“How to Manage Intra-Organizational Conflict ”

Special Guest – Mike Panebianco 

On this episode, Allen Oelschlaeger is joined by Mike Panebianco (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-panebianco-7478bbb) a past vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association (https://www.swapa.org) and president of MRH (mission ready human) Performance, a consulting organization focused on peak human performance.

The discussion focuses on the issue of intra-organizational conflict – i.e., conflict that is internal to an organization (rather than with clients or the general public).

Some of the core principles discussed include:

  • Even at organizations with strong values like Southwest Airlines, intra-organizational conflict still exists. Conflict is inevitable within any organization or team.
  • In most organizations, intra-organizational conflict is a bigger problem than the conflict that occurs with clients (patients, students, customers) or with the general public.
  • The impact of intra-organizational conflict is significant: sick leave goes up, stress-related illness goes up, turnover goes up.
  • In many organizations, conflict avoidance is often a bigger problem that in-your-face conflict
  • The airline industry has done a gr
  • eat job of training such that conflict avoidance within the cockpit is a rarity.
  • The Total Quality Management movement was largely based on training people to address issues head-on rather than avoid conflict.

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Al:

Well, good afternoon, Mike.

Mike Panebianco

Good afternoon, Al.

Al:

We chatted this morning, but it’s good to talk to you again. Looking forward to having this discussion.

Mike Panebianco:

Absolutely.

Al:

Everybody knows a little bit about you based on the intro that I did for this podcast, but if you could go into just a little bit more depth on your background and experience and how you got into this conflict space.

Mike Panebianco:

Sure, sure. So just back to the earliest of it, growing up as a farm kid, and looking to the sky for my future, I always dreamed of flying airplanes and eventually found my way there. And as my career developed, a major event happened that I think everybody listening to this podcast, and anybody who was alive that day would remember 9/11. And the utter impact of witnessing 9/11 from the first person view, if you saw it on the news, it impacted you. It probably brought tears to your eyes, and it made an impression that you’ll never forget.

Mike Panebianco:

As an aviator, it not only had that impact on us, but it also opened this exploration of: What would I do if that were me? What would I … Where would I go with this if I were in their shoes? Because this was a paradigm shift, and for us as aviators, we looked at hijacking as something someone did with a butter knife that they snuck through security to get you to fly them to Cuba. We had never really anticipated having our airplanes turned into weapons against people on the ground, so huge paradigm shift for all of us in aviation.

Al:

And where were you?

Mike Panebianco:

I actually was in New York, not New York City, but Upstate New York during 9/11. I put every penny of my life savings down on a new house being built in Orlando and jumped on an airplane and went to New York to visit my family, and woke up to the 9/11 news, and sat for the rest of the day wondering where my family members that worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were, and if they were safe. I had an uncle and one of cousin’s spouses that worked in the World Trade Center. And also my father-in-law was in the Pentagon when it was struck by an aircraft.

Al:

Wow.

Mike Panebianco:

And so it was a long day, and it was a deep and impactful day.

Al:

Did you end up being stuck? Were you stuck in New York for a while?

Mike Panebianco:

I got stuck there for four days, and my ride home was canceled due to obvious security issues and a tropical storm in Orlando. So I rented a car in Florida and drove back home. I lived in Orlando at the time. And went to work, and there was no one to fly around. And the airports, as you remember, were about empty. When they finally opened it up, it just opened up a whole new world. And that’s how I entered into conflict, and conflict training and conflict study. And that story evolved later into gaining more knowledge of protecting my airplanes. But then I was naturally drawn into human conflict as an issue that touched school children.

Mike Panebianco:

If you can believe a self-defense instructor with all these certifications and interests in aviation, I had a child that was being bulled in school put in front of me by his mother, and introduced that dilemma to me. And I had young children at the time, and I was like, “This is a great way to stay sharp and to give back.” And I started examining the issue of bullying in school and how it impacted kids’ lives.

Al:

What time frame would that have been?

Mike Panebianco:

That was about 2008. And so yeah, there weren’t a lot of great solutions for bullying out there, and so I had to craft one of my own, and that led me to Dale Carnegie training, how to be a better interpersonal relationship manager of sorts, and to sales training. How do I help build a bridge between human need and human solution? And it just went from there, and I’ve kind of been that guy that’s wandered around. I have full interest in everything conflict because I see it as the greatest deterrent to people achieving their potential, or organizations achieving their potential. And I don’t know if you introed this, but as a union member and a member of one of the great corporate cultures in our country, I see where that loss-

Al:

Let’s just say Southwest Airlines is what you’re referencing. So yes, go ahead.

