Nasty-Grams: The Ever Avoidable Bad Attitude Business Tax


We’ve all sent them, we’ve all received them. Nasty-Grams are disruptive, destructive in any relationship and unprofessional but common in the business world. When it comes to abusive and dysfunctional communication, it’s important to a healthy practice to enforce a 0 tolerance policy. So read on as we explore how to confront, correct and prevent nasty-grams and demonstrate how to put a price tag on dysfunctional business communications, and share the financial incentives for healthy exchanges. This is easily communicated in a business relationship when you can track the behavior to dollar amounts for you, your clients, etc. . Put simply, there is a high cost to nasty-grams, as there should be. And on the other side of the equation, though we all get frustrated, and  the unleashing of emotions to paper/email is a great venting exercise, it’s important to understand and separate the therapeutic  purpose of venting and the goals/objectives of the communication. To put it simply, vent in draft form and throw it away- re-write with clear objectives in mind.

What Qualifies as a Nasty-Gram?

Any correspondence sent or received that instills strong negative feelings, usually with unnecessary emotional attacks and confrontations. Nasty-grams are subjective. A nasty-gram may be:

  • Disrespectful and manipulative – Communications attempting to get you to act in a certain way out of fear, obligation, or guilt. The instant you feel you’re responding/dealing with manipulative tactics, you’ll likely get fired up. Nasty.
  • Bad management/asleep at the wheel – a persistent string of emails from one party to another, requesting chaotic shifts in project direction, without the slightest notion of accountability for the outcome or effects. These are the nasty-grams of bad  management. Note: always be contractually clear as to who is responsible for steering the ship in any project.
  • Vulgar, emotional outbursts and accusations – Your standard chew you up and spit you out, exchanges where one party accuses the other of incompetence, especially before requesting information, clarification or arranging a meeting.  This usually requires multiple steps of review before sending a response.

The High Cost of Nasty-Grams

How Much time is wasted responding to nasty-grams? Consider the factors involved:

  • Processing time – the time required to deal with the emotional trauma/turmoil inflicted from reading the message.
  • Translation -Deciphering valid points, concerns, criticisms, amongst offensive/negative and/or confrontational content.
  • Planning -Deciding whether the next action is a response, meeting request, phone call, cancellation/termination, etc.
  • Drafting a Response ( Drafting and then tossing a go f*ck yourself message, throwing that out, and deciding what is relevant to continuing the engagement in a positive and professional manner.)
  • Legal review -Often, nasty-grams have some level of accusation or threat, in which case, the contract and work assignments need to be reviewed before sending a proper response.
  • Emotional sensitivity review- you can be correct and accurate in a response, and yet to an emotionally compromised party with a negative mindset, your response can be viewed as insensitive, heartless, etc. You have to decide if you are going to pamper the offender, confront them, or re-establish the professional tone/code of conduct of the engagement; a perilous journey needless to say.
  • Energy-depletion- The discouraging element of negativity introduced into a professional/personal relationship is a buzz kill.
  • Priority shift- Related to the above- negative communications are often met with negative actions, and more often with passive aggressive actions that include, reducing the level of effort and priority placed on a particular offender’s project.

So by sending a nasty-gram, you’ve probably killed the excitement and energy around your project, severely hampered your relationship, which in turn, slows down the effort, requires a serious, well thought response, and in the professional world, this takes real time and costs real dollars.

10x = The amount of time required to respond to a nasty-gram, let alone riddled within it a request for clarification/data/information.

Reality Check

If you’re getting billed per hour, or have time caps  on contracts, this stifles real work immediately! This gets you 1/10th the deliverables in the same amount of time, all because you got prematurely nasty, negative, aggressive & accusatory without requesting clarity or just the facts. If the contractor wasn’t screwing you before, they’re quite possibly pondering it now that they’ve seen this side of you.

Who deserves to pay for it? Nasty-Grams are unprofessional, period. There are plenty of ways to get clarity and information required to make an informed decision, without getting nasty. The sender of said nasty-gram should either expect an increase in costs or a decrease in productivity.  Hence, these are real $$$ reasons to avoid sending them.

There is also a high cost to tolerating nasty-gram sending client/contractor. Consider the following:

  • In the grand scheme of thing, is it worth the emotional turmoil, headache and migraine? What is the $$ value of a migraine and tolerance of difficult personalities with these bad communication practices?
  • How much of your TEE (Time, Effort and Energy) are you pouring into this relationship? Are the returns so outrageously awesome that they warrant tolerating abuse? In most cases and dollar amounts, in the long run, a lingering negative feeling isn’t worth it (contrary to what corporate culture would have you believe).
  • You should certainly get a discount or find another vendor who will offer an equal or even higher price.  I’ll pay more to deal with a higher quality of person.

