“Just Do The Vanna White”

Joel Lashley and Al Oelschlaeger talk about their unique experience training in New Orleans this week. What can a trainer do when they find that cultural or regional differences don’t align with what they’ve always thought were the best standard training practices? Joel and Al discuss how they pivoted their standard training methods this week by listening closely to what local customs would dictate. Did this weaken their training sessions or provide a thoughtful, customized, and useful training for transit professionals? We think you can guess. Listen in and join the conversation by letting us know your own thoughts on customizing a training program by emailing us at info@vistelar.com. And if you know the answer to the $10 riddle, send that along, too, for a special surprise!

Host: Al Oelschlaeger

Guest: Joel Lashley

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Al:                         Well good evening Joel.

Joel:                      Good evening.

Al:                         It’s been fun with you here down in New Orleans for a couple of days.

Joel:                      Yeah it’s been great.

Al:                         We got a few more days to go, but, and as you know I’m here for, I think I already let the audience know I’m going to be here all the way through next Friday and you’re heading home Friday. So but good experience down here in the, what do they call it, the big easy.

Joel:                      The big easy. It’s an appropriate name, that’s for sure. That’s what it feels like.

Al:                         Yeah. So as everybody knows we’re doing this training class for Transdev, which is a global transit company that has the contract for doing New Orleans, their regional transit authority. So it’s been a great class. Very friendly folks. So what have been the highlights so far, Joel, and then we’ll get into some topics here so the listeners can learn what we learned this week about conflict management.

Joel:                      Well the highlights have been the food and the people. It’s been a lot of fun. Just really interesting, fun people, friendly people. Of course, it’s New Orleans, the sights and sounds on Bourbon Street and stuff. We had the big LSU game and went in town and they were up all night. We were going to work in the morning and they were just coming home, literally.

Al:                         Yeah, as we talked, I used to come here for big conferences and then you go down to Bourbon Street. Doesn’t matter what night of the week it was. It was always busy. But my wife was actually asking was it busier because of the game? And I think it was just normal busy, wasn’t it?

Joel:                      I don’t know. Last time I was in New Orleans, it was too long ago. It was a couple of decades ago so this was my first really big experience with Bourbon Street. It was a lot of fun.

Al:                         I just remember always being busy. I mean there was some beads on the ground that we had to walk over. And certainly I think there was more people hanging out of some of the bars watching the TV screen for the game. But otherwise, guys playing their little drums on the street and we saw a little horn group playing along the street. It was fun.

Joel:                      Yeah, that was great. Saw some kids with taps on their sneakers and that was a lot of fun. Boy they had some good dancers.

Al:                         Well should I spoil it for everybody and give them the riddle about where people got their shoes or should we let people lose $10 when they show up?

Joel:                      Yeah, I think so.

Al:                         Let them lose the $10.

Joel:                      They should take the risk like the rest of us had to.

Al:                         Okay. So if you want to know what we’re talking about send a note back through the show notes and we’ll get back to you on what this little riddle is. But it’s the little Bourbon Street riddle where if you don’t know what you’re doing you can lose $10. So we’ll deal with that later. So you kind of wonder as friendly as people are down here you kind of go, “God, do they have any conflict here down in New Orleans?” Because everybody’s so nice, so friendly. I mean they’re all sweethearts, but obviously we’ve learned there’s still conflict no matter where you go in the world.

Joel:                      Yeah. Where, you have people you’re going to have conflict. And they caught us up on that. The operators in the class really helped us understand that you’ve got conflict everywhere, homeless populations everywhere. So it’s familiar in every big city in America.

Al:                         As you know, we do this everywhere Joel. You’ve been all over the country. I was in the UK a few weeks ago. We kind of have an internal comment that human behavior, doesn’t matter where you are on the planet, how people interact and what makes them mad and what causes conflict and how do you deal with conflict? It’s just human nature. We’re just dealing with fundamental kind of the way people interact with each other. But what’s been interesting and I know you feel this way. What’s been interesting about New Orleans, this place is a little bit different. We’ve learned some things about the culture down here that we just haven’t seen anywhere else on the planet.

