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Managing the employee with 1,000 excuses

Connor (Producer) (00:00):
The following episode was recorded before the coronavirus pandemic, but we still thought the topics were useful and applicable today. Stay safe out there and we hope you enjoy.

Drew Fortin (00:13):
Hello and welcome to In Confidence: Face Your Workplace. A podcast that seeks to reveal the true blockers of confidence at work, on the job, with a boss, or in their career from real callers. So they can face their workplace and achieve their goals. In most instances, the names, people, and workplace information shared have likely been altered to protect the identity of those involved. I am your host, Drew Fortin, and I’m here with my cohost…

Alyssa Dver (00:37):
Alyssa Dver. We are excited today to do another episode. I want to remind everyone that the comments and suggestions that get talked about today are specific to the situation of the caller. However, we do hope you find them applicable to situations that you may be dealing with as well. And I want to welcome on this episode, Jill, are you with us Jill?

Drew Fortin (00:57):
Hey Jill.

Jill (00:57):
Yes, hi!

Alyssa Dver (00:57):
Welcome. We’re so grateful that you’re calling in. We have a little bit of notes here about some of the stuff that you’re dealing with and the introduction here that I’d like you to take away and give us a better sense is that you have somebody who talks a lot and doesn’t really take, take their own advice. Really they’re talking and complaining, but they don’t change. Is that correct?

Jill (01:18):
Yes. Yes, definitely.

Alyssa Dver (01:21):
Oh gosh. Can you give us a little bit more detail what that really looks like and sounds like?

Jill (01:26):
Yeah, definitely. One-On-Ones are pretty tough. You know, this this person comes in he has a lot of energy and you know, I think he has a lot of great ideas but there’s just a lot of conflict and drama that happens between our one-on-ones each week with other folks around the office. And he comes up, he’s asking for advice but then he never seems to use it. And then it feels like we go right back down that rabbit hole again.

Alyssa Dver (01:59):

Jill (02:01):

Drew Fortin (02:03):
And how long have you been working with this person?

Jill (02:08):
It’s been a few months now.

Alyssa Dver (02:12):
Now when you say there was two things in there, I just would like your clarification on. One is the things that you’re talking about are kind of workplace performance issues or are they more personal habitual things?

Jill (02:25):
I mean, it’s both the biggest ones, so are the workplace performance, you know, the interpersonal between working, you know, when they have to go out and actually get things done with other people in the office.

Alyssa Dver (02:40):
All right. And you also used the phrase conflict and drama who’s conflict and who’s drama his, theirs, or everybody’s.

Jill (02:47):
It’s just almost like conflict and drama, follow him everywhere he goes.

Alyssa Dver (02:53):
Those are not good BFFs are they? Haha.

Drew Fortin (02:58):
Jill could you tell us a little bit about the workplace dynamic and what’s the relationship on the team with this person to you? As far as like the org chart goes.

Jill (03:13):
They report to me. But as with regards to the rest of the company since we’re providing training to us, to the company, I need them to go out and be able to work with and partner with others around the organization for employee training needs.

Alyssa Dver (03:32):
Hmm. Okay. So when you’re having these, one-on-ones, I’m just wondering, are you bringing the issues up? Is he bringing any issues of who’s really pointing out that there’s a problem?

Jill (03:43):
Yeah, it’s a great question. Usually he comes to our one-on-ones and he often will come in a storm of positive energy. And then as I actually start trying to talk about key deliverables and things that I need to check in on, that’s when just the drama starts coming out and the bubbling coming up of, you know, this person wouldn’t work with me and I can’t get this person to engage. And this person doesn’t seem to have a clue what they’re doing, and it’s just always a lot of issues with other people impeding his ability to do his work.

Drew Fortin (04:24):
Did you hire this person?

Jill (04:27):
I did. Haha.

Alyssa Dver (04:30):
Well, I bet that bubbly energy that comes into the room is very charming and otherwise very infectious, but may not have shown up at the interview process, right?

Drew Fortin (04:39):
Jill (04:40):
Yeah. That is true. There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the interview process.

