Author Archives: Alex Zhu

The vulnerability in giving criticism

When you get complimented, you feel good about yourself and you feel good toward your complimenter. This is generally true even when you know the compliment isn’t genuine—knowing you’re being flattered doesn’t make the good feelings go away. We all understand this subconsciously, which is why it feels good to tell people nice things about them.

Conversely, when you get criticized, you feel bad about yourself and you feel bad toward your criticizer, especially when you’re criticized for something you’re insecure about. Your criticizer gets painted in your mind as a person passing judgment on you, telling you why you’re bad. This is often true even when you’re soliciting the criticism yourself and claiming you won’t take offense.

We all know this on some level, which is why it can be uncomfortable for us to give honest criticisms to people we care about. There’s a part of us that’s scared they’ll conceive of us as negative and judgmental, as people who secretly dislike them despite claims to the contrary… and we really don’t want people we like to think of us like this. In this way, giving honest negative feedback to someone we care about can actually be a huge display of vulnerability.

In light of this, I’ve come to see that asking a friend for honest criticism is more than just a mundane request for his observations. It’s also a request for his trust that I won’t reject him for his honest thoughts—which, for sensitive topics, can be an enormous thing to ask for.