Joel:                      Every place is different and what I’ve learned in New Orleans really reinforced that. And the students in the class reinforced it for me and it was fun to discover and fun to talk about, is that when you think about diversity, you’re not just thinking about people’s lifestyles and backgrounds. You’re also talking about regional diversity. And everywhere I go it seems I learn something else that’s just a little different. And we learned that this time and even adapting some of our techniques to fit those regional peculiarities.

Al:                         And Joel, I agree with you 100%, but I think it’s the difference between a little bit different and some meaningful differences. My personal opinion is we found some meaningful differences in New Orleans that I don’t think we’ve seen in other cities, but you obviously train more than me. What do you think?

Joel:                      Yeah, it was definitely a stark example and something to think about. Every time I give a class somewhere I learn something. And a lot of our training is an amalgamation of experiences that other people shared with us or experiences that we’ve had actually in training and New Orleans was rich with those opportunities.

Al:                         Let’s talk a bit about Proxemics. I think I’ve used that word before. As you know, at the beginning of class I said anybody know what the word Proxemics meant. Nobody had ever heard the word before. The reality, I have not heard the word before prior to several years ago. It’s not a word used a lot in the English language, but it means the study of what? The study of human positioning relative to each other.

Joel:                      Right. And distance.

Al:                         So it probably has a broader meeting in the academic world. We kind of say it’s about distance relative to [crosstalk 00:06:35] and hand placement. And I don’t know if you know this story, but when I was in the UK, we won’t go through all of them, but we have about six different Proxemics things about hand placement relative to if somebody’s coming at you or you need to guide somebody in another place, you want to show your concern. We have a variety of things about where do you put your hands. And one of the things we call it the timeout. So if somebody is really being aggressive with you, you put up the timeout, the tee up in front of your face and you say, “Oh Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, time out.” Well it turns out that doesn’t work in the UK. Soccer doesn’t have timeouts like you have in a baseball game. So they didn’t know the timeout maneuver.

Joel:                      Yeah, I remember hearing that. That’s very interesting. And we had the same kind of discovery here in New Orleans regarding hand placement.

Al:                         Exactly. Why don’t you go through that and then I’ll tell the story about what happened in the hotel after our training. Go ahead.

Joel:                      Yeah, that was the coup de Gras. I mean, that conversation you had at the hotel really kind of tied everything together. And I shared that in class today and the class just really reinforced that. Was when we were talking about operators of street cars and buses and paratransit they’re a captive audience. They’re on a bus, they’re seated, they’re buckled in, and their Proxemics starts when they’re pulling up to a bus stop. What do they see? And when they open the door is when they start to communicate and really the person boarding the bus, once they stopped and opened the door, they’re in control of Proxemics at a very high level. They’re getting on the bus, they’re approaching the driver as they enter.

Joel:                      And if they’re aggressive and angry for all different sorts of issues from the bus being late to not having a fare or bringing their own issues on board. Maybe mental illness or personal issues with someone else on the bus. And the way you might manage distance as part of Proxemics is hand placement. You raise and present your palm in the direction of the person boarding to kind of maintain a safe distance. And a lot of the feedback was you can’t present your palm to people New Orleans, they’ll slap your hand away.

Al:                         I want to make sure everybody knows where we’re headed here. Normally when you said captive audience, if you’re standing up and you’re a security person, let’s say, and somebody comes at you, you obviously can manage distance by just backing up. A bus driver doesn’t have that option. So when it comes to distance, you can’t manage distance as a bus driver. You’re kind of stuck in that place. So normally distance is a very important thing that you can manage by backing up, circling around, whatever. You can’t do that as a bus driver. And then you get into relative positioning, which is being at somebody’s angle or making sure you’re a little off, not directly in front of them. Again, a bus driver doesn’t have that option. They’re sitting in a chair and they’re stuck and they can’t control it.

