Ask yourself these 4 questions to figure out if you should trust someone

Originally published at:

Uh-huh. And if we apply these oh-so-helpful rules to

  • “Dr.” Phil
  • “Dr.” “Oz”

Shall we add some more?


This sounds like a path to self sabotage.

She starts out her piece with a fair enough warning that some people pretend to be honest but just want to tear you down. But when all is said and done, you want people who are going to criticize your work in good faith, and whether you agree with their taste or not should be irrelevant. They shouldn’t want you to fail, but wanting you to succeed is also irrelevant. You don’t want someone to be a jerk when they give you feedback, but being compassionate shouldn’t matter.

Her point about people needing to understand what she is trying to create is fine, but she ought to be prepared for someone telling her that what she’s creating isn’t worth it.

I think it’s helpful to heighten some people’s awareness that the phrase “can I be brutally honest” is often a tipoff that the critic is more interested in brutality than they are in honesty. But what’s missing from her piece is the basic point that a creative person had better develop the ability to filter through criticism and pick out what they agree with, and learn to sort out what counts as good faith argument they disagree with from bad faith attacks they should ignore.


I think that last point (“Is this person capable of delivering the truth to me in a sensitive and compassionate manner?”) is self-defeating. That is, the “sensitive and compassionate manner” leads people to NOT “delivering the truth”.

For example, you design a board game (that’s terrible). When you play it with your friends, they tell you it’s great. But they’re doing so because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, not because it’s the truth.

As such, it’s difficult to trust the opinion of people who have the competing interests of sympathy for your condition and the truth. It’s far better to get the opinion of someone who does not particularly care for your feelings.


There’s work for yourself to do as well. Honest AND kind is a good mix - ‘can this person deliver difficult feedback in a way designed to help me accept it?’ Is a reasonable question. ‘Would I be prepared to receive difficult truths from this person, and do I think they would be prepared to give them?’ strikes me as a better one.

Hard ones to answer honestly and with self-awareness of course, which is where Ms. Gilbert’s questions start to fall down for me.


Uber gets a solid zero.


After reading the article, the title of this post was missing some information. Figuring out who to trust, and a litmus test for asking someone’s advice are two very different things. To determine trust in the opinions of people I know, my questions would be more like this:

How well do I really know you?
How well do you really know me?
What do you know about the subject?
Should I care what you think?
What will happen if I ignore you?

If it’s someone I don’t know, I’d just focus on the last few. Professionally, I haven’t always had a choice of who gave opinons about my work. Deciding what was valid, invalid, or just irrelevant was something I learned over time. Not internalizing other people’s criticisms and staying true my own voice (within the limits of my job) was the key to moving forward.

Personally, I avoid taking advice from folks with no experience in the subject being discussed and/or stake in the outcome. Seeing the magazine in the link reminded me of a lesson on that. During a holiday gathering one of my cousins (who wouldn’t listen to advice about her child from multiple aunties in the room) said she would rather try something she learned on Oprah. So, one of my aunts reminded her Oprah hasn’t raised any kids. :woman_shrugging:t4:


IDK, when people talk about “the truth” like that’s a thing, I’m tempted to get my coat.

What bothers me ist that this article is mixing up friendship and feedback about one’s work and career, and so the 4 questions dangle in between these two things and don’t provide a helpful framework for me. Mostly because trust is a secondary issue when gathering feedback.

I find that as a writer/artist/product designer/person who creates something, it’s good to gather as much feedback as possible, from a variety of people with diverse backgrounds, but they should all be more or less inside your target audience. It’s not a good idea to gather much feedback from family and friends, as they’ll often have a hard time being honest, and they’re also most likely not your target group.

Waiting for people who are honest and kind is one option, but I find it simpler to apply other techniques for getting feedback that makes you less dependent on other people’s competence, e.g. you can use techniques from design thinking, or pretotyping.

Acting on one person’s feedback will get you nowhere, and put you at the mercy of an individual. Laying out several people’s feedback makes it less personal, and provides you with a canvas for reflection. With that it’s also easier to remember that it’s your choice whether or not to act on any of the feedback.

There is one exception to that, where you would act on one person’s feedback: if you find a mentor, someone who’s been there before, and who can help you on your journey. A good mentor would not give you much feedback about your work anyway, you’d more discuss your approach.

tl;dr: there are plenty of tried and tested techniques for getting feedback, you don’t need (true or false) friends for that.


So, should she trust any of the advice given here? :wink:


This notion of “trust” seems outdated. The notion of “trust” implies that you can have confidence in your own judgment, as well as confidence in someone else’s. There’s a lot of evidence that in most situations, human judgment is no more likely to produce a positive outcome than flipping a coin. If you’re wrong half the time, and the person you trust is wrong half the time, then the odds are against you when you trust someone.

It’s fine to give people the benefit of the doubt, but you’re better off giving all people that benefit than trying to cherry-pick which ones you listen to. And if you’re receiving input from other people, you should have an algorithmic framework in place for processing that input, and you better not deviate from that framework.


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My advice about tl;dr is:

If you put it at the end, you’re doing it wrong.


Ask those queries while applying high voltages to the subject in question.

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As I read it, the “trust” in this scenario is determining if the critic is intending to help or harm, rather than giving their criticism any particular weight. From that sense, the issue isn’t whether to trust the criticism, but whether to trust the source enough to even pay attention.

Here’s my test-- If the person who is speaking brings to mind a time share condo salesman, or a used car huckster, back away and ignore what they tell you. There are a couple of easy indicators as well:

  1. Does he or she have a fucked up weird hairdo?

  2. Does he or she wear a shiny gold fake Rolex, or even a shiny real Rolex?

  3. Do they wave their arms like they are playing the accordion and say, “To be honest…” a lot?

  4. Do they make even ONE clearly dubious statement intended specifically to convince you to trust them?

It’s not that hard.


Yes, and that trust decision is inherently unreliable. And now there’s an additional unreliable judgment call in the mix: do I assign any weight to the opinion of this person I decided to trust? That secondary decision is so prone to bias that its result has no value at all.

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“I’m gonna level with you…”


Mass production demands identical consumers. It really gets nasty with industrialized dating, where we are literally the commodity being sold to each other. And since “the customer is always right”, the burden is always on the product to appear as wholesome as possible.

Problem with this paradigm, is that trust is earned, trust works both ways. If you’re an artist looking for honest feedback about your work, you should first be trustworthy in accepting criticism of your work-as distinct from criticism of your character. Online forums like this give us all an opportunity to be art critics, and equally an opportunity to be disgraced artists.

I think the rules need to change a bit when one is not peddling thoughts on a bbs or trying for laughs as a standup comedian or selling paintings, etc… I look for different feedback from friends than I look for from an audience. As much fun as I have rubbing ideas with others on this forum, y’all are fellow artists and audience members, not friends.

…and people who can’t tell the difference, are people I don’t try to make into friends.

This advice sounds good initially, but it’s VERY easy to defeat with “poison the well” or any sort of cult-style information control.

M: You must not listen to those who disagree with us. They don’t understand our vision.

V: Yes! They can’t bring me down with their negativity!

C: Are you sure, V? Have you checked the annual income declaration? How much do people actually make?

V: I don’t trust you! You must be employed by our competitor! (1) You don’t understand we are trying to create here! (2) You clearly don’t want me to succeed! (3) I don’t have to listen to your negativity! (4)

C: But all I did was asking you to look at your own company’s statement…

V: (puts fingers in ears, sings LALALALALALA!)

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good point.