A couple of years ago, I signed a publishing contract with a large publisher who I had never worked with before. Not long after the contract was agreed, I received an email asking me what I expected of its publishing team during the course of our working relationship. I have to say, I was impressed. Not only did it make me valued as an author, but it gave me the opportunity to really reflect on what a good working relationship really meant.

What was it I valued most about working with other people?

Firstly, I focused on the aspects that frustrated me the most: the times where people didn’t return important emails or calls, or arrived unforgivably (and unapologetically) late to meetings, or paid months rather than weeks later. Thankfully, I have only had a couple of those experiences during my career, but certainly enough not to want them repeated.

In my experience, the most productive relationships are based on certainty and reliability (boring as this may sound). The best clients are the ones who always return emails promptly, call when they say they will, pay within the agreed guidelines, and are never more than a few minutes late to meetings.  Being reliable builds trust, and as we know, trust is the cornerstone of every working relationship.

Granted, I am a time freak who is always early to meetings and panics at the thought of even being five minutes late, but wouldn’t work and daily life be so much easier if people were a bit more reliable?

Think about how frustrating it is when you’re waiting in all day for a delivery to arrive and . . . nothing. Or when you’re sitting at an airport feeling frustrated because nobody has bothered to tell you why your flight has been delayed; or waiting in a doctor’s office with no idea when you’re going to be seen. Doesn’t it feel better when someone actually tells you the reason for the no-show or the delay? Doesn’t it make it easier when people explain and communicate why? Isn’t it better when we’re not left questioning what’s going on?

So, here’s the thing. If you know you can’t respond to an important email, or take a call, or make a meeting on time, why not take a moment to let the other person know? And if it’s not obvious enough, include an apology for the inconvenience. Generally, people will accept a certain amount of delay if they are informed first (even if it is bad news), and will always appreciate a sincere apology. Uncertainty is hard to deal with. In fact, as recent research shows we tend to find uncertainty more stressful than the bad news itself.

In the end, I delivered my feedback to the publisher, listing reliability as my main priority for a smooth working relationship (followed by courtesy). And I am pleased to report several years on, our relationship is stronger than ever.