This is not a post on a technical topic, but rather on a common pitfall for engineers – we like to point out something wrong the moment we see it. Understandably, we are very good at it. We are basically trained for it. When it comes to code reviews, or design reviews for complicated distributed system protocols, we want to be able to spot flaws as quickly as possible. Habits are usually formed with three factors – trigger, behavior and reward. It's the same thing that drives the "feel sad" -> "eat chocolate" -> "feel good" cycle. For engineers, the cycle is "see a problem" -> "spot flaws" -> "feel good". After this cycle gets reinforced, it leads to a more deeply rooted habit – must point out something wrong the moment you see it.
Trying to spot flaws in a system is not a bad thing. However, when we are dealing with people, the knee-jerk reflex of pointing out something is wrong might lead to negative feelings from the other side; and hurt relationships. This is when we should take a pause before pointing out something is wrong. Think about how to deliver the feedback before actually doing it. This "pause" is easier said than done, because of the strong habit we have formed over the years. It's like quitting sweets (or smoking if it applies to you). The trigger takes place – you are presented with a problem, but you have to hold the behavior; you cannot point it out immediately. This is hard. For me, asking me to not say something after seeing something wrong is unbelievably hard.
But once we identify this behavior as a habit, there are ways to break a habit. I found this TED talk about how mindfulness can help break habits. By simply being curious, it helps us be mindful about a trigger-behavior-reward cycle we are going through, and helps us break out of the habit. So next time, when you see a problem, something is wrong, you feel the urge to point it out, pause for a second, be curious about what's going on in your head, and let go. Then come back and figure out what's the best way to deliver the feedback if it still applies at all. Chances are, after a break, we would find ourselves making too many assumptions, and we are wrong ourselves.