Alyssa Dver (04:48):
All right. Drew, do you have any other diagnostic kind of questions you want to ask Jill here?

Drew Fortin (04:54):
Jill, tell us how you structure especially your, your one-on-one and you one on conversations. And it’s been a few, few months. So what, what have you tried to date?

Jill (05:08):
Yeah, so I try and of course check in with him. The best way to kick off a one on one is to do some checking in and see how they’re doing. The problem is now like kind of loads to do, because it opens a whole can of worms. And then try and, you know, pivot into having actual, you know more tactical conversations. What was the work that was committed to what is impeding or roadblocking? How are we towards our roadmap timeline? What can I do, whether it’s being a sounding board or helping remove obstacles that are organizational.

Drew Fortin (05:54):
I have one more question and I’ll say, do you find do you agree with the regardless of the excuses, do you agree with the things that he seems to be prioritizing?

Jill (06:11):
In terms of what work should be getting done?

Drew Fortin (06:14):
Yeah. Like if, if, if he’s saying this is a big problem because of blah, blah, blah, or you’re like, okay, that’s a nothing burger. We have a bigger fish to fry over here. Like when he’s shining light or casting light on things, regardless of the drama, do you feel like he’s prioritizing the right things or do you think it’s like every thing’s a big deal?

Jill (06:35):
Not always. Everything is always a big deal and sometimes it’s like, this really could have gotten done. You, you really could have executed this.

Alyssa Dver (06:43):
Okay. So I want to start brainstorming some suggestions here. Is that right? Jill, I’m going to ask you a very honest question. When you’re in those situations with this person, how, how is it making you feel?

Jill (07:05):
Exhausted, frustrated… Sort of like a, you know, I try and be empathetic. But I, I have a really hard time being empathetic about this situation, which then makes me question myself as a leader.

Alyssa Dver (07:23):
How do you think that that might then kind of bounce back to him?

Jill (07:30):
I try really hard to put on a good face about it. But I think he probably does feel frustrated that I’m not engaging on his pain levels. But there’s an element of, you know, I just want to say, like, this is our job. We need to push through this or you need to find a workaround. But I don’t actually say that to him.

Alyssa Dver (07:55):
Yeah, no, buck up. Put your big girl pants on. Haha.

Jill (08:01):

Alyssa Dver (08:01):
So let me allow me to just kind of unravel some of this. My approach to everything is very brain science based. And so I want to get a little clinical with you, cause it sounds like this might actually really, really help you personally, in this kind of coaching debacle that you have to do. He is very, very defensive, right? He’s deflecting everything. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. That is classic caveman behavior. That is primitive brain on fire, which means that he’s scared of failing. He’s scared of people rejecting him, particularly probably you cause you’re as manager. What happens in those situations is, and this is not a gender issue per se, but is more likely when there’s this kind of relationship when there’s a women manager, we want to let them know that we’re, as you said, empathetic. That’s not helpful.

Alyssa Dver (08:54):
Empathy is not the answer. What the answer is – you want to be a confident leader. You want to give confidence to that person. And the only way to give confidence to somebody in caveman mode is getting them out of it. And empathy, actually, fans the fire, because what happens then … If he feels that he’s won you over or you’re being empathetic, it’s a little bit like a bully. It’s a little bit like a bully saying, “Oh, I got her, I got her.” Now, this is all subconscious stuff, right? This is not something that I’m even going to assume that this person or anybody does intentionally. But what happens in these relationships is that I win you over with my poor me, poor me, or it’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. And subsequently it doesn’t fix the problem. And the problem is this person’s not feeling confident. You need to give them confidence. Now, how do we do that? And the simplest way to do it is literally remind them that you feel confident that they can get it done. Now let’s figure out together how to do it.

Jill (09:50):
Hmm. Okay.

Alyssa Dver (09:53):
Right. And it sounds so simple. I realize it’s not always a simple, but the take the stance of, “I hired you. I saw your skillset. I know you’re capable of doing so how are we going to get this done?” It doesn’t matter what the excuse is.

