How I work and like to work with you
A user guide for David Bauer.
About this document
If you start working with a new person, wouldn’t it be nice if you had some sort of user guide that gives you a basic understanding of how to work with them? This document is exactly that. It captures my guiding principles, how I work as a human and what I value in others.
It’s meant as a frame of reference and a starting point for discussions. Hopefully, it will help you understand me better and allow us to work together in a more meaningful way. If you have a similar document, I’d love to see it.
Inevitably, I will sometimes fail to live up to my own ideals. I will always try, and they are here so you can hold me accountable. If you’re not a fan of manuals, that’s fine too, we can figure things out as we go.
This is a living document, incomplete and imperfect. I will update it regularly and would appreciate your feedback.
Things I believe to be true, that are the foundation of us working together.
We trust each other: Whatever you do, I will assume good intent. I trust that you know what you’re doing and that you will let me know when you need my help. I hope you treat me the same way.
We’re better together: We wouldn’t be here, working together, if one of us could do it on their own. We bring different skills and viewpoints to the table, and it’s our job to make the best use of all of them.
We have the same goal: We can’t be successful together if we’re aiming for different outcomes. If one of us feels our goals or motives aren’t aligned, we need to talk.
We support one another: If there is anything that prevents you from doing your best work, let me know. If it’s something related to me, I will try to fix it. If it’s beyond us, we will try and find a solution together. If it’s a personal matter, I will try to cover for you. That also means…
We win together, we fail together: People who like to claim credit and assign blame are a major turnoff for me.
What I value
Context-awareness. Nothing that we do happens in a vacuum. In fact, making the right decisions is foremost about understanding the context we’re operating in. This can be anything from interpersonal to organisation-wide, from understanding customer needs to market forces and policy constraints.
Default to action. Often it’s best to just do it. Most decisions are reversible, so it’s better to see how things work out instead of overthinking them.
Self-reflection. We can’t improve if we remain ignorant of our weak spots. We should all regularly take time to reflect on why (exactly) we made a certain decision, why (exactly) we reacted in a certain way.
Attention to detail. Spot something that could be improved? Say something, help fix it. Small improvements compound over time.
Empathy. Not just towards those who you work with, but anybody. We’re all humans, and often times, you see things more clearly when you take someone else’s perspective.
How to efficiently work and communicate with me
Please don’t hold back: Challenge my ideas and opinions. If you see me behave in a way that isn’t cool or if you notice that I‘m making a bad decision, let me know and explain what I should be doing differently. If you truly liked something I did — I like to hear that, too.
Mind the channel: I almost always prefer a short written message as a first point of contact. It’s unintrusive and allows me to decide when and how to continue the conversation. You might prefer something else — let me know. As a default, I always try to consider whom I’m communicating with and what their needs and context might be.
Don’t give clues: I sometimes miss clues, many people do. Don’t give clues. Tell me what you need.
Use the power of async: An important update can be sent via email. Feedback can be gathered in a shared doc. Questions can be answered in a direct message. Decisions can be reached without everyone in the same room. Async is not always best, but it’s a good default. It gives people the freedom to choose the right moment, and the time they need, to engage.
Meetings done right: If you invite me to a meeting, I need to understand why it’s valuable that I’ll be there. I like meetings that are respectful of everyone’s time and contributions.
Ask for help: I love giving input, but only if I know it can still make a difference. Tell me about an idea, show me a rough draft, ask for my opinion on work in progress. It’s frustrating if we identify room for improvement, but there’s no time left to act on it.
Let’s have fun. We’re not here for fun, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have some.
How to discuss and argue
In the moment, things can get heated quickly, so it’s important to keep some guiding principles in mind. I try to stick to these:
- I start with the assumption that we are arguing because we all want to solve the same issue, with the best intentions in mind.
- I try to truly understand a position before arguing against it. Ask questions. Repeat back what I understood to be their point.
- I find it helpful to state how (un)certain I am when I make a statement. Asking «How sure are you?» is better than asking «Are you sure?»
- I try to always be mindful whether the people having a discussion the right people to have this discussion. Is someone missing?
- Know when to end a discussion. Sometimes a decision needs to be made. Sometimes additional information needs to be gathered to continue the discussion. Always end a discussion with everyone knowing what will happen next.
- When a discussion went off the rails, let’s follow-up later to talk about what went wrong and what you can learn from it.
How to give feedback
Let’s be honest: Feedback is difficult. I often feel uncomfortable giving it, and might get defensive when I receive negative feedback. Tough luck. There’s no way around it: We only grow from regular, candid feedback. So it’s very important to me. Since I’m not naturally good at it, I use a few guiding principles to help me be better at giving and receiving feedback:
- Before giving you feedback, I will ask if you’re ready to receive feedback. Please do the same with me.
- Feedback is best when it’s candid and direct, and when it focuses on how the recipient can grow. Let’s give each other feedback on how we give feedback, and get better at it.
- I strive to offer feedback immediately after I’ve noticed something I want to give feedback on (unless I don’t find the right words straight away, which happens)
- If you don’t receive feedback when you’d like it, ask for it.
- I might sometimes give positive feedback to keep harmony. If you catch me doing this, call me out. (That doesn’t mean you need to be suspicious of every positive feedback — you’ll know the difference)
- I’ve learned a ton from Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor. If you find the time, read it.
There’s life beyond work
Let’s agree that work isn’t everything, and that we can only be our best selves at work when we take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Our work is important to us. But there’s life beyond work, we have our obligations and the occasional unexpected challenge. And sometimes, we need to prioritise those.
I don’t advocate for strict boundaries, but flexibility that goes both ways. I will always go the extra mile when it’s most needed, and hope you will, too. On the other hand, that means we trust each other when someone needs to leave early or take a day off.
The most important thing is to be transparent and upfront about this. If I won’t be available, I will let those that might be affected know.
Also good to know
I’m an introvert. You might not always notice it, in fact, people often react surprised when I tell them that I am. It means that I’m most comfortable in smaller settings with people I know well. Prolonged exposure to humans is exhausting for me. Especially in larger groups, I won’t engage as much as I would in smaller ones. It also means I’m sometimes slow in expressing what I really feel.
Related to the above, I sometimes write messages when we should be talking instead. I know that’s not ideal, I’m working on it. In the meantime, please point it out to me. You’ll know when.
I like to work with my headphones on. That means please don’t tap on my shoulder and interrupt me, but you can always message me, and usually, I’ll find time shortly after.
I have two small kids at home. Before I had kids, I had no idea how much that impacts work. I wish someone had told me — so I’m telling you here. You don’t have to think about it on a daily basis — I will be open and upfront when something related to my kids affects work.
This document is inspired by Michael Lopp’s How to Rands, and draws heavily on Niklaus Gerber’s Readme. Like everything on my website, you can use and adapt it for your own purposes, as long as you share it under the same license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).