A business colleague: “Sarah, let’s have a weekly call to stay up to date on our project”

Me: “Great. Stick with the same time and day? Wednesdays at 5:00?”

Colleague: “Yes. Speak to you next week”

Fast-forward to the next Wednesday at 5:00—no call. I think, Should I call him? Or is he to call me? We didn’t confirm. At 5:15, I call his cell phone, and it goes straight to voice mail, so I leave a message.

At 5:45, I call his office. He’s not available, so I send an e-mail. Shortly after, I receive a text that says, “Running late. Can we talk tomorrow?”

“Sure. I can do same 5:00 time or midday. Which do you prefer?”

Crickets. Until I follow up with an e-mail the next morning.

Mind you, my colleague is an extremely successful, thoughtful, intelligent person. I like him a lot and respect him even more. When we did finally speak, he was deeply apologetic and explained that he had been in another big meeting that ran overtime…and that he had put his phone away in order to be focused in that meeting. All well and good, but he and I clearly have different philosophies.

In our ultra-wired society, it would have taken him only 10 seconds to send a text saying he was tied up and would either be late or need to reschedule…and another 30 seconds to consult his calendar and send a text confirming a new time. If he couldn’t do it during the meeting, then later that evening. So why did I have to send the follow-up e-mail the next morning to check on the new date and time?

In my world, doing what you promise you will do is the single most important factor for success. Trust. Integrity. Respect. If you can’t be trusted on the basic stuff, how can someone trust you on the big things?

This is true in the office or at home. Think about the one time that your child missed his/her curfew and the loss in trust that resulted. Or when he promised there would be no drinking at the party he was attending, and sure enough, the police showed up and teens were arrested.

And any spouse whose partner has “strayed” knows the virtually impossible task of regaining your trust in that person. How can you ever feel confident again about where he/she is or who he is with? Let alone, if what you are being told is the truth.

It never ceases to amaze me how much time and money are wasted in life on the basics. Think about the amount of time you spend working your way through voice-activated phone systems for health care, credit cards, travel and the like…frustrating menus…lengthy hold times…representatives who may or may not know the answers to questions.

Also, think about how much time is wasted waiting for meetings to begin due to stragglers.

Is it me, or do you experience the same frustrations?

I know that I am stating the obvious—but by simply following these basic rules, your work and home life can go so much better…

  1. Be on time—whether it’s to a meeting or making a phone call. It’s as simple as that.
  2. If you’re running late, let someone know.
  3. Answer the phone—certainly for in-house people. As for external callers…years ago, I had a boss who owned a software-development company. He insisted that he got most of his business simply because he answered the phone. Sure, there is a whole lot of telemarketing going on and caller-ID is convenient, but you don’t know what opportunities are on the other end of the line.
  4. Call back. If someone you know and regularly do business with leaves you a message, call him back or respond in some way. It’s a simple courtesy.
  5. Do what you promise. If you say you’re going to send something, then send it. If you say you’re going to do something, then do it.
  6. If you can’t meet a deadline or keep a promise, communicate. Let your team or clients know that you won’t be delivering on expectations. It is better to forewarn and possibly come up with a Plan B than to disappoint right at the deadline.
  7. Follow up. It is simple as that. Don’t assume that “others” are handling things. Double-check that things are moving along as they should be.
  8. Answer e-mails. Like many of us, I am drowning in e-mails. And truthfully, there are some that I don’t answer—mostly unsolicited ones from people trying to sell me something. But I scan everything. Oftentimes, I am just copied on e-mails to keep me in the loop, so they don’t require responses. But for those that need an answer, I answer them or acknowledge that I have received them.
  9. Look at your e-mails, including calendar invites. I can’t tell you how many people say to me, “I didn’t know about that meeting,” but then when they check their e-mails, they see that they were, in fact, invited.

It is commonly thought that most business problems are very complicated. But the truth is that most problems in business and at home are rooted in communication. Give a heads-up. Call. Respond. Truly simple stuff. But without those bases covered, everything else gets so much more complicated.