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A User Guide To Working With You (lg.substack.com)
53 points by achairapart on Aug 8, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments

Not this again. Perhaps this is cultural, but writing such a self-centered document and then expecting people to read it wouldn't be acceptable in Europe. At least not in my experience.

Especially weirdly invoking unhelpful & simplistic racial stereotypes like "I am that archetype of the 'high expectations Asian parent'"

Pretty weird for me in America too.

A lot of people criticized Richard Stallman's "rider" [1] for the same reason, but at least there I can understand you're hiring someone you don't know personally for one engagement where you also have to get them room and board. Employer-employee is much simpler.

>unhelpful & simplistic

Self-describing like that says a lot about a person. How is that unhelpful? What's the problem with simplicity? It was an opening statement for a long description about her personality, how could it have been more nuanced?

Yeah, big yikes from me in Europe as well. I honestly don’t know if I could keep a straight face if I was shown a document like this, definitely my opinion of the manager would drop through the floor.

Generally, when someone says “he/she comes with a manual” that is not a compliment.

This is a good example of grandiose narcissism in the workplace, wherein there is a presumption that learning about ‘me,’ the author, is an important part of someone else’s job. Look at all the statements that start with “I!”

Rather than a long essay with a self-absorbed worldview, what might be helpful is a guide written by other people who have to accommodate this person. Just kidding, nobody should be thinking about accommodating anyone in this way or to this degree.

All those statements in the essay should be private guides to the author’s own personal development. For example, “I am frequently late to meetings,” should be taken as evidence of self absorption, poor time management, and a lack of respect for coworkers. The author needs to learn how not to be late.


Or maybe we should all learn to be a little more empathetic and how best to work with our co-workers.

If you are going to invest 12+ months to working closely with someone, maybe you could spend 3 minutes reading how to best to work with them.

With all of this said, usually these are better bottom-up then top-down (a manager having reports answer a few questions so the manager can adapt their workflow)

Exactly. So many people are commenting here about how self absorbed it is and “you should just be easier to work with”.

Some people are making valid points (the documents tend to be managers selling themselves, or making excuses for themselves), but teams need to know how each other work. Assuming “being easy to work with” means being easy to work the way you want is even more self-centered!

> we should all learn to be a little more empathetic and how best to work with our co-workers

This has been my experience. I've received phrasing similar to "After we learned to work together, we've got a pretty good canter going".

> usually these are better bottom-up then top-down

... which is what I suspect is a source of objection around the comments here. I have never received or been pointed to a document akin to a "manual for this person". It's all been direct person-to-person, hearsay, and a combination of both ["I heard Jimmy is always $This_Particular_Way, I took note but reserved judgement, and after I interacted with Jimmy enough times I figured that I personally find Jimmy to be $XYZ"].

Actually receiving a "Manual For Jimmy", especially from Jimmy directly, is an indicator of something other or more than simply "how to interact with Jimmy".

> That night, I met a manager friend for dinner and poured my heart out to him. He listened and then gave me a diagnosis. “Julie,” he said, “Have you ever told your reports that you care about them? Or asked them how they’d like to be cared for?”

One of the best pieces of advice I received in an otherwise pretty uneventful undergraduate degree in technical theater/stagecraft was during a management course. A general manager of a small regional theater came to speak, and talk about "leadership". Generic stuff.

But he said that he has two questions he always asks direct reports. "How do you like to receive praise, and how to do you like to criticism?" I've adopted these as good questions during interviews (no matter what side of the table you're on), when meeting a new team, or even a few releases into a team forming at a retro.

They're simple questions, and folks don't always have their answer off the top of their head. But knowing who prefers that big group shout out and who prefers a quiet thank you email to them and their manager can make a huge difference.

We tried this at a company I was at just last year. It's a great idea on the surface and is a very helpful way for coworkers to get to know more about you.

The reason it didn't work at said company was because nobody actually read them. They were kept in a random Google Doc that you only ever saw during your onboarding.

I've also watched the manager README trend go wrong at multiple companies.

The problem is that managers write their READMEs according to how they want to be viewed by others, so they tend to be more aspirational than realistic.

These might actually be useful if the employees could write the README for their manager and the manager could never read the document or otherwise retaliate for what the employees write about their manager. That's the only way you'd get an accurate document, but obviously it's not realistic.

I think it's better to simply write these documents as a "How to guide for team members" outlining the expectations for performance, communication, how and when their performance reviews will happen, and so on.

Better to remove the manager's ego from the equation as much as possible rather than making it the unspoken centerpiece of the document.

> I had to read it a few times to ensure I wasn’t misunderstanding: the majority of my team thought I didn’t show care for them?!

> I started writing a “How to work with Julie” guide for my team


So your team tells you they don't feel cared for by you and your reaction is to write a guide for them on how to work with you? Talk about not getting the message.

