On the main thoroughfare in my hometown is a greasy spoon called Callie’s Café. Like all greasy spoons, it specializes in fried foods, processed meats, and heavy starches cooked in butter, accompanied with coffee and followed by pie. Think omelets and onion rings, burgers and bacon, biscuits and gravy. They serve comfort food, in other words, which is why I took my fourteen-year-old daughter there for a serious conversation. I thought the fare might make the dialogue more palatable.
Callie’s is principally a hideaway for men between the age of 40 and 75 who have weathered in life a few more storms than the average person. The patrons are honest and strong. A perfect environment for my fourteen-year-old socialite who is, understandably, preoccupied with developing her own style, having friends to hang with on Friday night, and succeeding at school and track—with finding her place in the world. All of this, it seemed to me, was weighing on her heavily.
It was Saturday around 10 a.m., which meant the tables were full, so we took a seat at the counter overlooking the kitchen. A waitress brought us coffee and water. The clanking of plates and forks combined with the crowded chatter produced a din that gave me a sense of anonymity despite our proximity to complete strangers. I felt free to talk freely.
As we began eating our bacon and eggs, I broached the subject: “There’s something I want to tell you.” Then I pulled my pen and notepad from my pocket and set them on the counter, because a good explanation is made better by visual representation.
Waves of regret for having accompanied me to breakfast rolled over my daughter’s face. “Oh great. Here comes a lecture,” her body language conveyed.
“Now hold on,” I responded. “Imagine you’re a manager, and there’s a guy on your team who always shows up late to your meetings. When he arrives, he cracks jokes and distracts everybody else. You’ve asked him to stop and to arrive on time, but he doesn’t. Why do you think he continues?”
My goal was to teach my daughter the Six Sources of Influence—at least, that was partly my goal. But I knew she’d have more interest in cutting coupons than in learning a theory of social psychology. I also know that the trick to teaching someone the Six Sources of Influence is to catch them making the fundamental attribution error, and then reveal to them their error.
If you ask someone what they think influences behavior, they are likely to wax philosophically about nature and nurture. But if you invite them to imagine a scenario in which they are frustrated or annoyed with the behavior of someone else, they invariably attribute behavior to one thing: personal motivation.
“He’s selfish,” she said. “Or disrespectful. Or he doesn’t care.”
Bingo. I opened my notebook and drew a matrix. Then I gave my daughter an abbreviated presentation of the Six Sources.
As we reviewed each source, we imagined what else might possibly be influencing the man on her team to arrive late and crack jokes. We didn’t have to imagine for long. Within a minute or two, our conversation drifted from imaginary scenarios to the real scenarios we face at home: the problem of the dishes and how her mom and I respond; why her sister “borrows” clothing without permission and what she could do about it. And on and on.
This was good fun, and we had some good laughs. My reluctant teenager became interested and engaged. But the real insight came when we discussed how we might respond to others’ troubling behavior if we considered all the sources that might be influencing it. It wasn’t hard for her to see that instead of blaming and accusing, equipped with this new knowledge she’d be more likely to be generous and curious, helpful and patient.
That’s when I expressed my ultimate purpose. “I share this with you because it seems to me that you’ve been making the fundamental attribution error with regard to your own behavior. You’re holding yourself morally blameworthy and believing you lack the discipline to read, to do your stretches, to put down your phone, when what you really lack is ability and a more complete picture of how your behavior is influenced. You’re the subject of your life, but you can also be the scientist of it.”
A wave rolled over my daughter’s face again, but not one of regret. It was a picture of gratitude and insight.
We finished our meal, and I took our bill to the register to settle up. As I was doing so, I heard a voice in my ear: “That was epic.”
I turned around and was greeted by a man who appeared to be about sixty, resembled Ed Harris, wore well-used boots. He was smiling ear to ear.
“Yeah, it was,” I said. “You mean the food?”
“That was epic,” he repeated. “That conversation with your daughter. I hope you don’t mind my eavesdropping. I watched the whole thing. You don’t see that anymore these days. That was epic.”
