My User Manual

I recently came across a template and playbook created and evangelised by Atlassian while working on confluence. It’s called, My User Manual. It’s an interesting concept if you really think about it.

We all wish humans should have come with a manual just to read it and learn how to navigate difficult social situations. Well, if we didn’t come with one, how about writing our own based on our understanding today.

How I Work

  • I am most energised when I’m connecting dots/people/resources that translate challenges into opportunities. I’m a straightforward person who prefers to help people solve their problems rather than solve them directly.
  • Furthermore, I constantly scan for information to feed ideas in my mind and typically do my best thinking aloud, with someone to bounce ideas off.
  • My high expectations are matched by my commitment to support people in meeting those expectations. I believe in giving people freedom, flexibility and “stretch” assignments and equipping them with the tools they need to uncover and develop their potential.
  • I’m very hands-off and expect you to do your job and act independently. However, if it’s clear that you need more direction and oversight over time, then you can expect me to be there.
  • I love to solve problems, remove barriers, and help others move the ball forward. Don’t come to me with just a problem; you also need to bring plausible solutions and your recommended course of action. It’s not my job to solve your problems; it’s my job to help you solve your problems.
  • I believe in tactical and strategic self-care—whether sleeping enough, leaving work early to exercise, meditating, or spending time in nature. It is the key ingredient to becoming our best, most productive, and happy selves. If you’re not satisfied at work or even at home, I want to know what we can do to solve that.

What I value

  • I value honesty, initiative, integrity, and forthrightness. Be intelligent, trustworthy, think of creative solutions, and don’t be afraid to speak up, especially if you admit a mistake or admit failure.
  • I’m obsessed with managing my work and time, and I aim to eliminate any possibility of error in projects or initiatives.
  • I also expect my teammates to value efficiency and efficient communication. Before doing something, look for an easier, cheaper, more straightforward way to maximise your “return on effort”. Before starting something from scratch, ask if it’s already been tried. Work smarter, not harder.
  • I value results. If you’ve committed, then get it done. If you have problems or doubts with this mid-project, it’s better to let me know beforehand to adapt.
  • If you make a mistake or something is heading off the rails, let me know before the crash. Failure is acceptable; If there is a problem, I want a chance to solve it before it impacts others.
  • Don’t use ‘business speak’ when we’re having a private discussion. Trying to read between the lines is a frustrating exercise for me and draws out the conversation unnecessarily.
  • I default to trust, but if my confidence is shaken, it’s hard to rebuild. Meet your commitments, push critical information to me, avoid hard conversations, and treat others respectfully. If you stick to that, we’ll get along fine.
  • Excuses and preventable failure. An excuse is an unfounded reason why something was not accomplished, and an explanation tells the honest story of why something was not achieved. If you haven’t tried everything to achieve your goal, including speaking to me, then you don’t have an explanation for failure; you have an excuse.
  • I wouldn’t say I like to use my time poorly. I prefer to work on initiatives that provide the most value. I adhere to the Pareto Principle; 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes.
  • Be direct in our communication. I don’t like being drip-fed information or guided to an answer. Just tell me what your goal is so that we can address it.
  • Challenging thoughts, opinions, plans or ideas are encouraged, as long as you can give me a good reason or evidence as to why you’re challenging them. Challenging something without an alternative solution makes you part of the problem. Your thoughts and ideas should come with conviction and intent, not just to be contrary.

How best to communicate with me

  • Be succinct. I need to know your primary point from the get-go. If you delay and instead try to build up to your main point, I become impatient and annoyed. Do not leave a single detail out - I cannot make an informed decision without the information. If I don’t get all of the parties, I’ll ask for more. Come prepared with everything I need.
  • I have a laser focus on what I’m working on at the moment. Suppose you overload me with information when I’m unprepared. In that case, I will push back on you or put your task to the back of the line until I feel comfortable enough to process it.
  • In-person, say my name and then give me a few seconds to respond so that I can shift my attention from my current focus. Online, please wait for me to reply and engage you before presenting me with your information.
  • If you are struggling to communicate with me online, pick up the phone and give me a call. I struggle with text-based communication because I miss the social cues that help me understand what you’re trying to get across to me.
  • Try and achieve your goal in a single conversation. Discussions or problems presented to me in bits and pieces across multiple talks are challenging to manage. It can frustrate me and complicate my helping you resolve the situation.

How to help me

  • I catch details in the moment. However, I struggle to remember those details as I move forward. If you’re giving me a task, I’m writing all of this down so I can remember later.
  • If I’m giving you a job, you need to write down these details because I will forget them and not follow up later. I appreciate your help in making sure the details are covered.
  • Nudge me if I’m late for a meeting. I’m either 10 minutes early (as a way to compensate), or I’m 10 minutes late. I struggle to switch tracks in my mind when I’m working on something.
  • Please tell me what I need to know, not what you think I want to hear. The inconvenient truth is better than a softer omission or white lie.
  • I am rarely, if ever, rude or offensive on purpose. If I have said or done something that you reacted negatively, please tell me because I am almost certainly not aware of the impact. I can’t change my behaviour if I don’t know how you feel.
  • Sometimes I need someone to call me out on how my behaviour is being perceived. I am extreme in my convictions, so I frequently come across as dismissive or derisive of other people’s thoughts or opinions. This is not the case.
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity (or, in my case, lack of attention).

Hanlon’s Razor
  • Be honest with me. It’s almost impossible for you to hurt my feelings, so don’t be afraid to speak your mind, as long as you do so politely.

What people misunderstand about me

  • I am an introvert, posing as a professional extrovert. I wouldn’t say I like speaking publicly, but I force myself to, if necessary. Too much social contact can drain me significantly, and sometimes I need to be alone and recharge. Please don’t confuse my tendency to work alone in my office with being disengaged. My door is not always open, but you are always welcome to knock.
  • I don’t need something to be my way; I need something to be the best way. I speak with many convictions, which can intimidate people, but I’m not set on thinking. I’m open-minded and always delighted to be shown a better way.

What to do when I’m angry

  • Please try to be patient with me, and try multiple different ways of exchanging ideas. If you’ve exhausted all avenues, suggest that we shelve the discussion for the time being and revisit later, as this can allow me time to ponder the information you’ve provided me. Many times when anger comes on, it’s from exasperation.
  • Please give me the hard truths. Though I can be very reactive, I need to understand that my actions have real consequences and take me to places I don’t want to see. The truth of my behaviour can help me socially as well. It might show me how I look to my peers or hurt others' feelings by my negative actions.
  • While no one likes negativity or anger, I invite you to take ownership of and solve the root cause of the problem if it’s within your ability/responsibility.

Main points to remember

  • I try to do the best and be the best at everything I attempt. This means that if you’ve had a less than positive experience with me, it was most undoubtedly unintentional and something I want to improve upon. It would help if you let me know.
  • I’m a person, a direct report, a teammate, a boss, and a messy work-in-progress. I’m committed to always getting better at my job and to become a wiser, kinder and more impactful person.
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