When it comes to garden stakes and clippers, think feedback

There is a paradox in every beautiful garden. Cutting back or pruning strengthens, promotes growth, and encourages plants to bloom. As it turns out, these are just a few of the benefits.

Pruning lets in light and air. It removes what is damaged and highlights the best features of a plant. It rejuvenates old plants or those that have been neglected. It can change the direction of growth or inspire growth in a new area. It controls pests and helps plants fit into difficult or tight spaces. (Pruning ensures that plants don’t invade the space of others. Sounds like another lesson in boundaries!)

What a wonderful metaphor for growing people! While the process of cutting away what doesn’t work or what is limiting our growth may be uncomfortable, it is clearly profitable. I love the idea of letting more air and light into my life, removing what is damaged, and showcasing my best features! Most of us have at one time or another needed help in a difficult place or space. And rejuvenation? Bring it on! Even the definition gets my attention: to make young again; “to restore to a former state; make fresh or new again.”

When it comes to garden stakes and clippers, think feedback. Feedback is one of the most effective tools available to you. Use it to reinforce what is working and to cut away what is not. The call to action here is continuous improvement. It is taking feedback, whether spoken or silent, and putting it to work for you—making it profitable.

What have you learned and implemented in the last thirty days based on feedback? When I ask that question, even in large audiences only a few people can honestly answer. The majority of the people I speak with are waiting for feedback to knock on their door. When it does, they crack open the door slowly and invite feedback in very cautiously (or begrudgingly), like an unwelcome guest to dinner.

Sometimes feedback feels like a slap in the face. (Believe me, I’ve been there. There are days when I feel like I’ve received more feedback than any human deserves in a lifetime.) When that happens, we may feel like slamming the door on this rude, ungrateful guest! Or perhaps we go to the other extreme. We change feedback into a weapon and beat ourselves silly with it. We turn the feedback over and over in our mind and learn the wrong lesson from it. Denying feedback or brutalizing ourselves with it is (at the very least) unproductive.

For a life trying to grow, feedback is essential; it is one of the tools we use to train our growth. We leverage feedback when we learn to do two things well—first, know where to find it, and second, know how to process it effectively.

Honestly, feedback is all around us. It is in what people say or don’t say, in the assignments we receive (or don’t), in how others respond to us, and, ultimately, in the results we achieve. Some of the most profitable feedback can be found in what is frustrating you right now! When we don’t get the support we need or the response we expected, that is feedback. When something isn’t working the way it should, we are getting feedback.

If you are fortunate, you work for and with people who know how to give and receive feedback in a healthy and constructive way. The dialogue is open, honest, and designed to help people grow. But what if that does not describe your situation?

When it comes to feedback, we are wise to remember that people give us what they have, not necessarily what we need.

You may have to coach the coach to get your feedback or to make the feedback you are getting more useful. That was the case for Connie.

Connie’s feedback generally happened once each year with her performance review. Typically, the conversation was shallow and strained. “My manager was extremely nervous, and that made me nervous,” she laughs. “It was so awkward. I would leave the meeting not quite sure how I was doing or what I could be doing differently. Sometimes I left thinking a giant elephant had been in the room, but neither of us wanted to talk about it.”