Mike Panebianco:

Yes. I work for Southwest Airlines, and they’re a storied culture and a legendary culture, if you will, given the history of our founding and our founder. But even there, there’s conflict and there’s loss associated with it. And I’ve spent the majority of my adult life chasing around those solutions to bring organizations and individuals into their best work by eradicating some conflict, and then turning the rest of it into something useful and meaningful.

Al:

You got involved in union leadership at some point.

Mike Panebianco:

I did. I did.

Al:

When was that?

Mike Panebianco:

In 2014, our company and our union had been in contract negotiations for several years, and we seemed to go nowhere. While we had one of the more successful, one of the most successful business models out there, our labor negotiations were stuck. And it was very frustrating to watch, as you see the money that we poured into negotiations bearing no fruit. And really, our membership didn’t have a great feel for where we were in the negotiation to begin with. And it started creating bad blood, and that’s not something that ever belongs in the culture of a company like Southwest. And I wanted to be part of that solution, and so I ran for a union office, ended up as a domicile rep in Baltimore. And then when a vacancy came in the vice president seat, I ran for that and was successfully elected to two consecutive terms as the vice president, which I finished at the end of this past year.

Al:

Wow.

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah. That was my whole life was conflict in the office.

Al:

And where in all that did you form or decide on the name for Mission Ready Human?

Mike Panebianco:

So Mission Ready Human was actually born out of my original company title, which was Able Training Systems. And it was about bullying, it was about human performance. But a lot of people thought it was a kids’ program, and it wasn’t. It’s not a boys’ program or a girls’ program. Mission Ready Human evolved out of human confidence program is what I was shooting to achieve. And when I saw the word mission, a lot of people are like, “Well, what does that mean? It sounds religious.”

Mike Panebianco:

Although I am a religious person, it’s not necessarily religious context. It is more that I believe everybody comes to this Earth with a mission that they are uniquely qualified to achieve. And sometimes things will throw you off, or you won’t be exposed to the right influences for you to achieve it. And I wanted to build a course that would help prepare you for accepting that mission and going out and doing what only you are designed to do, and to do it to the best of your ability. And one of those factors was removing that conflict, that destructive conflict from your path.

Al:

So tell me timeframe for that. When did that name come into existence?

Mike Panebianco:

So that was more 2011, 2012. It was on an ink board in my office for months on end. And I just kind of, you’d stare at it and see if it stuck, and it did. So I memorialized it when I moved to Texas in 2015, and actually put the stamp on it and trademarked it.

Al:

Yeah. Well, everybody listening to this podcast knows that Vistelar is primarily involved in what we call conflict management for contact professionals. So obviously, flight attendant would be a contact professional, police officer, security officer, school teacher, healthcare worker, parking professional, casino worker, anybody that deals with the public that are in environments where conflict could occur. And obviously, in the airline world, we’ve seen a few.

Mike Panebianco:

Yes.

Al:

Incidents that have made that national news, right? With conflict on airplanes.

Mike Panebianco:

Absolutely.

Al:

And it seems like it happens even more now when we’ve got all these mask concerns going on. But the thing that, and as I got to know Mike here several months ago, and we were just struck, and that I’d been thinking about and writing about the role of conflict in intra organizational kind of environments, versus the contact professional market, which is where most of our work is. And it’s just an area that, when I got out and look at it, I think there’s a bigger problem in any of these contact professional organizations. As much as you think the problem is with the customer, or with the patient, or with the student, or with the parent, or with the person you’re giving a ticket to, or whatever, you find out when you dig deeper that the bigger problem is inside the organization and the conflict that’s going on there.

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah.

Al:

And that’s what, sounds like where you’ve had most of your experience.

Mike Panebianco:

Yes. As a matter of fact, it’s an amazing amount of money that is spent on internal customer conflict. And when I say internal customer, that’s fellow employees, employees of different silos in a company. And silo is kind of a dirty word now that nobody really likes to use. But that’s about what it is. If you don’t work in the same department, and there’s conflict between those teams, it was a unique vision because at one day, I’d be defending a member of our association in a representation with the company, where they were being held to account for behaviors brought against them, accusations brought against them by the company. And then I’d go back to the office and I’d have 40 employees that would have issues with our organization itself.

