I'm a bit pernickety. I get fussy when I'm hungry, bummed out when I don't exercise, or anxious when I'm in a big crowd. Most of my long term friends know how to handle me when I dive into some weird mood, but new friends (and significant others) don't. So, I came up with a user manual for myself to help them (and myself). Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
OK, so I didn't literally write a user manual that rests on my bookshelf for all new acquaintances to peruse. This exercise was more about taking a look at myself, thinking about what I "need" in given circumstances, then using that information to help both myself and close friends. When I know what I need, I can handle situations better myself, and when friends know, it prevents all kinds of awkward situations. It's also useful for family members and co-workers. Bringing this stuff up in conversation usually comes most naturally after something happens, but mentioning it over a beer is an easy option as well.
Really, anyone who has to deal with you can benefit from knowing a little more about how to do so up front. This exercise has smoothed out many of my relationships, and kicking off new ones seems to have less hiccups. I highly recommend giving it a shot yourself.
My Dealing-With-Me User Manual
Let's start by taking a look at my own user manual, in all its embarrassing glory. Of course, yours will be different, but everyone loves embarrassing examples, right?
Example #1: I'm Grumpy for No Apparent Reason
We all have days where, out of nowhere, we're just in a bad mood. In my case, this generally manifests itself as terseness in conversation or a general distaste for humanity as a whole. Case in point: if I'm going off on some rant about how Star Wars merchandise preys on the stupid, buy-anything masses while standing in line at Target, you can probably guess I'm in one of these moods.
First things first: do not tell me to cheer up, smile, or get over it. When you inevitably ask me, "Is everything OK?" and I respond, "yes, I'm just grumpy", leave it at that. If you continue to poke, I'll just get grumpier. When left alone, I'll eventually get out of it and back to normal. That said, in 95 per cent of these cases, the "no apparent reason" part is false. There is a reason: I'm probably hungry. Feed me, and I'll revert to my usual silent eye rolling at Star Wars merchandise and keep my tirades to myself.
Example #2: I'm Yelling at an Inanimate Object
You ever have one of those moments where you think you're alone and you're just screaming at some inanimate object that you're working on? I do. Between fixing electronics and working on bikes, there's a reasonable chance you'll catch me mid-expletive while throwing a hissy fit because a knob's not doing what it's supposed to.
But don't fear! This is merely a kneejerk, stress reaction. It has no real impact on either my mood or my general disposition. I am not an angry person by any means, so while it might seem strange to see me throwing a hissy fit, don't let it change your view of me. Just give me the space to do my thing and it will pass. Heck, I probably didn't notice you noticing me, so if it's possible to pretend you didn't witness this embarrassing moment, all the better.
Example #3: I'm Refusing to Leave the House
Maybe it's this whole working from home business or maybe I've always been like this, but getting me out of the house sometimes is a bit of a chore. I'll come up with a variety of excuses to stay in, especially if I'm heading out to meet up with people I barely know.
Don't let me do this! I always have a better time once I'm out there, and I occasionally need an extra push to get there. We're all aware that breaking out of your comfort zone is good form, but that doesn't make it easy. If you're coercing me out, psyche me up, get me stoked, and I'll be into it. Even if I'm not excited, just get me past the threshold of the door and all will be well. If you're just trying to get me to leave to do a new thing, I always appreciate a reminder of how much I enjoy this type of thing. I know this is a problem that's mostly on me, but don't let me come up with excuses to stay in when it's obvious I need to go out.
Example #4: You Need to Approach Me About Something Important
I'm a talker. I probably talk too much, because I think too much. So, when I'm having an issue with you, I'm going to approach you about it right away and bluntly lay out how I feel. I'd prefer the same from you.
If I do something stupid or say something idiotic or just act weirdly, tell me point blank. Then, tell me how you'd prefer everything to be. I'll counter with how I feel, and we'll have a nice, pleasant conversation. If you decide to beat around the bush before getting to the problem, I'll probably get defensive before you even get there, which will make for a cyclical conversation where nothing gets accomplished.
How to Brainstorm Your Own Manual
The crux of this whole idea relies on a bit of self-awareness, and requires you to accept some hard truths about yourself. With this metaphorical user manual, I can pass along information to people I spend a lot of time with and help myself deal with specific circumstances.
What bothers me when I'm upset is different than what bothers you, so you'll prefer to deal with those issues in a different way.
To start, brainstorm some different situations to create a sort of table of contents for this user manual. To get your brain going, here are a few general concepts to think about:
- How do you interact with the world? What do you do "differently" than other people?
- What (not obvious) things make you feel terrible? What makes you feel awesome?
- When you don't feel well (mentally or physically), do you prefer people to stay away from you or get closer?
- What's your schedule like? Does being a morning or evening person affect anything? Do you have a ritual in the morning or before bed that's important to you?
- What random things annoy you for no good reason?
- What's your communication style? How do you prefer people approach you about important topics? How do you approach people? Do you prefer people be blunt with you, or soften the blow?
- How do you make decisions? How do you handle making decisions on-the-fly? Do you prefer to be alone when you're hashing things out, or get help from others?
There are, of course, billions of possible questions and circumstances, but take some time to think about what's important to you or what situations have caused fiction in the past. Once you have a list, pick through what's important to you. This is your table of contents. Next, you'll just to outline what to do in any given circumstance.
My examples aren't all-encompassing by any means, but they're hopefully enough to give you some ideas to get started. The end result here is twofold. For one, you're going to walk away with a number of better experiences, but so will you friends, loved ones, co-workers, and whoever else. Dealing with someone's quirks is often the hardest part of maintaining a solid relationship, and handing over a cheat sheet for doing so is a great way to make it easier for everyone involved.
I've found this helpful because it not only gives other people in my life a better understanding of me, but also gives me a better understanding of myself. Why I do certain things certain ways has always (and will likely always be) a bit baffling, but at least I'm narrowing in on what works best for me.