A user manual for Dan

Dan Barrett
Mar 17, 2018 · 5 min read
Put a rug under me or I’ll break

I was inspired by Richard’s post ‘Helping other people get to know you’. Richard includes a great list of examples of ‘user manuals’ people have written to help others get the best from them at work. I have used the headings from Cassie Robinson.’s template, and referred to @jukesie’s own effort so that I don’t ramble on too much.

My organisation has really grown in the past couple of years, and given the nature of the work that I do there is a fairly high turnaround of people¹. This applies in my own team too. Also as I ease into middle age, I think I might be getting a bit eccentric. So, anything to help new people understand ‘me at work’ sounds like a good thing.

This is a tough exercise, and I expect I’ll revisit it. Here’s the first attempt.


Conditions I like to work in

  • I can manage in an open plan office, but I need variety. I also need a quiet place to go to, preferably a small office².
  • My tolerance for noise is pretty high, but I don’t like harsh lighting.
  • In the past couple of years I’ve really cut down on accumulated office stuff and can manage hot-desking.
  • I quite like a workshop now and then.
  • My favourite environment is sat just on the edge of a team who are working well together to solve problems and build something good.

The times / hours I like to work

  • I start late due to a combination of circumstance and preference. It is rare for me to be in the office or available before 10.00, but I do tend to check messages and Slack in the morning before my commute.
  • I will work late (until 20.00) two or three days a week.
  • One or two days a week I will stop work mid-afternoon to be with my children.
  • I don’t read or respond to emails if I’m not ‘in the office’.
  • I have most energy in the early evening.

The best ways to communicate with me

  • I respond to Slack, WhatsApp and text messages.
  • Twitter DMs are ok but I don’t always keep on top of them.
  • I don’t like answering the phone.
  • I don’t like email, particularly long threads with loads of people in them. My email management in general is a definite area for personal development.
  • I like it when people come to me informally and ask to talk. I much prefer this to people booking meetings for something that could be resolved sooner, in a fraction of the time. If I’m in an open plan office I’m always interruptible, even if I’ve got headphones on.

The ways I like to receive feedback

  • I prefer feedback in person, with a further preference for one to one rather than in a group. Either way, if it’s positive feedback I will be embarrassed and downplay it. If it’s more constructive or critical feedback I will tend to reflect on it rather than react in the moment. Or at least, I think that’s what I do.
  • I do like written feedback too. If it’s something constructive or critical then it’s helpful to have something to refer to, and if it’s something positive I put it in my scrapbook of wins³.

Things I need

  • I really need to feel trusted, and to be given autonomy.
  • I need to have open conversations, one to one and in a group.
  • I need to be given time to think. Having said that, when I’m working in a domain that I have worked through and understand well then I can be very quick and decisive, with confidence.
  • I need to have opportunities to coach people and help them develop. I think this is because I am removed from the practical aspects of my team’s work, so it’s a good way for me to feel like I’m making a difference despite that.
  • I need big, messy problems to solve.
  • I need to be running a few off-beat schemes on the side.

Things I struggle with

  • It can take me a while to build up momentum. Once I’ve got it, I can find it hard to stop⁴.
  • I could be more direct in situations that call for it.
  • I find conflict really draining. I try to resolve it and achieve consensus, but it can take me a while and it really brings me down when it isn’t working.
  • I have a lot going on in my head, with an epic list of ‘things to do’ with only a fraction getting done each day. I can forget things from the list, so I appreciate being reminded. It is good to hassle me rather than leaving me alone on the assumption I’m very busy.
  • I have a really low tolerance for gossip, rumour and melodrama. I don’t like theatrical meetings when people aren’t being open and honest. I particularly dislike grand workplace schemes where people are playing for position, because if I’ve noticed then it means it’s not clever enough.
  • I struggle with unnecessary process and waste. I also struggle when things get too tribal or dogmatic.
  • I struggle when people won’t engage in the whole problem. I also assume that people understand things that I do, which is something I need to work at. I find it frustrating to explain the same things over and over again.
  • I am shy in environments like meetups, conferences and parties. I am bad at initiating conversations and I can’t do smalltalk⁵. I’m happy to get into more meaningful subjects straight away though.

Things I love

  • I love coming up with ideas and solving problems.
  • I like making people laugh.
  • Hugs are good, but I won’t initiate them unless I know you well.
  • I really like being on stage, despite some recent problems with anxiety.
  • I love building teams, especially that moment when everything starts to click.
  • I really like writing and making things.
  • I love work that is top to bottom good. Well thought-through, well-executed, sustainable, that can be learned from, and with a journey that’s been eventful.

Other things to know about me

  • I have a low tolerance when people haven’t done the absolute basics. In particular I will pick weak or flawed plans and processes to bits.
  • I don’t panic. At least, not on the outside.
  • I am good at listening. I am good at reading people and picking up on group dynamics.
  • I am good at keeping things in confidence.
  • My resting face is a rather serious-looking frown. Underneath I’m pretty goofy.
  • With the off-beat schemes and making people laugh, I think people might think I don’t take work entirely seriously, which isn’t the case. I’m very committed and will take on the toughest situations.
  • I. Talk. Very. Slowly.

¹ A high turnaround just because people tend to move on every few years (or less) in the public service digital world, just in case I gave the wrong impression that I work in a punishing hell world

² I’ve never had an office of my own. Maybe one day

³ I do not have a scrapbook of wins

⁴ Such is the nature of physics

⁵ An awesome barber is really helping me with my smalltalk though

Dan Barrett

Written by

Head of Data Science at Citizens Advice. These are my personal thoughts on work.

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