I do think it's very important to have good communication, introspection and awareness of others as well as the way they work. But writing a guide about yourself and expecting others to follow it is not the best way to achieve that.

Maybe do write the guide, but keep it to yourself then use it as a way to get to know yourself better and see how you can improve your way of working with others.

In terms of building rapport in a safe environment, my preferred approach is to have standup-style meetings in which everyone in the team gets a turn to speak and they have an opportunity and space to open up and be vulnerable. This is usually lead by a manager that shows vulnerability first as a way to let the rest feel more at ease with sharing. You can do these weekly and they can last 15-30min. Over time they are very powerful and help tremendously in improving the way people treat each other, as well as detecting potential issues.

Edit: PS: Innerspace has some amazing free workshops about team building, communication at work and related topics/practices, mostly targeted towards startup founders. Highly recommend them - https://www.helloinnerspace.org

> So your team tells you they don't feel cared for by you and your reaction is to write a guide for them on how to work with you? Talk about not getting the message.

I found that resolved quite well under "Things I do that may annoy you." She knows she doesn't seem caring and explains why.

This is why I dislike the "Manager README" trend.

They start with good intentions (informing the team about what's expected of them and how to work efficiently with the team) but they usually devolve into justifying the manager's bad behaviors and telling the team to deal with it.

In practice, most manager READMEs I've seen have been more aspirational than realistic. That is, managers describing themselves in the best possible way, or describing the type of manager they want to be.

I think it's much better to write an "Employee how-to manual" that describes what's expected of the employees, how employees can accomplish things, and so on. Delivering information to the employees from a purely manager-centric document sends a message that the manager is the star of the show and the employees are just the supporting cast who need to deal with the manager's quirks.

> the employees are just the supporting cast who need to deal with the manager's quirks.

But that is also the default mode. It is not the best way of doing things, but most employees do have to deal with managerial quirks.

If I will be having to deal with those quirks anyway, then the guide is helpful. Otherwise I am learning via trial and error. Sure, ideally the quirks would be fixed, but that is not a likely event.

> If I will be having to deal with those quirks anyway, then the guide is helpful

That assumes that the guide is frank and truthful. Unfortunately this is, in my experience, rarely the case. There is strong incentive to use this as a PR exercise (or "aspirational" to put it mildly) given that it is being published and visible to many people, especially above you.

So you are going to have to try to match reality against that document anyway.

I think you skipped a few beats here. Julie explains, first, that even though she cared, her reports didn’t always believe that she was showing care.

Then she goes on to explain that it’s easy for people to miscommunicate, even when they have all the right intentions. She tries to avoid these misses by understanding, for each of her reports, what made that person feel cared for.

Then she explains that this can help in the reverse, too: creating a “how to work with me” guide helps reduce the miscommunication from above. She didn’t “immediately react” to her team’s feedback by creating the guide, but built up to this over time.

But it sounds like in these vulnerable standups the manager is not allowed to introspect aloud on their own personality and ways of working, because they should properly “keep that to themselves“?

Seems like you might be mixing my opinion about the guide vs the dynamic of the standup.

Getting to know people, as well as getting to know yourself and how you behave/work with those people in particular, is a process, it is not something static that you can just put in a document and expect others to read, understand and act accordingly.

In the standups the manager could very well share anything they want, they just can't expect everyone else to know it ahead of time and to just adapt to him/her.

Relationships are two way streets, there's tug and pull, there's adaptation, there's context, there are events and situations, there is change and growth, none of these are properly captured in a document that just one person writes at one point in time.

I just don’t know why you would think the process consists entirely of this guide. The process starts with this guide. Again you say the manager can share whatever they want, but when this manager shares what they want, you reject it. Is it that you just don’t think this should be written down, but should be vocal?

From the comment you replied to:

> In the standups the manager could very well share anything they want, they just can't expect everyone else to know it ahead of time and to just adapt to him/her.

They can share what they want, they just can't expect others to blindly accept it and conform to it.

Sorry, still not following...is there somewhere in the OP where she says she expects anyone to blindly accept and conform? In fact, she says “mine has been a living document over the years, honed through continual feedback”.

And what does “ahead of time” mean? Ahead of what time? If she says some of this at a standup why is it somehow not as oppressive as if she sent it in an email? What’s the difference?

I'm trying to imagine a future where we all write this kind of user guide for ourselves - the first place that comes to mind for a depiction of such a future would be in a bookshelf between 1984 and A Brave New World

Just because you don't like an idea and can't articulate why doesn't automatically make it dystopian. IIRC the regimes in those books were denying individuality. This is the opposite of that.

The reasons that make me not articulate things in an obvious manner in my comment are pretty much the same reasons that caused my comment in the first place - thought processes are a very personal and intimate thing to me.

