BB #003: Responding To A Nasty Client Email

Jan 29, 2023
Angry email, Image by Andrea Piacquadio on

Read time: 3 minutes

Last week, I spoke with one of our general contractor clients.

She asked how I was doing.

I told her I was okay but just finished dealing with a job that got ugly at the end. I said, “I got a nasty email from one of the project team members that stressed me out. But I responded, kept it objective, and actually ended up getting a compliment.”

“What was the compliment?”, she asked.

“Someone from their team told me my response was professional.”

She agreed that having a professional response is one of her goals when she gets a nastygram from a client.

If your project is like most I’ve seen, there comes a point where someone sends a nasty email to try to get something done. Maybe it’s client to GC. Maybe it’s GC to sub. Maybe it’s sub to vendor. Some people- and even companies- use the tactic sparingly, while others use it every chance they get. It really comes down to culture.

Regardless, in a high intensity environment like construction, you should expect to get a nasty email at some point- no matter who you are.

Great project managers, estimators, and construction executives know that how they respond to nasty emails sets a tone for their relationships, and in my opinion follow a certain formula:

Let’s expand on each so you can learn how to keep your responses professional:

Step 1: Address Concerns

The first step to writing a professional email response is to immediately address the concerns of the email. There’s no use pretending this wasn’t a nasty email. So just get right into the meat.



Good morning [insert name],

Your email says that we were not done on the specified date, but we were done. It was the surrounding work that wasn’t done.


Short, sweet, direct.

If you are innocent, then come right out and say it.

If you're not innocent, then come out and say that too.



Good morning [insert name],

You are correct that we weren't done on the specified date. We added manpower and worked Saturdays for the last 6 weeks to make up the lost days. We are confident we will be done by [date]."


I'm a big believer that if you're wrong you should admit you're wrong.

The client is not dumb.

So don't use confusing language to try to get yourself out of it.

Just be professional:

  • Tell them you messed up
  • Tell them how you're fixing it
  • Tell them when you'll be done

If you do that, they may still give you grief, but at least they know you fix your problems.

Step 2: Provide backup

If you are claiming you are innocent, then words are only half the battle.

Make sure you have pictures or emails that prove your statement.

Just don’t be a jerk about providing them.

I used to get snarky and say things like, "It seems like your team isn't taking pictures, otherwise you would know it was done."

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

And unprofessional.

Here's a better way to provide backup:



See attached pictures showing our work complete. These are from [date]. After you review, give me a call and we can discuss if there's anything else you need.


Providing backup is professional.

It's that simple. 

Step 3: Acknowledge the nasty email

This is the most important step.

It will set the stage for the rest of the project.

If you get a nasty email and you respond in a nasty way?

The rest of the job will be nasty.

If you get a nasty email and accept it without fighting back?

The client won't think twice about sending you another nasty email in the future.

So you need to stand up for yourself in a polite way that acknowledges what is happening.



We understand the project is important and are committed to working with you to get it done as fast as possible regardless of any other circumstances. We don't want this to turn into a “documentation” battle. But if it does, then we have more pictures and emails we can send. And we will send frequent emails of incomplete work in front of us from here on out. So please let us know what we should expect over the next few months as we push to the finish.

We respect that you need to get done and will do what we can to help.


You don’t have to be a jerk, but you do have to let them know, “Hey- I’m not the enemy. I want to help. And I’ve been trying to help. But we have to protect ourselves, and we will. With all due respect.”

This is a lot easier to do if you have an organized team with lots of good emails and pictures already.

Step 4: Keep everything objective

The last thing great executives do before responding to a nasty email is read it out loud 4-5x.

Hearing the words will help you understand how your client will read the message in their head. And it will also help you realize areas where you aren't being objective.

You’ll be tempted to say things like:

“I can’t believe you’re sending us this after all we’ve done for you.”

“We have been nothing but a supportive contractor since day one!.”

“It seems like you’re upset that the jobs not done and you’re taking it out on us.”

Get rid of all of it.


Because it’s subjective.

Every person on the project could have a slightly different opinion about it. So just don’t venture into it.

Instead, keep it to things that CAN’T be argued:

  • Done vs. not done
  • Ready vs. not ready
  • Delayed vs. not delayed
  • Protected vs. not protected
  • Damaged vs. not damaged

If you have a picture or email to back those types of statements up, then no one can argue.

It just is.

Stick to the facts.

Here's what it looks like put all together:

So next time you get a nasty email, pull up this newsletter and run through the steps.

And remember that all the fighting in construction isn’t good for anyone.

You'll be a lot happier, less stressed, and more fulfilled if you handle a nasty email with professionalism rather than more nastiness.

That’s it for this week.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you here next week.

Happy growth, all.

Your friend,

Matt Verderamo

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