I fly a lot for business, and overall I love it. For me, long flights have often been a chance to read, think, plan for the future, and work on plots for the mystery novels I write (the latest is The Secrets You Keep).

But oy, being on airplanes these days is so often NOT relaxing or inspiring, is it? Even though we all aren’t subjected to having our teeth knocked out by security and then being dragged off the plane, we face to so many indignities.

A couple of weeks ago I flew to Richmond, Virginia for a fantastic book and author event, sponsored by the amazing Richmond Junior League. On the return leg of the journey, American Airlines came close to bringing me to tears.

I arrived at the Richmond airport at 7:30 a.m. and after being told my flight to NYC was canceled due (understandably) to weather conditions in the city, I was flown to Charlotte, North Carolina (huh? No explanation) to pick up an 11:30 a.m. flight to New York’s LaGuardia from there.

That flight to the city left on time, but after two hours in the air, we were diverted back to Charlotte because the weather still hadn’t cleared. Again, understandable. But after American canceled the flight altogether, they just let passengers disgorge into the Charlotte airport with BARELY ANY DIRECTION. It was just every man, woman, and child for him or herself.

All other flights to New York that day were either canceled or full. Finally, at 8:30 p.m. that night, I boarded a flight to Allentown PA, where my husband picked me up.

The weather wasn’t American’s fault, but they made me feel so stressed, vulnerable, and powerless.  Not because I had to wait, but rather because they provided so little information. I didn’t know what was going on. No one said anything.

It made me think how stressful failure to communicate can be in other situations, including work. If you’re a boss, it’s essential to keep people in the loop. When you leave them in the dark, it makes them confused, cranky, scared, or all of the above.

Some quick guidelines:

  • When you’re a new boss, let people know your vision/mission as soon as possible. Of course, you can’t tell them everything yet (because you don’t know it yourself), but you can give them a hint. When my terrific boss at Hearst magazine took over the magazine division, she told us, “We’re going to blow the dust off the curtains.” Nice. Sounded exciting and yet not threatening.
  • Tell people explicitly what you expect of them in their job—and what the deadlines are. Don’t make them guess. 
  • If you’re crushed with work and can’t get back to someone in a timely way—about a proposal, let’s say–at least shoot the person an email explaining the situation. I’ve been dealing with someone lately in a professional setting who just won’t respond to my emails, and it translates as horribly rude.
  • If someone on your staff isn’t performing well, don’t let it fester. Let the person know your concerns. Ask for their feedback. Listen. Come up with a plan. 
  • If there are rumors buzzing about a problem in the company or a situation in your department that has blown up, reassure people (unless that would be a lie) and/or promise to get them relevant information when you have it. Let them know you’re looking out for them.
  • If you have to pass over someone on your team for promotion, tell him you appreciate his ambition and explain what he needs to do next time to nail the position.  

Telling people what they need to know is actually one of the gutsiest things you can do as a boss because in some of these situations you may feel stressed yourself or uncomfortable about what has to be said. But sharing will pay off for you. Informed people perform better and reward your transparency and forthcomingness with loyalty.