As self- and team development goes created personal user manuals is one of the best tools and processes I’ve come across for fostering meaningful connection in work settings and nurturing psychological safety.

Bringing your whole self to work is often something which is nice in theory, but falls down in practice. Especially in places where inclusivity is also better in theory than practice, or is a value delivered on for users but leaned away from in the team itself, or by leadership.

There’s a huge amount of vulnerability and trust in even expressing who you are, how you work best, and how other’s can support you before we even get to the work of consistently showing up in those ways, and staying authentic when faced with some level of rejection.

You don’t need me to tell you the value of being vulnerable though, and having the courage to be your true and whole-self. If you would like to hear more on that then BrenĂ© Brown has got you covered.

Surfacing the self: why personal user manuals

As someone who thrives on connection and collaboration, but rarely feels I really fit creating a personal user manual has been one more step on the journey toward sharing what I know of myself with others. It’s a short-cut if you like to getting to know me, surfacing things which usually take time to build up to as aren’t always asked about explicitly.

Encouraging the teams I lead to create these, and working them in to our process with stakeholders, has helped me understand and challenge my own assumptions, and as a project quickly see our strengths, our opportunities to improve, and where we might stumble over mis-understanding of each other and our approaches.

My personal user manual

I’ve had a few different versions of a personal user manual over time. I currently have 3 on the go – the one shared here which I personally maintain, a version within my direct team, and a version with my wider team. I’d intend to get back to a single master version from which I can pull relevant sections into different templates dependent on purpose and need.

As I develop that master template I’ll be looking at:

  • what is the most accessible and inclusive format
  • can I create a blank template in a way which can be shared and of value to others
  • can I document and share the process of creating individually and in a team so other’s can use
User manual of Sarah Lay on Miro

The image included here gives you the high level view of my manual but if you’d like to take a closer look you can dip into my Miro here (and I do update this over time as I learn more about myself or my needs change).

What to include in a personal user manual

My user manual currently has the headings:

  • my name is pronounced – with a phonetic spelling
  • my preferred pronouns
  • where to find me – where used in an organisation this could be which team or project you’re part of
  • chat to me about
    • work topics
    • personal interests
    • you may also want to include topics to stay away from if something is very difficult for you and may come up
  • strengths, experience and work passions – you could also have a section for a case study of a piece of work which showcases all of this
  • ideal work conditions – where and how you thrive, your working pattern, your thinking and doing styles
  • things I love
  • best ways to communicate – think style as well as channels
  • how I like to receive feedback
  • how to tell I’m at my best
  • how to tell I’m stressed
  • things I struggle with
  • don’t misunderstand – this one is particularly key for surfacing the unique thinking styles, behaviours, and needs we all have but which may be easily misinterpreted when judged against neurotypical approaches, or another person’s personal styles

I have also had versions of my manual or seen others including:

  • how I like to receive help – this one can be key to successfully supporting each other
  • my values
  • other things to know about me – perhaps you could include your Motivational Maps archtypes, a Myers-Briggs or other type, temporary or personal things to be aware of (chaotic home lives or caring responsibility), even what you prefer to drink at work.

Personal user manuals in practice

All personal user manuals are created and shared with an understanding not all needs will be met, or may only be met partially, or only met at certain times but by having openly surfaced them we all understand each other better.


I’ve used my manual:

  • in conversations with my team
  • in conversations with a manager
  • as a contractor trying to onboard efficiently and effectively
  • for self-reflection


I’ve used this tool with teams to:

  • shape individual conversations with those I’m leading or managing
  • surface similarities and differences between individuals in a team and then work together to shape the best possible ways of working to thrive individually and collectively
  • to check in with over time on how we’re meeting each other’s needs (or mindfully not meeting some)
  • to be in a better place to spot behaviours showing someone at their best, or someone who needs support


As part of project process I’ve used manuals to:

  • extend the understanding beyond a project team to include stakeholders
  • as quickly as possible work together at our best
  • surface where more conversations will be valuable

Useful links and references

Share with me

I’d love to see more examples of personal user manuals, or hear about how you’re using them individually, as teams, or on projects. Please drop me a comment (which I’ll try to get to in a timely manner!) or get in touch wherever I’ve shared this on social media. If you’d like to know more about me generally then check my About Me page.