Mike Panebianco:

So you’d wear all these hats, and then as a vice president, you tried to get all of your committees to work together, and you’d have maybe some squabbles between them, between a staff member and the association itself. And then representing a member against the parent company, and you looked very quickly at how much money and time and lost product that you had because you couldn’t have everybody working together. And so looking for those solutions, you always look up. You look to leadership, you look to the president, you look to your board of directors and you say … You actually go right back to, and I’m a big proponent of: What are our organizing principles? Can anyone in this building even recite to me what our mission statement is? And even if you could, does it mean anything to you when you say it? Or is it just a bunch of corporate gook? It’s just this junk that big, giant words that don’t really mean anything.

Mike Panebianco:

That’s really, if I look back and pay credit to my parent company of Southwest Airlines, back in the ’90s when I was flying for a commuter airline, I’d watch a Southwest airplane come pulling into the gate, and they’d arrive five minutes after us, offload everybody, load everybody back up, bags, fuel, push back, and be gone. And here we were in our little turbo prop, and we had half the passengers they had, and we were still sitting there trying to get our act together. And then you walk through their gate area, there’s just a different feel for that company. And you looked at what was their mission back there in the ’70s and the early, even up to the 2000s when I went to work there was, we’re giving people the freedom to fly. And it was just a simple, simple mission.

Mike Panebianco:

And then you look at their values. They treat everybody with a golden rule. Treat people how you’d want to be treated. And then they looked at: What’s our vision? What do we do? We deliver positively outrageous service. Anybody could work there. Anybody could remember those things. Those were significant. This is how you be. This is what you do. And this is why we’re here. And as a pilot to this day, our operating principles are simple. We keep people safe, number one. Number one priority always in aviation, keep people safe. Number two, give them a good customer experience. And number three, be efficient, save money, so that we can offer cheaper fares to our customers, and they get to where they’re going on time.

Al:

So Mike, this is great because you can recite that obviously. Here are the three goals. And you’re a thoughtful guy, and I’m sure you have those written down somewhere. But that really does seem to be embedded in Southwest Airlines culture. How did they do that? What’s the core principle that allowed them to get that in their culture, versus it just being a nice poster in the lobby that the CEO put up?

Mike Panebianco:

It’s funny. I cried when my boss died. It broke my heart to see Herb Kelleher pass away last January. When you went to work for Southwest Airlines, you went to work for Herb. And Herb knew, everyone knew Herb by his first name. You called him by his first name, or you’d hear about it. You never call him Mr. Kelleher. He lived and breathed and reminded everybody what the mission was at Southwest Airlines. This is how you behave. This is why you’re here. This is what we do. And this is how I’ll back you up. If you come to work every day and just live this way, I will back you up. I’ll be there for you. And they proved it over and over, and they reminded you over and over. It’s the language. It almost sounds cultish, but those are just decent human values and decent ways to behave.

Mike Panebianco:

And that’s honestly, Al, that’s why we’re talking because when I saw Vistelar’s product, and one of your core principles is to treat people decent, and treat people with dignity by showing them respect, those are my core values. Very easy to align, very easy to show up for. And that’s what we lived at Southwest, and that’s the way I look at Mission Ready Human. I’d almost say that there’s a little bit of it as a testament to Herb. And at the union, I was just tapped to lead the Herb Kelleher memorial scholarship fund to go out and find aviators that are trying to be what I am, and help them with a little financial aid, and hopefully with some mentorship to get them through their aviation goals.

Al:

But Mike, what I’m hearing you say though is even with Herb in the leadership role, obviously a strong leader, obviously with strong values, obviously with a clear mission, obviously communicated that over and over and over again, everybody understood it. But even with all that, which is rare in a lot of companies to have a leader like that. But even with that, there’s still conflict within Southwest Airlines.

Mike Panebianco:

Absolutely. I think it’s a human condition. I think it’s-

Al:

Exactly.

Mike Panebianco:

It’s going to be everywhere. You’re never going to be perfect. How you handle it says everything about your organization in my opinion. When you go down from that echoing organizational principle, and then you look at how your regulations and your policies and your procedures are set up, and what operational philosophies you carry out on a day to day. How do review? How do we do postmortems on, did things go well, did things not go well? What standard of conduct do we have for each other in our organization? Those are all things that I look at and can determine a little bit more about how the organizational health might be for the frontline people. I know the example that you mentioned at the beginning of the podcast was a very well televised, and I won’t mention the name of the airline, but one of their passengers was dragged off of an aircraft on national television. And it was repeated over and over and over, and it was really a black eye for that company when that gentleman was removed from the airplane in such a way.

Mike Panebianco:

If that happened at Southwest Airlines, we would be horrified. I mean, it literally goes against everything we do. And we do realize that there are human beings that are very, very difficult. And there are going to be breaches of expectations. There’s going to be let downs. We are in a very un-exact science. Airplanes are machines. Weather happens. Breakdowns happen. Emergencies happen, customer service failures, people miss their flights. People consume alcohol at the airport. There’s so many things that can happen in air transit. But we still try to live by the processes and procedures based in our organizing principles of how we behave, why we do what we do, and what we promise to our customers and to our employees.

