The Personal User’s Manual

I was reading a great blog post over on Edutopia about writing a Student’s User Guide. The title was a bit dull, but on reading it, a teacher talks about developing a “personal User’s Guide” not only for herself, but having each of her students do the same thing. I think this is about the best idea I have heard of recently.

We all know those people who have their own quirks and things that work best with handling them.  Lord knows just about every family relationship has an element of  this built in, as we categorize people’s likes and dislikes and how to talk to them so they will listen.  For example, here’s one of my favorite clips from The Big Bang Theory, where Howard informs Penny Sheldon came with a manual…

Now think how much better your business relationships would be, or students in a classroom, for that matter, if you gave them a brief user’s manual to you.  Instead of guessing how best to communicate, people could get it right from the very beginning.  For example, I try to tell clients up front what to expect from us and timetables of work.  This might work much better as a “manual” or document rather than a passing email.  I tell clients that I will keep them informed at least once a week by email about progress on the work, and then will schedule calls or meetings at regular intervals so we can talk and exchange information as needed.  While we can certainly talk informally in between, the regularly scheduled calls give everyone assurances about the progress and where things stand, rather than worrying about completion, etc.

Why shouldn’t I just reduce this to a Manual/Operating System guide for working with us?  While each client has individual needs, I work in a pretty predictable way, and this might give them added confidence in knowing how to “work my system” without getting needlessly frustrated along the way.  The “User’s Guide” idea could work even at the outset of presentations, letting everyone know that I’d like them to ask questions and participate along the way, rather than waiting until the end, if that’s appropriate.

This is such a simple and elegant idea. and it’s particularly brilliant for teachers.  I can’t tell you how many times as a student I asked other kids for tips on teachers- in fact, most colleges have guides to classes that sometimes give these sort of tips.  But why should it be underground whispers, rather than overt?  I can’t count how many times I’ve had conversations with my kids about how to “figure out” what the teacher wants, or what questions to ask to clarify assignments, when we’re all just guessing and the true source is the teacher themselves.

Now I understand we all like to be mysterious, but how much more learning could get done if we stopped spending so much time in trying to guess what everyone else wanted or needed, but instead, had them give us a hint, even if it resembles a Christmas List more than a User’s Manual?  What would happen if a teacher really knew what a student was sensitive about, or what their passions were and could use that to help engage the students better in class?

There are often small attempts made at this with “get to know you” sessions, but having a written User’s Guide, even with bullet points would be fantastic, in school or in business.

How would you use this idea to make your business or personal relationships work better?  I know I’m excited to give it a whirl, and leave less to perception and guessing.  I’ll let you know how it goes, if you can do the same!

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