What does your user manual regarding yourself say? (Also great for team building.)

I have read a number of user manuals while doing some work on my house recently. They instructed me (more or less successfully) in how to use powerful tools to get a job done in a satisfactory way while keeping my health. And I wondered: Why do only machines and gadgets come with user manuals – why not people?

In all jobs in the legal industry (and not only there), other people are the “tools” that we need to get a job done: assistants, colleagues, lawyers in other jurisdictions, clients, experts etc. We need to communicate and cooperate successfully with them and we need to keep us (and them) mentally healthy.

I did some research and discovered that some people have indeed written user manuals regarding themselves for their colleagues. Obviously, this is something that can be turned into a very valuable team-building exercise, since it is directly related to the work of the team and promotes direct communication and trust.

So I decided to give it a try. Here is my user manual:

Values that are important to me, and that I appreciate in others:

  • Speaking the truth.
  • Trusting others (until proven otherwise).
  • Being proud of one´s work.
  • Personal and professional development is always possible – we can all become better, deeper, wiser and more human. It´s a major effort and it´s worth it.

My preferred communication style:

  • Direct and straightforward. Speak your mind and please do not wrap your message, since I am not very good at unwrapping and reading between the lines. My own messages usually come unwrapped. If they remain unclear to you, I appreciate you asking for clarification.
  • I can help you the best if you let me know what you need from me. If you don´t know that (yet), that´s fine – let´s start a dialogue and find out together.

My approach to receiving and giving feedback:

  • I greatly appreciate honest feedback, both positive and negative, so please tell me what you like about my work and what you would like me to change.
  • I also like to give feedback to help improve a working relationship. My feedback usually comes unwrapped. It may sometimes seem a bit blunt to you, but on the upside, you don´t have to look for hidden messages.

Preferred working environment:

  • I need to alternate between discussing ideas with others and thinking by myself.
  • I sometimes have to protect my focus by shutting my door and turning off telephone and e-mail for a certain period of time, since I get easily distracted by noise and interruptions. If you leave me a message, I will be available again for you after that period (unless it´s a real emergency).

My approach to time, planning and deadlines:

  • I like to plan my work days, weeks and months and spread my workload evenly if possible (which is also a necessity due to some health issues). However, I also want to help you to best of my abilities. So please let me know about your time constraints, deadlines etc. in due time.

Things that try my patience or irritate me:

  • If people disrespect my time and time-planning by acting in the last minute without there being an emergency, they really try my patience.
  • Taking things or people for granted and having a sense of entitlement turns me off.
  • I firmly believe that my charging rates reflect the value of the services I provide. So please don´t haggle just for the sake of it or because you think it´s fun.

Things that I am trying to get better at:

  • Being more patient with people who think/speak/work on a slower pace than I do.
  • Keeping grace under pressure.

Things people often misunderstand about me:

  • People can perceive me as angry when I am concerned or passionate about something, or just focused.
  • I can come across as hyper-critical when I am trying out an idea by turning it upside down, looking for the fault lines etc.
  • Don´t be upset when I don´t recognise you in the street – I am very short-sighted and have a hard time recognizing faces in time to say “hello” to them.

In my view, the following three rules are important to create a good user manual:

  1. Keep it short and simple and at a maximum of one page.
  2. Do use some kind of structure – let yourself be inspired by the headlines in my user manual or create your own.
  3. Consider it a living document that needs to be adapted regularly as you learn more about yourself. Ask others what they think you should include in the next update of your user manual.

When will you write your user manual regarding yourself?

Follow Marion Ehmann:

Marion Ehmann is a lawyer as well as the founder and owner of kiMEru Coaching & Consulting AB. She uses up-to-date research and best practice plus her almost 20 years of experience in the legal profession to support lawyers in their professional development.