Al:

Mike, you said it greatly there because we, from the day we started Vistelar, we’ve said that you can’t stop conflict. This whole idea, even back to your bullying example, you can’t stop bullying. It’s part of the human condition. People are, conflict is inevitable. It’s going to occur. There are people that drink. There are missed flights. There are whatever. It’s going to create conflict, disagreement, people upset. But if you can figure out how to manage that conflict well, the outcome can be extraordinary. And I think that’s what Southwest Airlines with their culture has been able to do is even in the face of conflict, they manage it well, and people have a great experience. But when that conflict is managed poorly, and I’m sure there’s examples at Southwest where it is, the effects can be disastrous. Right?

Mike Panebianco:

Sure. No, and again, I never go out and badmouth my company because I’m a big fan, and I also feed my family. And there are restrictions on what I can and cannot talk about, about what happens inside of Southwest Airlines. But no, it happens. People fall down. People make mistakes.

Al:

It’s just reality. It’s not a criticism. It’s the reality. I think you’ve heard this story from me, but I’m not sure the audience has, is that I had the opportunity a few years ago to present to state tax collectors. So you would think this is a group that’s dealing with conflict all day long. They’re out finding people that aren’t paying their taxes, businesses, not individuals. And they were going into businesses and say, “You’re not paying your taxes,” and literally putting yellow tape around the business and closing businesses down, so they could collect the taxes. I mean, that’s what everybody in the room did for a living. It’s hard to imagine a job where there would be more conflict day in and day out. So I’m presenting to 500 people in a big conference room about our stuff.

Al:

And so I started out with a question. I go, “Okay. Guys all deal with tax collection, whatever. So just rate it for me. If you deal, think about the conflict you have with the people that you’re collecting taxes from, and then think about the conflict you have with your supervisor, or manager, and then think about the conflict you have between departments. Where is the greatest source of conflict in your life?” And it was 500 names, hands went up. I’m sure it wasn’t everybody, but it sure seemed to be like everybody in the room picked between department conflict was the number one source. And that just hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m going, “Wait a minute. You guys are dealing with collecting taxes from people that don’t want to pay their taxes. And you’re still finding that the biggest source of conflict is between departments.”

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah. I mean, that could be politics. I always say I play five levels of chess when I look at conflict. And it could be politics. Who’s next in line for that VP role? Who’s next in line for management role? Or how do the bonus structures look? Competing metrics, just competing metrics alone can destroy a company. If one company, if one area of the company sets metrics on timeliness, and another division of the company sets it on customer satisfaction, can you see where that’s going to come up? And then once the two management heads butt heads on that level, it bleeds down into the frontline soldiers. It really just becomes us against them. And the tribalism there is enough. And then talk about mobbing, you have one person who doesn’t like another person from another department, or someone from HR is a bully, and handled somebody a little bit rough.

Mike Panebianco:

And that employee then tells their coffee circle, their coffee clutch, about the way they were treated. And next thing you know, you got seven or eight employees that don’t like the HR person. Or an executive director has to make a difficult decision that impacts all these people, and it doesn’t play well. And so now there’s that common core of an issue that people start to rally around. And then they add a little bit of venom to it, and a little bit of heat to it, and it turns into the news media and what they do with America right now, and polarizing people. Those are very expensive realities because productivity drops. Sick leave usage goes up. Stress related illness goes up. Turnover goes up. I mean, I think in one of the roles that I’ve held in the past 10 years, the turnover cost was 122% of a salary.

Al:

Oh, wow. Oh, wow.

Mike Panebianco:

Because recruitment, the loss of customers that usually would accompany that person imploding, or taking those people with them when they left. You’d have just astronomical costs surrounding all of that. And there are the things that I look back in aviation, and you look back and you’ll have one person who knows a bad thing is about to happen in a cockpit. But because they don’t like the person they’re flying with, they keep it to themselves, or they don’t effectively communicate, “Hey, we’re running out of gas.” I try not to trample on the unfortunate who’ve lost their lives in aviation accidents, but as a pilot, I have learned more from watching those scenarios unfold and seeing how a dysfunctional communication structure, or leadership structure, or a little bit of conflict in a small confined space in a very complex environment can cause catastrophic results.