Jill (10:08):
Yeah. Or, you know, you brought up the interview, like I know they can do this. They talked me through.

Alyssa Dver (10:15):
Right. Cause I heard it in your voice. When Drew asked you that magic question, did you hear it Drew? She’s like, Oh, I’m so ashamed. I hired him. Right, right.

Jill (10:23):

Alyssa Dver (10:24):
My fault. It’s my fault.

Drew Fortin (10:25):
Right. You look at the reflection. This is the Scarlet letter I have to bear.

Alyssa Dver (10:29):
It’s my fault. I suck as a manager. No.

Jill (10:32):

Drew Fortin (10:33):
And to add to that a little bit, I mean, having managed a few people and hired and made some of the same mistakes I think at the same time, Jill, it’s figuring out that perception that you, you have like, come on, dude. I don’t need all these excuses. I just want to hear the facts and let’s move together and get some stuff done is likely the perception that other people have. And so another way to build the confidence in them or to reduce their fear that they have of you would be to say like, “Hey, it’s my obligation as your manager. And I care about your development, I want to tell you, like, I always tell people perception’s reality, and the perception here, this is the story I’m telling myself. The perception that I have is every time that it seems like something can’t get done, it’s not your fault. It’s everyone else’s fault. And we need to start taking responsibility and looking at things for what they are. So let’s list out the facts of what’s happening. Let’s figure out what we can do to control the situation and to move it forward.” And you know, perhaps there’s some good rapport to be built there. Yeah. If, if you were to do

Jill (11:42):
Awesome, I like that. Yeah. I really like that.

Alyssa Dver (11:45):
So I’m going to tell you, you tossed out your famous quote in my, one of my famous quotes is “Being helpful doesn’t necessarily mean being kind.” Right. And what I mean by that is don’t be mean, right? But in our efforts to be empathetic or to be, “Oh, you know, I,” which doesn’t sound like is what you did, Jill. It sounds like you kind of held your ground or like, okay, let’s move on. Let’s figure this out. But I think there’s that overtone of maybe a little guilt of, I hired this person and all that coming into the play. So I full heartedly agree with what you’re saying, because we do have the responsibilities as managers, mentors, coaches, parents, friends, relatives, you name our role to tell people, knock it off in a nice way, but knock it off.

Alyssa Dver (12:28):
This person, let’s call them Brian. “Brian, You, you know, you need to you want this job? You like this job. Yes. Do you think you can do the job? Yes. I can do this job. Well, here’s, what’s going on. And out of your manager, we need to figure this out because for you to be successful in this role, you got to perform these things. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not that these other people in your way here and there, as long as if it is true, then we got to get them out of the way. But the perception is that that you’re using it as an excuse all the time.” That’s much more helpful. And I think in the long run, it’s actually much kinder.

Drew Fortin (13:06):
Right. And it sounds like you have plenty of tangible evidence and proof and scenarios. And when I asked you how you were running, your one-on-ones is some sometimes, you know, when we get into it, we’re like, okay. So tell me what’s going on. And we think that that’s a way to help them because okay. I always start my one on ones with folks that report directly, to me saying, what’s the most important thing that we should talk about?

Alyssa Dver (13:28):

Drew Fortin (13:29):
Only because what that will help you understand is: what’s top priority for them? Should that even be a huge problem? And if you can, even, you know, I tried it trying that you sometimes have to bite your lip, right? Cause, Oh my God, this is a big problem. But if you can help them address those small things, get to get them out of the way. Then over time, what’s the most important thing we should talk about. They’re gonna be like, okay, I’m talking to Jill, my boss, I’m only gonna bring the meaty stuff. I’m not even going to expose her to the things that right. And so then maybe even if the drama is there, they have it under control. Right.

Jill (14:08):
I love that.

Alyssa Dver (14:09):
Yeah. Do you think this person is even aware that they’re doing that?

Drew Fortin (14:14):
That’s a great question.

Jill (14:16):
Yes, I do. I do think he’s aware because he apologizes for always being like this. A lot.

Alyssa Dver (14:24):
Wow. Okay. So what’s the apology and sound like?

