When you have a unique level of experience in a certain area, have written a book about it, author a blog on it, speak about it at conferences and events and regularly offer thoughts on the topic on other platforms, often when asked, there’s a lot of good. But, there are also a few unfortunate side effects.

I want to talk about one in particular today, which is that when you recommend something, some people take it as you saying that your recommendation is the only way to accomplish said task. And if it doesn’t match with what they do, they are offended and feel as if their knowledge and their skills have been challenged.

When, in reality, all you did was make a simple, general recommendation for a certain set of circumstances, they take it in a polarizing way, believing that you are saying that all other methods of accomplishing the goal are garbage.

I’ve said it many times before and I will say it again: there is no one path to successful community management. What is best for one community may not be what is best for another.

It’s so awkward when people don’t grasp that and then they suggest something to be contrarian, as if them having success doing something other than what I said, somehow makes me look foolish or wrong. Really? I believe in myself, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think that highly of myself, to think that what I say is the only way and, more importantly, the only way to be successful.

You are not proving me wrong, when you say you had success doing something other than what I recommended generally, you are proving me right because what I promote, above all else, is flexibility to create your own standards for your individual community and situation. There are few absolutes in community management and it is important to remember that you (and I) are doing it wrong – or, at least, someone will always believe you are.

I put my knowledge and experience out there and with that, comes a certain expectation of exposure and vulnerability. When I spoke at indieconf, I summed up public speaking as essentially saying, “here is what I know – judge me.” Because that is what people do.

But, I guess what I am saying is don’t be one of those people who insists on viewing everything people say as an absolute and then comparing yourself to them. Instead, take it as an idea, a suggestion, a tip that works for some, and use it to grow your own knowledge.

I know this may be a somewhat unpopular thought and some might take it as me saying I don’t want comments on my articles. It is a bit more nuanced than that. I am a big believer in intention and I want people to add to the discussion and extend it with more ideas, not to seek to simply prove me wrong because a recommendation is taken as the only way. Let’s dig deeper than that.

I am always learning and I encourage you to do the same. If you go around telling people “oh, you did it that way? Well, I did it this way and it worked for me!,” you are not learning. I read articles written by others about community management, I attend conference talks on the topic by other people and learn from how others manage their community in various ways.

There are certainly some exceptions, but they are rare. I believe that the best are always getting better and if I am going to be the best or, at least, get better, it is going to be by doing and by absorbing what others do and say.

So, I try not to comment on articles or step up to a mic at a conference and say “you said this worked for you, but I actually did well with this method.” Instead, I recognize that these people are sharing their knowledge and I absorb it, consider it and then allow it to improve me, if possible – or I discard it.

If, while I am reading something or attending a conference talk, I am already thinking about my response, that likely means that I am failing at something important: listening. And that’s the key.