Mike Panebianco:

And my whole mission in life right now is to remove those factors from your greatest success, and your safety and your longevity and your legacy, those are the things that I really look forward to accomplishing with a business like Mission Ready Human, and working with the Vistelar and working with some of my consulting partners. There’s a great potential.

Al:

Mike, you made a huge point there with that one example, is that this goes back a couple years also, but we went in and did some work with a pretty sizable organization. We were brought in by the CEO. He said, “I’ve got a conflict problem.” And we went in, and we again, our primary focus is, as you know, on contact professional conflict. You’re dealing with the public, or a client, or a student, or whatever. But this was, we’ve done some of this intra-organizational work. We went in and the CEO is going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And we did some training and whatever. And it took almost a full day to fully understand what his real issue was because we dealt with what happens with all the examples you used. Somebody has a different budget. Somebody is not treating somebody well. And so you get this little clique thing or whatever, mob, whatever stuff going on.

Al:

We thought that was where the problem was. A full day into the training, finally the guy pulls us aside. He goes, “You know, I finally kind of figured this out. My problem is not with overt conflict. It’s people avoiding conflict.” The bigger problem is people don’t have the skills to deal with it, and so they avoid it, and so problems that otherwise should’ve been brought up and addressed get pushed underneath the carpet. And that’s just completely off limits in an airplane situation. Right?

Mike Panebianco:

Right. We don’t have any choice. Again, the consequences are life and death. And if you don’t have … A lot of people have the skillset. Let me rephrase that. A lot of people have the knowledge. They just don’t have the skillset or the demonstrated competence, the opportunity to practice. People know, generally know right and wrong. You could lay a scenario out for somebody, and they’ll immediately know what the problem is. The problem then becomes, and this is what’s great, what I’ve found great is of huge value in my initial contacts with Vistelar was they don’t do fireside chats. They do fire drills.

Mike Panebianco:

And I was like, “Well, that’s right up my alley because look at how much money we spend as aviators to similate real flight.” I mean, 30s and $40 million simulators to go in so that you’re actually sweating when you walk out because the level of reality you face. So when these people, you give them the knowledge, but if you don’t give them the opportunities to examine their courage and take that first step to start an intervention, or to address the problem, I think you’re set up to fail. And I think you’re right, the biggest problem is people avoiding it because they’ve never been given the opportunity to truly exercise that muscle and see it.

Al:

How long has it been? Decades I think. And airline has probably done a better job than any other industry in dealing with this in the cockpit. But it’s been decades you guys have been working on, how do you get the, I don’t even know the right terms, Mike, but the copilot to speak up when he sees the captain making a mistake?

Mike Panebianco:

Well, I think organizationally, first of all, organizationally, they have to empower that first officer to make that statement. It has to be policy. It has to be trained. And it has to be made okay by the organization to have it done. The other way they have gone about doing it is a little bit more in the lane of leadership training. So you’re still a leader even if you’re the first officer. And there’s only two of us up there, so it’s like the first officer is the last ditch effort to save the day. And so the organization is covering that.

Mike Panebianco:

What we do as a pilot’s association is, and all unions do this, but they have a professional standards committee as well. And we will help you to initiate those conversations, or if you’re having issues on that level, there’s someone that you can actually reach out to in a confidential way, that’s a peer that can help mediate some of those issues. But when it happens in real time, you better hope your training is enough, that you have the courage to say, “Hey, this is unsafe. We need to not do this.”

Al:

Do you know? When did that culture change occur? Because it’s my understanding, there was a time in the past where the captain was running the show, and if you spoke up, you got your hand slapped.

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah.

Al:

I don’t know how many years ago that was, but there was a … And I think the airline industry discovered that was the core problem and they had to fix it.

Mike Panebianco:

I think that was in the mid ’80s.

Al:

Mid ’80s.

Mike Panebianco:

United Airlines was the pioneer in what they called CRM back in the day, crew resource management. And it followed a couple of incidents, followed, an evolution has been with every incident, accident, and loss of life. There has been something, and we always say, “Checklists and procedures are written in blood,” because they are. We’ve learned something from, that’s the nature of the culture of aviation is that we are a learning organization, and that when we do poorly, we learn from that. And we will not let that loss go to waste and be dishonored by not learning and trying to make us better, make us all better for the incident or the accident that took lives. And you had US Air that had five incidents in five years, and that learning process really pushed for the type of training that we do now, which is continuous qualification training.

