Turning Criticism into Opportunities

Criticism can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially when it’s directed towards something you’ve had a hand in creating. It’s typical to feel a “System 1” mode of thought when hearing something negative, which is a term used extensively in the book Thinking, Fast and Slow (buy it). In a nutshell, humans often react emotionally and instinctively to stimulus, which is sometimes a poor way to handle the situation – good for dealing with door knobs and hot stoves, not so great for conversation. I’m guilty of this, as others have been, and it’s something I’m continuously pondering as I write this post. Experience has shown me that using a “System 2” mode of thought, which is more logical and deliberate, can result in harvesting the opportunity that comes with criticism.

Putting aside the small percentage of criticism that comes from sources that are simply there to drag you down without hope, much of it comes from folks who are passionate and engaged with whatever it is you’re doing. They put forth the effort to connect with you and deliver some bad news, which requires their energy and time. Rather than becoming defensive and lashing out, realize the opportunity that has been presented and start up a dialog.

I love lemons.

Within the walls of an enterprise data center, this could be a great moment to clear up a communication problem or educate on how something works – Ethan Banks and I try to demonstrate this during our Datanauts Silo Series shows. When I was working as a virtualization engineer, as an example, I had a network engineer approach me with some acidic commentary about my vSwitch designs as it related to NFS storage ports. My lack of LACP usage for the ESXi host’s NIC ports were called into question, which were plugged into his Nexus 5K/2K arrangement. Rather than become defensive, I accepted this as a spectacular opportunity to dig deeper into how the network operates for both physical and virtual switches, especially since I didn’t know how our physical network was puzzled together and was new to the concept of a FEX (Fabric Extender). We both presented our view of the technical world, exchanged notes, drew out designs, and realized that both designs could become better through collaboration. The network engineer now has buy-in and some ownership of the design and I learned a great deal of the limitations and caveats presented with a FEX, which is great! We’re now equally invested in success and smarter for the exchange.

Using System 2 thinking for criticism also works wonders for non data center issues. Jeffrey Snover is one of my favorite examples, as I follow him on Twitter to see how Windows Server and PowerShell releases are progressing. As you can imagine, not everyone loves Microsoft stuff – even their scripting language – and will often fire over volleys to Mr. Snover. He’ll then latch onto the comments and take the feedback quite seriously, probing deeper into the issue and building a user story for his team’s backlog and development pipeline. Or, he’ll offer workarounds and other architectural advice. His tenacity and engagement factor should be applauded. In short – he does a great job at turning criticism into opportunities, proving that the model is functional.

Now, if I could only write a PowerShell script to give me more hours per day …