We all have the best intentions, but the truth is that life happens. We can't always fulfill our obligations, we let people down, and we lose customers/team members/colleagues/ based on that. How is the best way to handle life's complications in business?
Be Honest: I was working on a project for Derek Sivers the founder of CDBaby when my father died. I was in the midst of what was probably the most difficult moment in my life and I knew I couldn't fulfill my obligation to him. I sent him a short honest email and he was incredibly gracious. I'll never forget that he was kind when I was at my worst and found someone else to do his project. If I had stretched out the project, tried to do it in that mess of a state, or did it poorly I would have hated myself. It was better to just tell it like it was, even though that seemed really hard and heavy at the moment.
Don't Exaggerate: If you have a cold, you can work, but if you have a fever and are delusional from cold medicine you probably can't. Don't be the kind of person who cries wolf every time you stub your toe. Your clients will get exhausted by your constant chaos and look elsewhere and when something really bad happens they won't have an ounce of sympathy.
Be Clear: If you really can't fulfill your obligation don't hem and haw. Nothing is worse than telling someone you think you can do something when you know deep in your heart that you can't. Cut the cord, strip off the bandaid, just tell them all ready. Do not drag out a situation because you want to make everyone feel better. Just clearly state what you can and can't do.
Do It: When you say you are going to do something, do it. Don't forget the meeting, forget the call, skip out on a tough moment - do it all as fully as you can.
Life really is messy, and we are all in it together. If you consistently work from a place of honesty and clarity your clients will understand the occasional upheaval and in the mean time just get to work!
Flickr: Library of Congress