Mike Panebianco:

And I have the great pleasure of having worked with two of the US Air pilots that pioneered that training and pushed for the safety programs that we have today. And those guys, I mean, they walk the debris fields where their friends were killed, and so nobody knows it better than they do. And nobody knows it better than the families of some of these people that have lost their lives in the incidents and accidents. So we honor them with this training and the effort to continuously improve. Now that’s the most extreme level, although I think the military might be the more extreme level due to the nature of their mission, but we’re a peacetime mission. We’re a transportation. We’re connecting people to things that are important in their life. And how we honor that with the level of training that we do, imagine what that could do, that type of mentality and function could do in an office.

Al:

Exactly.

Mike Panebianco:

If you put that level of attention to your people in resolving conflict and doing a great job of it, imagine what your company would be capable of.

Al:

Mid 80’s, that’s interesting because I think you know my background’s in medical devices. Again, if you make a mistake in building a medical device, it could ultimately, it’s not like an airline where you could have a crash, but ultimately it could kill somebody because the device would not operate appropriately out in the field. And mid ’80s is when this whole total quality management thing came into effect. And it was the same struggle inside a manufacturing facility making medical devices, where the norm was you kept the line going, and it was all about keeping the line going and trying to get as many products out the door as you could. And if you were a frontline worker, second in command, didn’t matter where, you kept your mouth shut, and you just kept the line going.

Al:

And total quality management came along and said, “No, no, no, no, no. Your job is different. If you see a problem, you have the responsibility, and we’re going to train you how to do it, but you’ve got to raise your hand and say there’s a problem here. We’re not going to let the line continue until this gets fixed.” And that was a major, major culture change in manufacturing. And the result is, I mean, we all drive higher quality cars now, and products I think universally are much higher quality than they were pre 1980s. But it’s that same underlying principle of, it’s tough in the face of conflict, to raise your hand and say, “Okay. I’m going to say something and risk whatever the ramifications are of jumping into a conflict space.” So I think this intra-organizational thing, it plays on both sides. It’s the side of, oh, yeah, there’s somebody that’s mean to each other, or there’s bullying going, or whatever. And how are we going to deal with that? Let’s try to minimize that. But there’s also the side of just avoiding it and the impact that has on an organization.

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah. That to me, that’s a loser’s choice as well. Avoiding conflict, it’s never pleasant. I mean, I’ve dealt with it with my peers. I’ve dealt with it with my membership. I’ve dealt with it with our employees. And even who hasn’t had that uncomfortable couple days with a spouse when you’ve said something maybe you shouldn’t have said? She’s angry, you’re angry, or he’s angry, however that dynamic worked. Avoidance doesn’t do anything to make things better, engagement does. So how do you take that first step? Where do you grab the moral courage to step forward and say, “I have something I need to say because, and here’s why.” And have it not be about the other person, but have it be about the mutual success of either your organization, or your family, or whatever the relationship is. That moral courage needs to be practiced. It needs to be rooted in something real, in values, in a commitment, in ethics.

Mike Panebianco:

To being intentional about that, I think a lot of companies willy nilly their way into it and say, “Everyone should know this is right.” But people, unless you clarify it and you shout it from the rooftops, and you make it your culture, it’s not. It’s not inherent to everyone because we all have different skills and abilities. We all have different value sets that we bring to whatever our personal mission is. And I think one of the things I really love about the training that Vistelar does, and the way we train as aviators is that you give people that opportunity to step forward and try it out, and put it in context. And then dissect it and look at: How did that work versus this? Did you try this? Did you ever consider this? What are people that are standing over here, and this was revolutionary as well, but I remember hearing Gary Klugiewicz talk about this. Everybody’s got a phone camera now. You’re always going to be on camera. Have you ever done something that you definitely are glad is not out on YouTube?

Mike Panebianco:

Talk about a context builder and playing another level of chess. When you prepare yourself for things, think about that almighty cell phone camera, and what Twitter could do to your family, or to your ability to make a living, or to your company. So again, it’s a matter of painting the greatest picture in depth before you’re actually called to serve in that manner. I think that is our highest calling because it’s so expensive when you don’t.

Al:

But it’s an interesting point because, Mike, there was a lot of emphasis there in the story about Herb, and what you just said about the importance of ethics and values and a common mission. And we’ve all experienced it. I’ve been in organizations where that was super important. The leader set the standard for how we were going to treat people, all crazy important. But we also know that establishing that mission and values where everybody’s on the same page, they all have the core same values, in a diverse society, that’s difficult.

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah.

