’s response: “I had great parents and great teachers who beat that into me.”
Comey later said that, given who he was dealing with and the weight of the discussions, he had a gut feeling that it would be important to document his meetings.
His gut steered him right.
It’s such simple but effective advice to document everything when you have important meetings, and especially when you feel your job may be on the line, that it’s often ignored. But any employee would be wise not to take this advice so lightly.
As Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job,” previously told Business Insider, it’s a good idea to keep an electronic file of your work, correspondence, and kudos, regardless of your job status.
“It can come in handy if you have a boss with no legitimate reason to fire you,” she told Business Insider. “Also keep kudos that have accumulated from managers, clients, colleagues, business associates, and vendors. You will be well-prepared should you need to refute a poor evaluation.” On the flip side, should you need to make a case for a raise or promotion, these notes will also come in handy.
Apart from helping you when your future is on the line, taking meticulous notes can also help you do a better job from the start. Having frank and frequent discussions with your boss and writing everything you discuss down should provide a clear roadmap for where and how you can improve.
Comey noted in his prepared testimony that it wasn’t until after his first meeting with then President-Elect Trump that he began to practice creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with a US President – he had never done so with President Obama.
“I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it out on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting,” Comey wrote.
But his obsessive note-taking habit shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Careers reporter Áine Cain points out that the former FBI director was a reporter for their alma mater’s college newspaper, The Flat Hat, where he likely developed his note-taking skills. He was also a federal prosecutor and corporate counsel, both professions where documenting sensitive conversations is a reflex, The New York Times reports. And, as Lauren C. Anderson, a former FBI official, told the New York Times, it’s standard for people who work in law enforcement to keep detailed phone and meeting logs.
In the cia, there is a sayin: if you didnt write it down it doesnt exist. in the fbi everything exists because everything is written down.
— Adam Goldman (@adamgoldmanNYT) May 17, 2017
“Memos give you the flexibility to report facts as well as atmospheric impressions,” she told the New York Times.
We could all take note.