Al:                         It’s the people coming on the bus or the streetcar that’s controlling the relative positioning. So they’re kind of left with hand placement and you were showing just a simple little maneuver of moving to the right, palms out, saying, “Sir, can you just step back.” And it’s just a little stop kind of sign feel right. And it generally causes people to step back because you put your hand up and there’s just a natural response not to come any further. So, but here in New Orleans it was completely different. So what did they say when you said, okay, just put your hands up, a little stop sign, a little subtle maneuver to say, “Just step back sir.” What did you hear?

Joel:                      Yeah, well they said, “You can’t put your palm towards somebody. That’s very offensive. People will slap your hand away.” Now Tony Sherman was in the class and he’s a really sharp guy with a great instructor with the Proxemics principles and he showed them an adaptation where you could raise the back of the hand in position so that it guards your face and also creates a barrier, maybe signals the person to stay back a little bit and that they were very accepting of. We practiced it. We drilled it and said “Yeah that was a great adaptation.”

Al:                         And they said, “Don’t put your hand in my face.” And we’ve never had anybody say that because we’re not putting it up in their face. We’re putting it just at chest level, just a simple, little, non aggressive looking stop sign just to cause people to step back a bit and they interpreted it as you’re putting your hand in my face. Don’t put your hand in my face. That’s disrespectful. And then when that one lady said, “I’d slap that hand away. I would slap that hand right out of there.”

Joel:                      What’s interesting sometimes in training you run into these little nuances and you think, is that just this group? Is that just that one person that spoke up and then he’s just getting reinforced by the group so you don’t really know what’s going on. But when Tony showed him his adaptation, they were very accepting of that. We practiced it. We drilled it. We talked about how to sit. How much they can turn if they’re belted in. And we kind of developed that very nicely, but really what tied it up kind of brought it all together was that conversation you had with the hotel staff.

Al:                         Well, I’ll share that. But just imagine Joel in Milwaukee, which is where [inaudible 00:12:28] if you put your hand up and you were a bus driver, security guard, whatever. Can you imagine anybody slapping your hand? That would never happen. Several people in the room go, “Oh yeah, I would just slap his hand away. We don’t do that down here in New Orleans.” So we do the training. We got turned out because of the playoff game. Monday night we had to stay in one hotel and then for Tuesday night we had to move to a different one because the hotel we wanted to stay in was all filled up for Monday night. So, Tuesday night we’re checking in. Training was on Tuesday and we’re here a whole week actually, it’s going to be four days of training, but we’re checking in and Joel, if you remember really nice lady checking us in.

Joel:                      Yeah, a real contact professional man.

Al:                         And she was quite good. So you guys headed upstairs and they were having a little trouble finding my room or getting my room number or whatever. And so I’m talking to her just to make conversation and I go, “Oh God, we were just in this training class. We were training Transdev.” “Yeah, I love that Transdev, the great public transportation company here.” And I said, “We were talking about the bus driver and how if somebody was coming on and being a little too aggressive with him, maybe he just put his hands up.” I’m just showing her at the side of the little reception desk there and I just put my hands up. She goes, “You’d never do that in New Orleans. I would slap your hand away.”

Al:                         And she goes, “We would not do that. That’s just not New Orleans.” And I go, “Well, what would you do instead?” And I said, “Well, you’re not a bus operator, but for example, if you were going to guide me to the elevator to show me where the elevator, how would you do it?” She goes, she kind of sits there for a minute, gets a big smile on her face, and she goes, “I would do the Vanna White.” And she opens her palms up with her palms facing upwards and kind of guides me to the elevator with her palms up. It just looks so friendly and nice. But that’s what they’re like down here. It’s like nobody wants to do anything that would be viewed as disrespectful or in your face. They’re just too nice.