Al:

Right? And it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep working at it, but as you know, Vistelar’s training is more focused on, okay, ideally, yes. Wonderful mission, let’s do it. Let’s get everybody on the same page. But day to day, let’s teach you some skills where you’re going to treat people with dignity by showing them respect, not necessarily because it’s in your moral fabric, or because it’s the values of the company, but because it’s the selfish thing to do. Because if you do use these skills appropriately, you’re going to have a better day. You’re going to go home at the end of the day feeling more satisfied with your job. Right? You’re going to have less stress in your life. Do this because it works and it impacts you personally, not just because it’s what the corporation wants me to do. So I think they all play a role, but I think it’s important that people understand that these skills work. And if they work, you personally are going to be better off.

Mike Panebianco:

Oh, yeah. I mean, I think that’s the great paradox, selfish unselfishness. By serving and fulfilling that mission and doing it really well, you get more than you’re ever going to give. You don’t want to go out and say that, you almost feel like maybe we shouldn’t say this out loud. But when you do these things well, you get to drive home with music in your head instead of, oh, man, I wish I’d done that differently.

Al:

Exactly.

Mike Panebianco:

So I’m fully, yes, absolutely. I’m with you 100%.

Al:

At the extreme, you have a, I’ll just use this at the extreme, extreme, but you have a sociopath working for your business. Right? And you can talk to that person about empathy and company values, and the moral and right thing to do, and ethics and whatever. But that’s probably just personality wise, that’s not going to have a big impact. But if instead it’s saying, “We’re going to teach you some skills, use these skills, and it’s going to impact your life personally. You’re going to be better off. You’re going to be less stressed. You’re going to enjoy your work much more.” That’s just another way to accomplish the same.

Mike Panebianco:

True. And it’s funny that you mention the sociopath because I have some experience with a few. Again, you look at the bottom line of what is the victory in dealing with a sociopath, it’s either getting rid of them, or getting rid of you, because there’s not much in between with individuals who function on that level. And your success scenarios are pretty limited, especially if that sociopath happens to hold the leadership position above yours, or parallel to yours. So surviving long enough to make a change for yourself, so that you can continue on your mission with some other organization, or isolating that individual and exposing that behavior as destructive to the organization, and doing it in a professional way that doesn’t leave you looking worse than the person who is acting like a sociopath, or is a sociopath. That also is important because I think some people in the vacancy of good conflict skills, they go to an emotional extreme and end up looking worse than the person who did horrible things to them.

Al:

Exactly.

Mike Panebianco:

And I’ve never heard more stories than in the healthcare system, where nurses are bullied. I mean, they’re nurturers and caregivers, but it’s amazing how many of them find themselves in workplace bullying issues. I’m just shocked.

Al:

Exactly. And you would think the problem would be the patient, or in the ER, somebody on drugs, or the family member coming in with a child custody issue, or whatever. And all those things are important. And they all create a lot of conflict, a lot of stress. But yeah, you just keep hearing the stories about it’s that intra-organizational thing that ends up having the biggest impact on people. So I mean, as you know, Mike, I mean, that’s part of our goal here at Vistelar, is to be thinking about: How do we take the underlying skills and principles that we’ve been out teaching to contact professionals for 30 years, and bringing those skills into an inter-organizational environment to address those problems?

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah. I think you guys are uniquely qualified to do that, just given the solid principles that you built your courses on, and you built your training on. Just a little context shift, and I think this is reality. I think that course is definitely reality on what you’ve already built.

Al:

Cool. So good. I think this has been a great discussion. I think, Mike, I’d love to get back together with you on a future podcast. And maybe we’ve done a good job of indicating that there’s a problem here. It exists in every organization on the planet. It’s inevitable. It’s not going to go away. And the key here is: How do you manage it well? So you have a positive outcome instead of managing it poorly, where things go south and all those negative things that you described start happening. So I’d love to get back together, maybe talk through some of the solutions that you’ve been thinking about for years.

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah. I think that’d be a fun conversation to have. And I know we could probably do another hour or two on what’s wrong. But I think we laid it out. I think if we could just get more leaders to acknowledge what you described in the horizontal violence, or the internal conflict, and see how much impact that has on their organization and their bottom line. I mean, all board of directors, all leaders, all directors of finance look at the bottom line. And if you could quantify that just by some of the examples that we brought forward, there is ton of loss, a ton of loss in the internal conflict space. And i would love to get back together with you and talk about how we can press forward in solving that.

Al:

Well, you used a term there that has probably been around forever because I’m not an HR person by background. But it’s a term that I’ve learned only in the last few years. And again, I don’t know how new a term it is. You might know. But this term either lateral violence or horizontal violence. I think it’s that term is what’s used in the HR world to describe what we’ve been talking about here.

Mike Panebianco:

Yes.

Al:

Do you know what the origins of those words are, or how long they’ve been around?

