We've all heard it. Maybe we've even partaken in it. Someone makes a comment that is generally correct or reasonably illustrates a point. Perhaps the statement was incomplete or too vague. Either way, the "well, technically" brigade comes out in force to pick your pithy remark apart with minutia. How to react?

I'll be honest, I hate when people do this to me. From my point of view, it feels like they are just showing off and trying to one-up me. I maintain a free Cisco evolving technologies book and once claimed that "NETCONF is to YANG as HTTP is to HTML". This phrase was so popular that internationally acclaimed networkers even tweeted it on Twitter because of its simplicity and conciseness.

Within hours, a tweet came in saying the claim was wrong, and provided some corrective technical advice. I didn't immediately reply. For a day or so, I was butt-hurt, my ego bruised. I got called out in front of thousands of people, some of which were my customers. I decided to dedicate a few minutes of my life to really think about it. In reality, I was wrong. I was writing a technical book and I was flat-out peddling a falsehood. I realized that my frustration was baseless. I needed to get over myself.

I reached out to the engineer who corrected me and sent him an alternative explanation, even mentioning in the book that I had been wrong. The engineer was extremely grateful that I had listened. He even praised my commitment to technical accuracy. He is a true expert on the topic whereas I was just learning it at the time. Imagine if I had started yet another Internet argument over it. That would surely have put my vanity and arrogance on display. This engineer was genuinely trying to help.

What happens when someone is truly trying to one-up you? That does happen; ask me how I know. I was listening to a highly technical audiobook back in 2013 which was about 25 hours long. The author was slightly inaccurate on a minor detail, not completely wrong. At a high-level, the statement was fine. I pounced at the opportunity to show this "senior" network guy who was boss. I fired off a tough-guy email raising his folly. I did not receive a reply, nor did I deserve one. My point is simple; know the difference between people legitimately trying to help you improve by taking constructive criticism (even if delivered curtly) and those just trying to instigate a pointless competition. Reply to and respect the former; ignore provocation with the latter.

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