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Want to improve in your career? Try these three difficult words

Want to improve in your career? Try these three difficult words

It’s been an interesting start to a difficult year, but as long as you don’t fall for the idea that you’re already clever, you can always count on learning something from a challenging environment.

There are several words in our professional vocabularies that are underutilised because they’re not pretty, not immediately gratifying and not fun to say.

Here are a few of them and, crucially, here’s what you can gain in your career by using them:


Elton John told us it was the hardest word to say and he might be right. Our business made a mistake on a project at the end of last year. We tried to tell ourselves that we didn’t make the mistake, it was our supplier. Which was our second mistake.

In this game, you absolutely have to take responsibility for the players you bring on to your team. It becomes even more important if you’re running a ‘lean’ operation, managing a network of specialists, partners and delivery vendors. It becomes compounded as the range of deliverables we offer continues to expand, as we move our core business upstream into ‘thinking’ rather than just ‘doing’.

But I digress, (which a natural human reaction when you realise you’ve erred). It took us longer than we should have, but once we put our arms around the problem, acknowledged the damage from the clients’ perspective and started working our butts off to correct it, things started to heal.

We’ve taken the position that the healing is never quite done and we’re much more alert to both the potential for error (greater oversight of partners’ work) and the potential for damage (closer communication with our clients post-delivery).

It didn’t kill us to say ‘sorry’. With the right approach, it can make you stronger.


When you’re in a professional services industry, naturally you want to offer lots of services. It’s not that you want to offer all of the services, but you do want to offer everything your client needs. Which can lead you to accepting (or pitching for) projects that you’re not set up for, not experienced in or, even worse, not brilliant at.

The simple advice: just say ‘no’.

We’ve been through this recently at Wordsearch with our larger development clients who want to talk to us about placemaking. We know a great deal about it and know how to use it in a marketing context, but it’s a distinct professional skill (like architecture or landscape design), so we’ve resisted taking on pure ‘placemaking’ projects until we were ready.

We’ve since recruited specialists in the field and developed a separate business unit called Wordsearch Place, which works with developers on integrating different types of placemaking into their product. It aligns perfectly with the core marketing skills of Wordsearch itself, but it is a separate, distinct skillset. In our case, saying ‘no’ for a while bought us the time to create the conditions where we could confidently (and professionally) say ‘yes’ more often.


This one is actually a personal lesson. In an exciting new development of my mid-life crisis, I’ve decided I wanted to get good at riding my dirtbike.

For a while, I tried to have a wheel on both the tarmac and the gravel but, ultimately, I realised that if I wanted to seriously improve at a new sport at this stage of life, I’d have to focus. So, I said goodbye to my beloved roadbike. Which wasn’t easy.

The ‘dirtbike dilemma’ reminded me of the several times in my career where I thought I should get more ‘well-rounded’ in my creative skills by adding some art-direction techniques and learning how to use Photoshop & Indesign.

I’m glad I resisted because I ended up concentrating on the thinking rather than the doing.

In that case, saying ‘Goodbye’ to the idea of multi-skilling ultimately led me to the professional place where I’m happiest and (arguably) most effective.

Maybe it will also get me to the place where I can not only jump a dirtbike consistently but land it as well.

Over to you: hit the comments below and tell me which ‘difficult’ words you’ve found most useful in your career.

This blog post was originally published on our partner site, Firebrand Talent.

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