Have you ever tried to give feedback to an employee that resulted in an hour-long conversation with no resolution? If so, you may have experienced what I call the Drama Vortex.

The Drama Vortex is a conversation that spirals out of control and neatly evades the topic at hand. The Drama Vortex starts when an employee gives you excuses for not doing their work, missing deadlines, or making mistakes. Like the good leader you are, you want to find out what happened and coach them through it. So, you ask them and they say things like ‘I didn’t know’ or ‘It wasn’t my fault’ or ‘There’s too much work to do. I can’t do it all’.

You are on the edge of the Drama Vortex. Don’t get sucked in by saying things like ‘I told you last week’ or ‘We covered it in our last staff meeting’ or ‘Everyone is busy. Just get your work done.’ The response back will be more excuses, deflection, manipulation, or guilt trips. You will get pulled into a back and forth conversation that is going nowhere. So, what do you do?

Communicate Clear Expectations

The first way to avoid the Drama Vortex is by setting clear expectations up front. According to a Gallup survey 50% of employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work on a daily basis. I believe it. Most managers aren’t setting clear expectations up front. Why not? They assume employees know what they are supposed to do. Assumptions are a sure-fire way to end up in the Drama Vortex.

Meet Regularly

The second way to avoid excuses is to have regular one-on-one meetings with individual employees. Talk to them about what they’re doing right. In other words, coach to the good as well as the not-so-good. If the only time you talk to your team is when there is a problem of course they will be defensive and make excuses.  If your employees aren’t expecting bad news every time you talk to them they will be more likely to take ownership.

Be Empathetic and Firm

The third way to avoid excuses is to be empathetic to their situation while insisting upon adherence to the expectations. If someone says they didn’t get their work done because they were too busy you can acknowledge that it is very busy but the work needs to get done. Then ask for ideas on what they will do differently the next time. This leads to buy-in which is the best way to eliminate excuses.

To recap, the best way to avoid the Drama Vortex and Stop Excuses in Their Tracks is to set clear expectations, have regular meetings to talk about how they are doing, and use empathy while holding people accountable the stated expectations.

Avoid the Drama Vortex and Stop Excuses in Their Tracks