Gifting Feedback from a Tea Shop

4 minute read

Giving good feedback to people around you (both at work and in your private life) can be an excellent time investment. If the people around you become stronger, you will benefit. I want to help you achieve that by giving you two things: 1) a template that I learned as a consultant, and 2) a memorable list of desirable traits to think about when coming up with feedback.

How to give and receive feedback

Five guiding principles for good feedback

Here’s a few of the important points:

  1. Feedback can be given to anyone (e.g., subordinates, superiors, clients, spouse, parent, children, etc.).
  2. Good feedback is given verbally first, and requires cool-headed preparation ahead of time (e.g., write it down).
  3. Good feedback is strength-based, fact-based (i.e., truth seeking), and empathetic.
  4. Receiving good feedback is a gift (i.e., an opportunity to improve).
  5. Feedback should be given promptly when urgent, and scheduled regularly otherwise (e.g., 2 weeks).

A template for preparing feedback

An effective way to prepare giving someone feedback is to write it down using the following template:

  1. I observed _______.
  2. It made me feel _______.
  3. One idea to improve is _______.

This template is easy to remember and can be used with anyone. It also forces you to be fact-based, and prevents you from giving labels. For instance, you could say:

  1. I observed that you arrived 10 minutes late to our meeting on Wednesday. And it wasn’t the first time.
  2. It made me feel that my time is less valuable than yours.
  3. One idea to improve is to add buffer between your meetings when you know that you are likely to run-over.

Foundational skill framework

When thinking about a colleague’s strengths, I tend to be biased towards the most recent, and most salient events. But by using a more generic and complete framework, I’m able to be more systematic and exhaustive. One design principle of the framework is that it be memorable.

The acronym for it is “a tea shops”. Additionally, instead of coming up with names for the strengths, I came up with professions and the strengths that these personas tend to represent.

“A tea shops” strength framework

Here’s the framework. As a team member of a team, I aim to be a/an:

  1. Athlete
  2. Teacher
  3. Engineer
  4. Artist
  5. Scientist
  6. Human
  7. Owner
  8. Pioneer
  9. Student

Personas explained

An Athlete lives healthy - they will care about getting sufficient sleep, will eat nutritious food in moderate quantity, will exercise moderately but frequently, and will take the time to relax, decompress and meditate.

A Teacher selflessly helps and mentors others - they will think with empathy about those around them, nurture their curiosity and share with them insightful advice.

An Engineer finds pragmatic solutions and provides fast turnarounds - they will be 80-20 when appropriate, and will go slow to go fast and not to miss important details.

An Artist applies creative design thinking - they will apply lateral thinking to combine unrelated concepts together to come up with novel solutions, and will not be afraid to go against the norms.

A Scientist conducts unbiased experiments and learns from data - they will record data, be systematic in testing hypothesis, and will base their decisions on facts.

A Human lets their fun, quirky and authentic self shine through - they will let their guards down and be easy going.

An Owner is accountable for quality end products and speaks up - they will use their willpower as a tool to shape their environment instead of being a victim of circumstances.

A Pioneer takes responsibility and acts with courage - they will take risks, break new ground, and get their hands dirty with work.

A Student embraces feedback with a growth mindset - they are open minded about being able to learn anything, and believe that hard work over time pays off more than initial talent.

Putting it together

Example of a good feedback

For example, a real (sanitized) feedback I have given to someone I reported to once was:

I have observed that you have selected the most optimistic scenarios to present to the senior client, and have excluded the more conservative ones. I heard you state the importance to show encouraging results, and I too want to build momentum with the client. However, I find this situation uncomfortable for two reasons: 1) the team has used the words “selection bias” and have confidentially voiced concerns about not being fairly represented, 2) I’m afraid that we may condition our client to expect inflated results, and lose their trust a little. One idea to improve this would be to write down on the page that these are the most optimistic scenarios, and add the rest of the scenarios in the appendix.

Effectively, I was reminding my boss to be a scientist, and I was myself exhibiting both the teacher and the owner traits. I hope you find this useful, please don’t hesitate to give me feedback.