In construction, even the most well-planned projects can hit unexpected bumps in the road. When a project goes sideways and a client becomes dissatisfied, it is essential for contractors to adopt a proactive and empathetic approach to quickly address the situation. In this guide, we will explore a comprehensive plan of action that contractors can follow to not only smooth things over with an angry client, but also strengthen the relationship for future successful projects together.

Understanding the Client’s Perspective

The first step in resolving any conflict is understanding the other person’s point of view. It’s crucial for contractors to empathize with their clients and see things from their perspective. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that they are “out to get you”. Ask yourself, “Why would a rational person be feeling the way they are feeling?” This simple question can help you put yourself in their shoes and gain valuable insights into their frustrations.

Imagine, for a moment, if the tables were turned and it was your property that experienced similar issues during a construction project. What would you expect from the contractor in such a scenario? By considering this role reversal, you can better empathize with the client’s position and gain insights into their desired outcomes.

Acknowledging the Client’s Feelings

At the heart of any conflict resolution is the need to be heard and understood. In these tense situations, clients simply want their feelings and concerns acknowledged. Not only that, they also want you to quickly remedy the issues and consequences that your company is causing them to experience. You must address their frustrations with sincerity. Let them know that their feelings are valid and that you genuinely care about finding a solution.

Avoid Defensiveness

When receiving criticism from a dissatisfied client, it’s natural to feel defensive. However, defensiveness can escalate the situation further. Instead, focus on remaining calm and composed. Remember, the client’s concerns are not a personal attack on you, but rather a reflection of their expectations and experiences with your company. Instead, view their grievance as valuable feedback that you can use to improve your company and demonstrate your commitment to quality service.

Repercussions of Extreme Measures

If a client’s dissatisfaction isn’t addressed and cured promptly, they might resort to more extreme measures. This could include actions such as cancelling the contract, replacing your company on the project, withholding payment, or worse. They could also resort to negative online reviews or spreading negative word-of-mouth to others. Such actions can not only damage your professional reputation but also lead to serious financial and even legal consequences. It is much better and far cheaper to address their concerns at the complaint stage than it is to be dragged into a lawsuit down the line.

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The Contractor’s Plan of Action

1. Allow Time to Cool Down

When you receive a complaint or notice of a project going off track, it’s crucial to first control your emotions. Avoid immediately firing back in anger. Instead, give yourself time to cool down and gain perspective. If time permits, wait until the next day before responding. This delay can help you craft a more composed and empathetic message, while also allowing the client to more reasonably contemplate your response. You owe it to yourself to be professional and consider their point of view with a clear and level head.

2. Initiate a Personal Phone Call

While email may seem convenient, a personal phone call is much more effective in conveying empathy and understanding. Begin the conversation by acknowledging the client’s feelings and expressing your genuine concern about the situation. Let them know that you have taken the time to consider their message and are going to take action. Use a statement like, “I spent some time thinking about your concerns and I want to apologize for what has happened with the project. It is unacceptable and we’re going to take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

3. Communicate Openly and Honestly

During the phone call, be open and honest about the current status of the project and any limitations your company is facing. You’d be surprised at how understanding customers can be when you commit to proactive and forthright communication. Transparency builds trust, and the client will appreciate your willingness to share the challenges you’re encountering. Providing context is key, so don’t just assume they client knows all of the obstacles you are trying to overcome. Avoid excuses and own up to the mistakes that your company has made.

4. Collaborate to Find Solutions

If you cannot accommodate the client’s requests completely, let them know what specific limitations you are facing. By inviting them to help solve your problem, you are letting them know that you value their input and want to work together to make things right. Discuss potential solutions that you can offer and ask for their feedback. This will ensure that their concerns are taken into consideration when determining your path forward. This collaborative approach shifts the dynamic from adversarial to cooperative, getting you back on the same team.

5. Send a Follow-Up Summary Email

After the phone call, send a follow-up email summarizing the key points discussed during the conversation. This email should serve as a reference point for both parties and provide a written record of the action items agreed upon. Avoid shirking blame or dwelling on past mistakes. Move on from old issues, and instead, focus on the positive steps your company will take going forward.

6. Stick to New Promises

Perhaps most importantly, you must ensure that you fulfill the promises made during the conversation and outlined in the summary email. Following through on your word is crucial to rebuilding trust. By delivering on your commitments, you demonstrate your dedication to rectifying the situation and regaining your credibility.

7. Learn and Safeguard for the Future

Every experience, even challenging ones, can be a valuable lesson. Take time to reflect on what led to the project’s setbacks and identify areas for improvement. Update your standard operating procedures on a platform like Subtrak to prevent similar issues from arising in the future. Don’t be afraid to share any and all lessons learned with your team. When handled appropriately, project failures can become valuable teaching moments for others and create a more capable and prepared company moving forward. Continuous improvement, not perfection, is key to maintaining strong client relationships on future projects.


While projects occasionally veer off course, the way you handle yourself and the situation can make all the difference in maintaining a positive client relationship. By embracing empathy, open communication, and a collaborative approach to problem solving, contractors can navigate through challenges and emerge with stronger partnerships. Remember, the client just wants to feel understood and heard. By following a well-thought-out plan of action, you can not only address the current issue but also lay the foundation for strengthened collaboration in the future.

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Navigating Client Relationships When Projects Go Sideways was originally published in Modern Contracting on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.