Joel:                      Yeah. And we shared that with the class today, your experience, and they were, “Well that’s great.” So we did a drill where we use the Vanna White adaptation and we practice doing things that we wouldn’t have thought of before. Doing I think your stance from the seat. So they said that was a good adaptation. Talked quite a bit about that. Talked about doing an emergency time out in the seat. Everything was good to go, including Tony’s brilliant adaptation was showing the back of the hand. So they had lots of strategies to manage their distance and positioning and hand placement without being offensive. I thought what was really interesting, and this is a prospective the students in the class shared a lot and certainly something we’ve experienced here, is that people in New Orleans they’re people, people.

Joel:                      They’re affectionate and there’s a lot of touching and high five and fist bumping and strangers are friendly with shaking hands and putting a hand on a shoulder and it’s part of their culture. Things that can get you in trouble when people are in crisis. But just as far as daily socialization, it’s the norm. And when you saw that hand that only single adaptation was, is making a gesture that feels like you’re pushing me away just doesn’t fit in this region.

Al:                         What I loved is when they had forgotten about that. But today we were talking about kind of retold this story and they said the other thing, either they’d slap your hand away or they’d go, “Oh this guy wants to do a high five.” And they’d high five you and then you were making the point that when you’re dealing with somebody in crisis, you don’t want to come up and touch them on the shoulder because they might react and you can explain that if you want about the physical reaction versus [crosstalk 00:16:41].

Joel:                      Yeah, we did some drills on that and were a lot in agreement with a lot of the structures there. They said they have problems with people. We showed the Pablo of Alaska’s video about how to approach someone who’s experiencing homelessness and they said, “We’ve had trouble with people on the bus. Just get a guy sleeping on the bus and they go on in and they’re tapping them on the shoulder and the guy gets startled and the fight’s on.” So that’s something that we discussed or coming up behind someone who may have some trauma, they may have a brain-based disorder where they tend to be more physical rather than visual from keeping themselves safe and walking up behind someone and tapping them on the shoulder might get you popped. And we demonstrated some of that. You might end up with back hand.

Al:                         When you first said it before you demonstrated it and let people know what could happen and that they were at risk of getting hurt and you said, “Well, you got to be careful touching people in the shoulder.” They were going, “Oh no, no, no. We touch people all the time here. We’re a real touchy feely group down here in New Orleans.” And then you said, “Oh yeah, but let’s see what would happen in this situation.” And they go, “Yeah, I understand now.” But they didn’t want to hear that they couldn’t touch somebody.

Joel:                      They didn’t. But if you recall, one of their supervisors said, “Well, I’m the guy that when that call comes in that a guy got popped by someone experiencing homelessness that they were trying to wake up and off the bus. It was usually because they walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder.” When instead of like Pablo describes, moving into their field of vision, tapping on a hard surface, make an alarm on your phone, something that’s going to wake them up before we invade their personal space. So even they were able to contribute to that conversation that walking up and tapping somebody without being in their field of vision, coming up from behind them or while they’re distracted or asleep isn’t necessarily safe.

Al:                         Joel, what do you think? Does Milwaukee have better food or New Orleans?

Joel:                      I turned into that guy this week that takes pictures of their food. I’ve never been that person, but this week I’m a guy who takes pictures of their food because it’s magnificent. And Tony Sherman, he’s been in New Orleans so many times. He knew where all the best restaurants were of course. So we’re eating like grilled oysters and gumbo and po’ boys and catfish and I want to move here for the food. Yeah.

Al:                         I think we just found it online. I think that was an example where Tony didn’t know. He just kind of found it and it was voted as best catfish or something and we go there. They got red beans and rice, but they only serve it on Mondays. So it’s Friday fish fry in Milwaukee and in New Orleans it’s Monday red beans and rice.

Joel:                      Yep. I thought that there was really interesting. We shared that with the server too explaining to her that, well we’ve got this thing in Milwaukee in Wisconsin, fish fry Friday and that’s something they’d never heard of here.

Al:                         I like the red beans and rice better than the fried fish. What do you think?

Joel:                      Yeah, it was an incredible. I’ve eaten it a couple of times since we’ve been in town and that’s something I could get used to eating everyday along with the greens.