Jill (14:30):
Just it’s like I mean, sometimes it’s just a very like, you know, “I’m so sorry to be bothering you with this. And I feel like I shouldn’t be having these problems, but like it’s this person and,uuyou know.” It’s not, it’s not helpful apologies.

Alyssa Dver (14:58):

Jill (15:00):
It’s like an awareness that they’re having these issues, but not an awareness of how to take it on themselves.

Alyssa Dver (15:06):
Yeah. So, you know, we had a a caller a couple podcasts ago and I said it then, and it’s the same thing. These are cries for help. He is saying to you, I’m going to fail and you have to figure out as a manager, what is it that he needs not to fail? Is it a tool or training or structure, or you got to get to the heart of what is holding back that you know, the success because he’s using all the other stuff. Cause he doesn’t know what, what the problem is himself. Right. And so he’s tossing out other stuff in, and the fact that he’s aware that he’s tossing that stuff in is an awesome thing. Because then you can say, look, you know what? That’s not the problem. The other people, aren’t the problem.

Alyssa Dver (15:45):
There’s another problem we’ve got to figure out together. And you’ve just conveyed that confidence again. I believe in you. I know you can do this, but there’s something that’s not allowing you to be successful. And we got to figure it out. So let’s dig into it. Let’s go through the tasks, what’s the issues. And then accountability to those things obviously is always really important. So that when you say, okay, we’re going to do these things, these three things, let’s try them. Let’s see if that’s going to help you. You come back at it. He needs somebody who is helping them think it through. I always say the best coaches, the best managers are thought partners. Right, right. Yep.

Jill (16:19):
Yeah. Yeah. Super helpful. Thank you.

Alyssa Dver (16:21):
All right. Well, we’ve thrown in a lot at you in a very short amount of time. It’s kind of what we do here.

Drew Fortin (16:26):
Sorry! Haha. Just kidding.

Alyssa Dver (16:26):
We’re not sorry because it’s all good stuff, but we’re sorry because we’re going to put you on the spot. Right? We’re going to ask you to pick one, one strategy that you can kind of give it a good go and see if it works for you personally, which of all the things we talked about. What was the one that kind of screamed at ya?

Jill (16:41):
Oh wow. I, there were a lot of good things. I even been writing them down, but I really like the suggestion of, “what is the most important thing that we should discuss today?” I think that would pivot our one-on-ones really, really helpfully. So I think I’m going to do that and you know, sort of if I can, if I can get a use with an asterix is to what you said not fan the fire with the empathy. But reminding them, “I believe in you to accomplish this. What is that one most important thing that we should focus on?”

Alyssa Dver (17:18):

Drew Fortin (17:22):
You got this.

Jill (17:22):
Thank you!

Alyssa Dver (17:22):
Oh gosh. We’re thankful for you each calling in. We love to hear how it goes. Cause it makes our job that much more fun. So please keep in touch and good luck with this. Thanks Jill, for sharing.

Jill (17:31):
Thank you so much. Thank you.

Alyssa Dver (17:32):
Bye now!

Alyssa Dver (17:35):
Gee, man, that was all your fault.

Drew Fortin (17:36):
It was? I feel like it was all my fault. No, I mean that’s, that’s such a common thing.

Alyssa Dver (17:40):
Oh my god. Totally.

Drew Fortin (17:42):
And you hear it, you know that book Radical Candor by Kim Scott, she talks about ruinous empathy, but that’s exactly it.

Alyssa Dver (17:47):
That’s exactly it. It is. Rock and roll. I love it. Hopefully she’s going to make some progress cause it sounds like they both want it.

Drew Fortin (17:53):
I think so.

Alyssa Dver (17:54):

Connor (Producer) (17:56):
Thanks for listening. Consider applying to be a caller to get answers to your questions and help other listners in the process. You can find out how to apply in the show notes of this episode. Also, if you found this content useful, consider telling just one friend who you think would like it. We’d really love your help spreading the word. Thanks so much.


Drew is a PI Certified Partner, and the Founder & CEO of Lever Talent.

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