Would you elaborate why?

It came across to me as a pretty good idea. To write this well requires a certain degree of introspection, and it allows co-workers to gain an understanding of how you work.

I think there is a risk of coming across as inflexible. A good manager adapts to the needs / strengths of their team members, and publishing a "this is how we do things here, deal with it" memo might send the wrong message.

It divulges a lot of one's personality. This kind of openness would require me to feel really at home in a company.

Coincidentally, that's also the reason I feel the piece was so interesting, when I'm normally more drawn to technical articles.

I wrote something about this pretty recently - a pitch/anti-pitch to these sorts of guides. I do think the tl:dr is that you need a high level of psychological safety in the team to make it workable. Although I think the act of writing one can be a useful exercise in itself, I certainly hadn't thought deeply about what my preferences are for work. It also gave me some ideas of what I could work on personally.

https://medium.com/better-programming/personal-user-manuals-... <- scroll down for the pitch/anti-pitch :)

Very interesting, thanks for sharing. Is this a company-wide thing at your workplace?

> This kind of openness would require me to feel really at home in a company.

Still, it's probably better to be upfront about this stuff than wait and hope other people will make the right assumptions.

Have you ever shared an office with a bully? I have, and any personal information will be mercilessly used in an endless stream of not-funny jokes.

No, but I have seen several highly diverse workplaces homogenize into wall-to-wall straight white men, and it was due to a lack of awareness about the kinds of questions in the article.

Some of that is probably my age perspective though. I'm only in my mid-thirties, so most offices I've worked in have had anti-bullying policies that swung to the draconian side.

Good relationships of any sort are founded on trust. You develop that by actually interacting with a person over time and getting to know things they wouldn't be happy to post to the front page of Hacker News.

Articulating your flaws isn't the same as fixing them.

If you just tell people what your love language is, but don't learn to show love in their love language, they still won't feel cared for. You may even be reinforcing the message that you don't care enough to adapt to them.

If you tell people to call you out on being late, but are still routinely late, it will feel like an empty apology.

We all have flaws and have to deal with each others'; for all I know this person is a fantastic manager. But I'm skeptical that this kind of document is a good way to start a working relationship. It's very personal to the author but impersonal to the recipient, giving the impression that all responsibility lies on the recipient to deal with the author's issues. I know the document tries to emphasize that that's not the case, but until you have a real relationship with the person you don't know which parts of that to trust. (Most people see themselves as being open to honest feedback, but that doesn't mean they actually are.)

I can see a disgruntled employee leaving negative feedback about having to fill in a form like this. Scheduling regular one on ones and asking these questions during those meetings seems much more casual.

So, this says 'how to work with me' but not 'how can I work with you?'

This kind of document is all about validating inputs instead of reflecting on output. It's 'how can you help me?' as opposed to 'how can I help you?', and if you need this kind of document in a leadership position I think you've already failed.

Set boundaries and stuff by all means, but don't delegate that responsibility to a document that nobody will read and/or remember, and then making other people responsible for your own abject laziness.

I wrote a manager's README and give it to new hires and even in some cases candidates I'm trying to convince come work with me. It is realistic (I hope :D) and in no way is it meant to compensate on things I do or are annoying .. "you should have known, it is written in the README" is never an acceptable response. So in one way I appreciate her "user guide" as I know how difficult it is to write such a document and she does it with high detail.

I wonder if it raised the grade on the next survey though :D

> I started writing a “How to work with Julie” guide for my team

The best managers I've had, which I've tried to emulate, have been exactly the opposite.

Good managers know enough about their team to create their own "How to work with $coworker" guide for each and every direct report!

People vary (1) in how they best receive feedback, (2) in how much freedom and ambiguity they prefer in projects they're given, (3) in how often they want to meet, so on and so forth.

If you aren't able to adjust your communication and management style to fit the needs of your team members, in most cases you aren't cut out to manage — it'll only become worse as your team grows and becomes more diverse.

Disclaimer: this only applies to smaller companies (<100 employees). The author worked at a very large company, where employees are content to read the manager's 'user guide' to understand them better and try and thrive under them.

Next step: you should have a status indicator.

And: you should have a power on/off button.

I applaud any effort to improve communication within a team, and haven't tried this specifically, so take my criticism with a grain of salt.

My concern with this approach is that it relies on us to be self-aware of our idiosyncrasies and limitations. There are aspects of myself that I do think I understand well and could be well communicated with the tool like this, but I suspect that I might be blind to the more problematic aspects of my own personality, and that this lack of self-awareness exacerbates or is that the root of the problem.

Like most documentation, the problem is in getting people to read it and update it regularly.

I get why people object to adapting to another personality, but the reality is that most of us have to do that anyway with a manager.

Why not just have the required adaptations laid out for easy understanding?

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