Mike Panebianco:

I first heard it in the ’80s, and it was more a discussion surrounding some of the activities in the Vietnam war era, and then ended up being called fragging, where people would take out their aggressions and disappointment on friendly soldiers or officers. And that was the first I heard that phrase used. Again, it kind of went from fragging in the military sense into the HR and professional conflict world as horizontal violence. But I’m hearing it more and more, and I think people are finally starting to understand that this is a real phenomenon, and it’s something that they need to address.

Al:

It’s interesting. For whatever reason, the term didn’t become lateral discord, or lateral upset-ness, or lateral disagreement, it was lateral violence, horizontal violence. Obviously, somebody decided to put that term to it to make it as significant as it is.

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah. And again, I think once you see it got to be more and more prevalent when workplace shootings started happening. That was rare, if ever. I remember the origins of it were back with the postal service, and the people almost made a funny catch phrase out of it, like a disgruntled postal worker. And then it started to become more and more real, so violence, it’s physical, it’s mental, it’s emotional. It exists on all those levels. So I think some people have under labeled it for years. And now that violence is actually being properly attributed to that behavior, I think that’s a good thing because it’ll get the attention to what it needs to be, where we start putting dignity and respect back into the workplace. And I’d love to see some legislation come along on that too, so we can talk about that, and solutions as well. We need it regulatory as well as procedural.

Al:

Mike, you bet you know this very, very well. And as you know, we’ve put some time into children bullying also over the years, and have a program that’s in martial arts schools around the country. But the thing that I find just extraordinarily interesting is you could be talking to anybody. In my experience, this is universal. And they go, “What do you do?” And you start talking about bullying, which is not a topic that normally comes up in a conversation, but I can bring it up. Oh, yeah, we have a conflict management company and we do some work with kids with bullying. Almost universally, and I would say universally, you can look at the person you’re talking to, and their brain will go immediately back to being eight years old, or 10 years old, or 12 years old, and being on the hallway, or in the schoolyard, or whatever, and being bullied. And that memory is like big time embedded.

Al:

And I bet around that same time, they probably got hit in the shoulder. They probably got punched in the face. And they probably don’t even remember that. Right? But that emotional bullying, it’s a sore that it’s deeper than the physical in some cases, hurt that people have when they’re kids.

Mike Panebianco:

Yeah. I think there’s so much science surrounding how an emotional event is recorded by the brain and how it’s recalled, and just how the amygdala and the hippocampus bring back and alert you to threats that you’ve suffered in the past. When I pitched my first project for funding, seed funding, at an incubator, some of the investors, the question I asked is, “How many of you can remember an incident where you were bullied as a kid?”

Al:

And everybody.

Mike Panebianco:

And they all put their hand up.

Al:

Exactly.

Mike Panebianco:

And I said, “Do you remember how it felt when you went home that day? Were you afraid to talk to your parents? Were you afraid to go back to school the next day? Were you afraid to walk around the corner because you knew that the kid that had inflicted that pain on you was going to be around the corner?” And they all, you could see it, there was an emotional shift in the room. I could’ve asked for millions and millions of dollars, and I probably would’ve gotten it because I don’t think there’s a human being alive that can’t recall an abusive relationship that has marked them for life. And what higher calling could we have than to help a young person or a parent who’s trying to help their child come through that in some form, that doesn’t look like PTSD, where they’re impaired by it?

Al:

Right. Exactly.

Mike Panebianco:

I’m with anybody who stands to help press that solution on there, I’ll be there. Call, night or day.

Al:

I’ve seen people where you talk about bullying, and literally their face turns red. And you go, “What is going on?” And they go, “Yeah, yeah. Let me tell you about when I was eight.” You just go, “Really?”

Mike Panebianco:

Yep.

Al:

Right? I mean, it’s [crosstalk 00:50:06].

Mike Panebianco:

And the ones who don’t probably have too many memories of how they inflicted that pain on somebody else.

Al:

We got that problem too, yeah.

Mike Panebianco:

Those are those sociopaths.

Al:

Well, Mike, I always enjoy my conversations with you. Thank you so much for your time today. And be safe.

Mike Panebianco:

Always.

Al:

Especially when you’re up in that airplane flying.

Mike Panebianco:

I’m on vacation for a little bit, but I could think of no other way that I’d rather spend an hour of my time than talking with you about these topics. It’s a daily effort and part of my daily mission. And yeah, I can’t wait to talk to you again, and look forward to that opportunity to move to solution conversations.

Al:

There we go. Thanks a lot. Take care.

Mike Panebianco:

Thanks, Al. Take care.

Al:

Bye bye.