Al:                         With the hammocks in there.

Joel:                      Yeah, the collard greens. I’m originally from the South and that was the food I grew up on and I don’t get any of that unless I make it myself in Milwaukee. They have some good soul food restaurants in Milwaukee. I shouldn’t say that and I eat at them every once in a while.

Al:                         And I don’t even know how they do it. I’m not a cook so I don’t have any idea, but it’s greens. I mean you could buy those greens at a local grocery store. It’s not like they don’t exist.

Joel:                      Yep. Their common in the grocery stores here of course, but there’s grocery stores in Milwaukee where you can find greens and I know where they are.

Al:                         But what do you do? You’re not just boiling them in some water. What do they do to make it be like it is?

Joel:                      Well you slow cook them for a long time because you’re reducing. It’s like spinach. Spinach is a type of green and so is collards and Swiss chard and turnip greens and things like that. And you slow cook them and you cook them in some kind of animal fat. There’s salt pork, there’s ham, ham hocks. Some people can just use simple bacon, something that gives it that flavor and richness from the pork. And then you introduce vinegar and that’s kind of a personal regional taste. So what you’re getting is fat, salt and vinegar, which is the staple and the greens is kind of the body that holds it together. And I’m telling you, it may not be health food in one sensor or another, but I would imagine it’s a pretty good Quito thing man. Because, I could live on this stuff. To me it’s wonderful.

Al:                         Make sure you have a colorful diet. You don’t eat that brown stuff all the time. You got to eat some green, it’s green. Maybe that’s why everybody’s so nice down here is because of the food do you think?

Joel:                      Yeah, I haven’t had a bad meal yet. And the fast food joints kind of just parking lots are always empty and I can see why that is.

Al:                         Well, I told my wife I had a similar experience in Austin, Texas and I was down there years and years ago. I’m assuming it’s still true that Austin is known for its local restaurants and they have some good ones and if you drive around Austin, you do not see the chains in the same way you would see in LA or Milwaukee or Chicago or whatever and that’s my point.

Joel:                      You don’t here either.

Al:                         You drive around Milwaukee, you see McDonald’s, Burger King, Kmart, whatever, not Kmart but KFC, there’s something every corner. What I’ve seen is one McDonald’s and one Burger King and we’ve been around a lot.

Joel:                      Yep. And the parking lots are empty. If I got this kind of food around here every day, I mean we haven’t had a meal yet that hasn’t been wonderful. And things that exotic, things that we would consider totally exotic is normal. Last night I had alligator for dinner. We couldn’t get into the restaurant where we went for turtle soup because the line was too long. And the frog legs too. You can’t leave town without that. Well that’s one of my favorite things about the Southern diet is amphibian, turtles, frogs and alligators.

Al:                         Catfish and the crawfish. I still haven’t found where the crawfish is, but I’m looking forward to having one. So let’s loop back and see if there’s one more highlight. So we kind of dealt with Proxemics in terms of this conflict management training. Is there another thing that pops into your head this week that has been unique or interesting?

Joel:                      Well, this group has been very interesting. They’re very enthusiastic, very friendly people, very engaged. And the amount of conversation, the engagement of this particular group of trainers has been off the hook. I mean the participation, the enthusiasm and the planning that they’re doing already about what they’re going to do with this material.

Al:                         But the commitment to customer service and to operator safety is very important. It’s very important.

Joel:                      Yeah. They’re safety first customer service second and schedule third. That’s their philosophy.

Al:                         I didn’t know this, but so they run buses like most cities. They call them streetcars. They look a little bit like the San Francisco streetcars, but it turns out that they have two different streetcars, one group of 30, I think it’s 30 streetcars were built in 1923 and that they’re still pretty much the same as they were back then. They made a couple little upgrades along the years and then the other batch came from 2004 but the 1923 ones are still using the same underlying technology as they had back then.

