As I read posts by professionals on social media and in discussions IRL, I keep hearing a phrase that grates on me. It is especially commonplace in nonprofit discussions.  “Best Practice.” I constantly see people asking others to share “Best Practices.” Or stating, “Best Practice is to…”

Far too often, what is really meant is, “What has worked for you” or “I tried this, and it seemed to work.” More importantly, it worked for that person/organization in a specific set of circumstances, at a specific time, for a specific purpose, with the skills available, directed at a specific audience. Maybe it’s worked a few times with a few different variables.

I come from the clinical world where “Best Practices” has an actual meaning. It means a way of doing something that has been clinically, scientifically, and statistically validated. Basically, it has been tried in many venues and has proven, consistent results. It’s not just something one person/organization tried a few times and seemed to work.

What’s the Big Deal?

So, many of you are probably asking, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a phrase. Everyone knows what it means.” Well, no. If it’s just a phrase, then choose an accurate phrase to convey what you really mean.

Instead, people select “best” as their description. From a language and psychological perspective, this cuts off conversation and thinking.

Conversation at a meeting:  Person A: “I think we should do X.” Person B: “Well, BEST PRACTICE is Y.” Where does that conversation go? Nowhere. How can you NOT want to do Best Practice? Even though “best practice” is what Person B read last night, thinks is a good way to do something, or had work in the past?

In fact, I often see it used this was as a cudgel. Again, who can be against “Best Practices?”

And once you’ve found the “Best Practice,” you’ve discovered the “Best.” It inhibits innovation because you’ve already found the “best.” By definition, there is nothing better. So, why would you or anyone try to find better…which..can’t…exist…because you have the “best.”

Words matter.

Action Step

It’s simple.

Remove the phrase “Best Practice” from your lexicon. Instead, say what you mean. “I tried this and it worked for me. How about we give it another shot and see how it goes?”


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