A User Manual for Working With Me

Trusst: How to Build it

Late last year my my boss Nico suggested I think about writing a user manual for myself, and sent me this article. I liked the idea, but I wasn’t sure what to do with the suggestion at first. Am I really so complicated that I need an Ikea-style instruction pamphlet for my team? But after reading the article and processing it for a bit, I realized it was an excellent idea for people who don’t work with me much, new additions to my group, or just anybody, really.

It was hard to write this without coming off self-serving (“this is the kind of crap you have to deal with when you work with me”) or glib (“I like hard workers!”) but what I came up with seems to suit me, and I’m OK with sharing it as long as I can mentally think of it as a WIP. Read my User Manual below and take a stab at creating one for yourself. If nothing else, the concept of sitting down to be as self-aware as possible for an hour or two can be incredibly illuminating – it was for me, at least.

I bounced this off my team before sharing it here, and the feedback was that it seemed on point. Some of them were eager to try it for themselves, and some said they wished they’d had it sooner. Sharing information like was insanely helpful for me as a remote manager, where it’s sometimes difficult to make real connections as you deal with misfiring webcams, lagging audio, and other technical problems you don’t run into face-to-face.

My style

  1. I try to keep things light, but I’m in your corner when you need me. I defuse with humor when I can but please don’t think I don’t take things seriously.
  2. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt by nature. As a remote manager, I have to trust that you’re going to hold up your end of the bargain.
  3. I love troubleshooting and brainstorming, and I’d much rather help you fix one of your issues than work through my own.

What I value

  1. Curiosity.
  2. Problem solving.
  3. A willingness to ask questions, especially when you’re up against a wall. Sometimes just phrasing the question is enough to help you get unstuck.
  4. I’ve often said the people I want to work with can’t fall asleep until they solve the client problem they’ve been wrestling with. I don’t expect that necessarily, but that’s the mindset I have.
  5. The ability to say “I don’t have the answer for that question, but I’ll get you one by the end of the day” on a client call.

What I don’t have patience for

  1. When people don’t pull their weight, hit deadlines or live up to their commitments – especially if it’s me.
  2. Analysis paralysis – after a certain point I tend to have a bit of a smash and grab, let’s figure it out while we’re doing it mentality.
  3. People who don’t hold up their end of our social contract of professionalism, trustworthiness and advocacy for our clients.
  4. Trying to sweep mistakes under the rug. Talk to me before things go off the rails, or the minute you realize they have.

How to best communicate with me

  1. Dank Slack memes
  2. Don’t be afraid to call me. I can’t just swing by your desk, and sometimes we can get more figured out in a five minute phone call than an hour of intermittent chat.
  3. I value your time, and I try to stay on message, especially in meetings, but some days I only interact with you face-to-face once. Basically – be patient with me in standup.
  4. When I’m in problem solving mode, treat me like a Web user – make it fast, make it crisp.  Start with the headlines and give me bullet points instead of a wall of words.
  5. Sometimes i get lost in the trees – help me pull back to the forest.
  6. I’m not physically there, so you may have to over-communicate with me a bit. Keep me filled in on what you’re working on. Sing your own praises when you’re getting a lot done – toot your horn since I’m not there to hear it otherwise.

How to help me

  1. With the time zone difference between Denver and my home base, earlier in the day is better if you want more out of me.
  2. Have a Zoom or Google Meet set up in advance, and make sure it’s working. Beyond that, work with me as we make our way through <garbled>nical difficulties with the tools I use to join meetings.
  3. Be my eyes and ears in the room. From this distance I can’t always see if someone’s having a rough day or needs me to step in, and not everyone is great at asking for help. If you’re the one that needs help, try me. It’s not snitching, I promise.
  4. I’m good at team building and problem solving and “figuring things out.” I’m not always great with details, though I try to be…save me from myself when it comes time to do the admin stuff. I try, I really do.
  5. I spent a lot of time as a one-man shop, and I’ve worked hard to move away from that mentality, but let me know if you see me slipping into lone wolf mode. I sometimes need help remembering I’m on a collaborative team I can delegate to.

What people misunderstand about me

  1. I am not actually a robot.
  2. I’m an introvert at heart working hard to be a professional extrovert. It takes work for me…don’t take it personally if I look shell-shocked when I leave the Fortress of Solitude and come into the office.
  3. If I go quiet, it’s usually because I’m processing, not that I’m checked out. But don’t hesitate to ask me to chime in during a meeting – sometimes I’m just trying to figure out when is the right time to chime in on a conference call when I’m not leading it.

(Featured Image via College Humor)