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Optimize Your Working Relationships with the Personal Instruction Manual

This article was based on episode 208 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes,, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

We typically attempt to build an effective working relationship with colleagues through trial and error. Over the course of time, we will learn each other’s quirks and preferences sooner or later. But what if we didn’t have to wait that long? What if each team member could understand one another right off the bat?

Presenting my favorite workplace tool, the Personal Instruction Manual. A PIM is a document we create to explain to coworkers who we are; it includes how we think and work best. For managers, this is a godsend. We don’t have to waste our precious managerial time guessing how to best communicate and support our team members. Instead, we can hear it directly from them.

I’ve done the PIM process dozens of times with clients, and it’s always produced profound results. Here are the Top 5 things to remember if you want your team to create and share their own Personal Instruction Manuals.


1. Discover Your Myer Briggs Profile

I’m a huge proponent of each team member learning their Myer Briggs type. Unlike some other assessments, the MBTI helps us better understand ourselves and how we may differ from others. With this knowledge, we can now appreciate why some people plan their work and complete tasks ahead of time, while others wait until the very last second. Both people deliver work on time, they simply have a different work style neither of which is better or worse. The MBTI acknowledges that we all have preferences which others may not share. When you inform your colleagues of your MBTI type, you bring people inside your working and thinking process.

Side Note: I highly recommend the TypeCoach Online Verifier. More than just explaining each type, it’s also an educational tool so that you learn about all the dimensions and type preferences. To use this tool, you must work with a certified TypeCoach consultant; contact me for more information. (Learn more about MBTI in episode 14.)

2. Clarify Your Work Context Preferences

When and where we work can have a dramatic impact on productivity and mood. To help your colleagues respect your optimal work needs, let people know what type of work environment you focus best or worst in. Do you prefer quiet spaces or the hum of a busy coffee shop? Are you most productive when working from home or in the office? What are your most productive hours of the day; when do you prefer meetings vs deep work times? Identify your ideal work day structure so that your colleagues will know when to set up collaboration times and when to leave you alone.

3. Document Your Stressors

We all get stressed, but our team members shouldn’t be the source. By informing your teammates of your stress triggers or pet peeves, they can consider how to adjust their behavior to avoid frustrating you. Maybe long emails drive you nuts, and you’d prefer a quick phone call instead. Maybe people tapping you on the shoulder during the day makes your skin crawl. Often, there are small shifts we can each make that have a dramatically positive impact on each other.

In addition to the sources of our stress, it’s helpful for team members to understand how to work with us once we are stressed or overwhelmed. Outline how people can recognize when you’re stressed and how to best support you. For example, maybe a telltale sign is that you have very little patience. Once someone notices that behavior, how do you want them to support you at that moment? Should they ask if you’re OK, leave you alone, offer to take something off your plate, or bring you a piece of chocolate?

4. Share Your Communication MO

So much of how we work relies on effective communication. While this section could include any aspect of communication, at a minimum, it should address feedback, appreciation, and conflict.

Giving someone feedback is often one of the most difficult aspects of a manager’s job. By letting people know how to best share critical feedback with us, we increase the chances that they’ll provide constructive feedback and that we’ll be able to take it in productively. Similarly, acknowledging our preferred approach to dealing with conflict can help our colleagues work through difficult situations with us.

Lastly, explain what makes you feel appreciated. The Five Languages of Appreciation developed by Dr. Paul White (check out episode 99) gives us an understanding of the different ways each person likes to be treated. Most of us default to using the approach that makes us feel valued. By knowing if a teammate prefers words of affirmation or quality time, we’re able to show our appreciation in the way that ensures the message will come through. When people take the time to describe their communication preferences in detail, managers can stop the guesswork and do what’s best for each person.

5. Consider the Surprise Section

In addition to the information above, there are often other aspects of who we are, how we show up, how we think, and what we need to be successful that our team members would benefit by knowing. This section gives people space to share any miscellaneous things that others might need to know. It may help to use optional prompts such as “What’s one thing you do that you worry people misunderstand?” or “What do people often assume about you that you wish they didn't?”

One of the best examples I heard during a PIM debrief was a woman who said that if someone sees her right after a meeting, they might think she’s giving them a nasty look, but she’s really just an extreme introvert and she finds meetings exhausting. When we share these types of insights about ourselves, we avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and tension.


If you’re leading a team through a PIM debrief, make sure to collect and share everyone’s PIM beforehand so that people can read through them in preparation for the meeting. If you manage individuals who don’t need to collaborate, doing the PIM debrief one on one is an option. At the meeting itself, ask people to share sections and give real life examples where their personality/preference showed up in ways that worked or didn’t. For example, rather than just saying “you can tell I’m stressed when I have less patience than usual”, they can give an example: “Remember three weeks ago when I told you to just decide how to deal with the customer on your own? That was me being stressed.”

Make this an annual activity, so that people can update their PIM and keep each other informed. Because people and work situations change (such as remote working, a new coworker shifting the team dynamics, or simply personal growth), it’s important to occasionally pause and reflect on how you have changed and to let others know. This is also a powerful activity to help onboard a new team member and quickly develop strong working relationships.

Do your team a huge favor and bypass all of the drawn out learning that comes from trial and error of working together. Schedule time for your team to work on their Personal Instruction Manuals. Prepare for the meeting by sharing everyone's information beforehand. Facilitate the group share so that people can get concrete examples of what each person prefers and how they show up. Understanding our teammates doesn’t have to be a lot of guesswork. We can tell each other exactly what we need and use the insights others have shared to work together more seamlessly.

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This article was based on episode 208 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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