Joel:                      Yep. And still running like a top and the ones from 2004 are basically facsimiles of the ones from 1923. To the untrained eye, you couldn’t tell the difference. I couldn’t have until they said there was one.

Al:                         I wasn’t sure if that was a real color. They call it the green lines or the red line. Is it the red ones?

Joel:                      I’m pretty sure the red ones are the new ones and the green ones are the old one, but don’t hold me to that.

Al:                         I was telling him about, I don’t know if anybody’s been to San Francisco, but if you go to San Francisco it’s worth [inaudible 00:26:33] the whatever they call them out there. I think they’re called trolleys, but the trolley main station, that is the power plant for the trolleys because all the San Francisco trolleys run on by grabbing hold of a cable that’s running underneath the ground, which I just thought was amazing. These are electric. What did you say? 600 DC or something?

Joel:                      They said they’ve been electric since ’23.

Al:                         Back when Edison first got electricity on the ground or something. That was earlier than that I think, wasn’t it?

Joel:                      I guess. I’m not sure what Edison put the electricity in the ground. But the one interesting thing we found out this is the oldest running streetcar line in the world open in 1834 so you’re thinking the residents of New Orleans were riding it during the Civil War. It’s amazing. And it was pulled by a little steam engine. We saw a model of that at their headquarters and that was really interesting.

Al:                         Committed group, customer service. I’d forgotten that. Customer service, safety and schedule was third.

Joel:                      Nope. Safety first, customer service and then schedule. And they were so obsessed with making sure they kept their schedules and that pushed everything up ahead. So I thought that was really interesting. So if they’re that concerned about being on time and they’re even more concerned about their customer service and they’re even more concerned in their safety, that understands their high level of quality in their transportation service.

Al:                         Well, they talked about what you’d expect. It’s probably true in every transportation company in the planet. The number one complaint is not making the schedule, being late, being early, leaving early, that kind of thing. And so you got to be pretty on track with schedule, but they were willing to, if it became an issue of choosing between employee safety or customer service where they could take care of some situation or whatever that schedule came in third. So cool. Well Joel, obviously we got a few more days and then I think Tony and I are staying through the weekend and then we’re going the two of us are doing some workshops for their operators next week, which should be really fun. This week was an instructor school.

Al:                         Next week is actually with the frontline operators essentially. Very, very cool. You’re going to be back in Milwaukee and join the winter weather. But I hope we’re going to do another interview with Tony this weekend and we’re going to be down here with nothing to do other than to eat and visit the Mississippi River and go look at the Gulf coast and whatever. So we’ve got a few things to do, but we will have time to do another podcast this weekend, hopefully. Well we’ll see you early in the morning. Tomorrow morning. The free 6:30 in the morning breakfast.

Joel:                      Yes sir. Also, good. A little better than your average hotel breakfast.

Al:                         And again, if you’re from the North, you don’t even know what we’re talking about probably. But the first night we were in a hotel that didn’t have the free breakfast. It was this hotel that was the only one left that had three rooms. So instead of getting the hotel breakfast, we stopped on the way to the headquarters for Transdev and had a Waffle House breakfast. Well that was pretty special.

Joel:                      That was our only chain restaurant experience here in New Orleans. But we had a very friendly crew though so we had a good time.

Al:                         Somehow Waffle House doesn’t feel like a chain, like McDonald’s somehow. I don’t know why.

Joel:                      I think it had a lot to do with the staff. I mean, everybody in there was so friendly. Our server was super friendly, even though she’d been working all night since 9:00 that night till that morning because of the LSU game and still cheerful, treating us her last customer like her first customer. So people really got service down here in New Orleans.

Al:                         What’s our breakfast place that’s got an institution in Milwaukee? George Webb. There we go. I mean, George Webb’s a little different obviously, but same basic idea. So there you go. If you’re from Milwaukee or the North and you know about George Webb than you know a little bit about what a Waffle House is. So, okay. Thanks so much, Joel. Yep. Take care.

Joel:                      Okay thanks Al. Bye everybody.