Working with me — a ‘User Manual’

I have been interested to read some Medium blogs where people have had a go at drafting their own ‘user manuals’ – guides to working with them to help accelerate mutual understanding and improve collaboration.

The basic idea is for teams to use this approach to rapidly disclose preferences and styles to build mutual accountability and strengthen trust. It sounded like an excellent way to go a step further from the usual Myers Briggs & Insights approaches to personality profiling and explain the ‘why’: why I think, react, work and do as I do, instead of simply ‘how’ people experience working with me.

With a load of excellent new staff joining my team in the next few months, I thought this would be a good chance to try it. I have drawn heavily on feedback I have had over the years and shared it widely with my current team asking for challenge or additional ideas. One bit of early feedback is that it’s utility is limited if considered in isolation of the rest of the team and their styles & preferences. So, if it is going to be useful others will have to do it too…

I’ll update this post accordingly, but until then, here goes:

Pete’s ‘User Manual’

What are some honest, unfiltered things about you?

  • I am driven by a strong public sector ethos and a desire to make a difference.
  • I am ambitious for my organisation but not territorial. I am equally ambitious for myself and like to be in the centre of things, but won’t compete with others for the limelight.
  • I am open and frank, reflective of my own failings.
  • I can be critical. This is not due to a negative attitude but the fact that I see problems and tend to want to fix them with others.
  • I am comfortable changing direction, shifting and adapting. I also love new ideas but this can be challenging for people. It reinforces the need for constant communication and discussion and clearly defined decisions.
  • I most enjoy working at pace, with lots going on. Conversely, I lose energy in long-turnaround times/ extended deadlines where there is no sense of urgency.
  • I thrive off challenging the status quo and normal ways of doing things and get energy from thinking about how we could do things differently. This can make me appear impatient.

What drives you nuts?

  • People being territorial, putting their interests over our collective ones
  • Flakiness, not following through, tardiness.
  • Making excuses or blaming others.
  • Finding problems and not taking responsibility for finding solutions.
  • People holding back ideas, trying to perfect things, rather than engaging early for thoughts and feedback.
  • Professional people acting like victims of change and not seeing & using their own power and agency to lead change.

What are your quirks?

  • I thrive on challenge and discussion and love brainstorming ideas. I like to engage early, be involved.
  • I like a clear and simple narrative, based on what things look like in practice. This is the best way to get me to understand things and grasp high-level concepts.
  • I love trusting people to get on with things, but I do like to be involved at key points and kept up to speed, enabling me to increase my confidence and trust in people.
  • Equally, I can lose confidence if I don’t hear about progress. When this happens I can start to get into details, which can feel disempowering for people.
  • I can worry about my reputation and brand in the organisation.
  • When I don’t exercise I can get grumpy.

What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify?

  • I often think while I speak. Some people find it easy to engage with this, others can mistake my discussion for decisions.
  • Despite being quite an extrovert in many settings, I am relatively shy (especially in large groups). Sometimes I can be seen as being aloof or distant, when actually I am just a bit uncomfortable. I am not as good as others at making connections with people or their feelings.
  • When I challenge projects or ideas people can think I am challenging them — I don’t mean to; I am trying to provoke debate and discussion.
  • I am less analytical than many people and will rely on evidence and analysis of others, but I need this analysis explained in simple, practical terms.
  • I don’t want to hold people back: life and careers are more important than any task we have in front of us today; I will always support people to move upwards and onward to new things.
  • Although I have a deep commitment to international development and poverty reduction, I have a healthy skepticism for how it works in practice and am continually looking for new ways to improve impact.
  • I genuinely want to know what people think and I can sometimes take silence from people as a sign of a lack of interest.
  • I thrive off change at all levels. This even applies even the most basic things like where I sit, how I take notes, my routines etc. Sometimes I need to be told to back down and let things settle in.
  • I am often quite critical of the ‘aid industry’ and find talking through problems and weaknesses a key source of creativity and ideas.

Staring back at this I wonder how useful it is for people I work with. I have certainly been teased a little for doing this and there are risks: it may become self-fulfilling, influencing how people attribute my actions; it could become self-centred as I have to adapt to others’ styles not just them to mine etc. However, on balance I think it’s a good way to start conversations about personal style and why I work like I do.

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