How-to Confront a Nasty-Gram Head-On

Often times, the nasty gram is a critical assault of one’s work effort or lack there of. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but often at a higher price. When receiving a nasty-gram from a client, there are a few things to consider:

  • Is this a one time event OR is this how they communicate?   Be willing to fire people from your personal and professional life who  resort to disrespectful communication tactic such as explicit or implied,  blackmail tactics, emotional guilt tripping, Rohde Warrior has great mantra for life here:  I fire people from my life who consistently demonstrate disrespectful behavior, directed at me or directed at others. These are not relationships that affect your life.
  • It doesn’t just have to be directed at you
  • Decide if it’s your job to derive points of value/meaning and truth in the nasty-gram. It takes time to translate nasty-grams into more useful communication. Discerning action items, next steps, explaining work,  and composing a response with a higher degree of emotional sensitivity is very challenging. This is a grey area of business communication, but remember this: time is money.

Here is an example of a confrontational response to a nasty-gram that had all three types in one email: the asleep at the wheel, accusatory and manipulative elements.

I’m more than happy to provide clarity and insights into my work on your behalf. Responding to emails and abrupt, chaotic shifts in direction are very time consuming. The more often it happens, the more time it takes to accommodate  requests, and get changes off the ground. Any time spent on your behalf is billable time. If the issue or challenge is made more complex by accusation/conflict, more billable time is required to navigate the challenge.  So it’s in your best interest to ask questions, gather information, and ask for clarity rather then request a meeting or start firing statements of liability/failure.

Bare in mind, in many cases, nasty-gram dynamics are no-win situations, so it’s best to uphold your principles, state the facts and let the other party self-select themselves out of the engagement. Some times you can get them into a meeting and clear things up, but more often than not, you’re delaying the inevitable break-up and lengthening an abusive relationship/dysfunctional communication dynamic.

How-to Prevent  Yourself From Sending a Nasty-Gram

The key to avoiding the nasty-gram environment is to be aware of yourself and cultivate great management skills. If you’re working with vendors and contractors you must learn how to be an awesome manager. You have to accept the sacrifice of a certain amount control and perfectionism, for automation, freedom and preservation of your own TEE and sanity as well – to see the venture through to completion.

The captain of the ship isn’t always at the helm. Choose a direction. Stay the course.  When in doubt or trouble arises, ask questions. Check-in with your crew. request the info you need. assess the situation. We’re always measuring, ask for the data.

  • Ask for input/ possible effects/outcomes when you feel it might be time to change tactics.
  • Ask for information- often times our own ignorance makes it easy to be upset
  • Request a meeting. Whether face to face, or video conference, don’t leave it to paper and your fearful  imagination if you have concerns.
  • Write down a few things you’d like to understand better and request a “State of your efforts” meeting.  Be sure to specify if you’d like them to bring data- and if there’s anything specific you’d like to see, be call it out!

Bad Practice:
Sending impulsive, incendiary (even the underhanded BS) emails of accusations/assertions of failure without first gathering information.  This is the NastyGram.

Nastygrams demand response. Formulating the response often becomes strategic and time consuming. Gathering information and providing explanations to help create understanding or provide clarity on your behalf, reduces the amount of time I can spend doing the things that I’m contracted  to do.

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Nastygrams are bad news all around.  A little Buddhist Wisdom: Often times, when we are angry, we are being short-sighted. We’re missing pieces of the puzzle, and forgetting the big picture and effects of expressing our anger impulsively. Being aware of this is an important step. Reach through the perceived problem with compassion. The parties involved likely have a vested interest in your satisfaction with their work.

Sales is the highest paid profession (in general) it also has the highest reliance on soft skills. If you deal with customers, you need to cultivate advanced emotional kung fu and relationship skills.

Requesting clarity and info or a meeting is better, but consider first, sending awesome-grams. Who are you working with right now who deserves to hear how awesome they are and how much you appreciate their relationship? send them an awesome-gram.

How-to Avoid Sending a NastyGram

Via Email

1. In an impulsive email message, remove the address from the to: field, and go ahead and vent.  This allows you to express your initial rage/frustration.

2. When you’re finished, discard the message or simply start a new one. This time, try to transform it into a request for clarity and understanding. Request more information first. You can always get upset later, when you’ve got a clear picture. More times than not though, what you get in return is a greater understanding of the challenge at hand.

Via Social/Text from Mobile

Even old, outdated phones have note applications. Use them. There’s no excuse for sending impulsive nasty-grams on the fly. use the sticky/post-it note app on a smartphone or text editor on your computer. Write down your message there. Let it all out. Tell mama all about it. Then start over and think about the result or outcome you really want and jot down the important items  to convey.

If you liked this post or have some helpful feedback, send us an awesome-gram. Leave a comment below.



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