I thanked him, and my daughter and I headed for the café exit. As I stepped out into the sunlight, I had to choke back a tear, for now the insights were coming to me. That man helped me realize that, without planning to, without practice, in teaching my daughter a valuable interpersonal theory, I demonstrated it, novice though I be. I gained, in that brief exchange, this insight: It is impossible to share the skills of Crucial Conversations etc. without also demonstrating how impactful they can be, for teaching targets ability, is born of good intent, advances via respect, and feels and looks like social support.
So often in our struggles with others we struggle to use the skills we’ve learned in Crucial Conversations or Crucial Accountability or Influencer, and it doesn’t occur to us to teach them. We speak of “crucial moments” as though they are single interactions of conflict or weight, forgetting that life is a compendium of moments that unfolds in chapters—childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, working life, parenthood, retirement—each with so much at stake.
Of course, there’s still much I must do to support my daughter. But the fact remains: you don’t have to wait for a crucial moment to put your crucial skills to use. The skills are such that when you teach them, you demonstrate them. And discussing them can anchor your efforts.
That is epic, indeed.
16 thoughts on “Crucial Moments at Callie’s Café”
I enjoyed reading this. Many excellent points. I particularly like this: ” We speak of “crucial moments” as though they are single interactions of conflict or weight, forgetting that life is a compendium of moments that unfolds in chapters—childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, working life, parenthood, retirement—each with so much at stake.” Thank you for writing!
Love this. I will use it on my kids. Thanks for sharing
Thank you for decades of sharing insights and vulnerability. You have led the way for me, and so many.
This is so tender and beautiful. It made me commit to being a better parent. And a better person. Thank you, Ryan.
This was really terrific, not only in feeling this from your daughter’s perspective, but also from yours in receiving Ed’s 😉 feedback. Also a great reminder to me of how frequently I’m guilty of the fundamental attribution error (which unfortunately is very frequently), on others and as well as on myself. Thanks so much for sharing!
That is beautiful. I also read good timing in here: drop support in the form of insights, a bigger picture, right when the receiver (the teenager – and the eavesdropper – in this story) is ready for it.
Thank you for this article of great insight! Your daughter is a lucky girl!
Thanks, Robin. I’m a lucky guy. 🙂
I absolutely loved this.
My insight – which seem so simple now – is in how you broached the subject. Through an example.
Beautifully done Ryan! Lots of good fodder for consideration. I love the story sharing as an example for real life implementation!
Great lesson! 👏
Let’s hear it for the eavesdroppers among us. This would also be a great short video so we could see it in action and hope to replicate it 😀
Nicely done! I can relate as father of 7 young adults.
I admire the way words so easily flows from some people around me and with that make it a safe space.This was an yes “epic” conversation in natural flow. I find myself “impaired” in expression and forget the right words and feel if not stupid however close to it.. I am reading the Crucial conversation over and over and think well it must one day stay in there and when faced with “situations” I also find myself in lack of finding the words..English is my second language however its not the main problem ..I think its deeper than that.I have never been afraid to express or share my feelings. I got a lot of help from the book Crucial Conversation what my go to place is when I am triggered. It was a hard lesson..I think about myself as a person who always make it safe….well my expression and not having problem sharing where I am mentally physically and spiritually with people. I now understand that can be very intimidating and feeling threatening to others..By my easy going could make it very unconformable for someone who is closed …I did not make it safe so yes a big lesson and I am determined to practice and be as good of a communicater as I can…To listen and feel in where it broke down and to find a common ground and ask questions. I appreciate my own openness however it for sure can be too much and my work is of course to whats behind that openness…being admired, liked so cool..etc etc… oh dear this book kick my butt and its a good kick!!
It continues to kick my butt too, Anna. Keep at it!
Bravo! You are a great dad. You are also a great example to me and others around you. Thank you Ryan!
Thank you Ryan for the wonderful lesson!
Here are some thoughts stimulated by your lesson.
I understand the most up-to-date scientific model to explain human behavior is the biopsychosocial model. It requires relevant factors in biology, psychology and sociology to be understood in order to provide the most accurate explanation of behavior. These are three vast academic disciplines where research is continuously ongoing.
Human behavior is so complex that in order to simplify it, many of us only pick one of the three disciplines (we poorly understand) and then start making judgments about ourselves and others.
If one picks only biology, then one risks making racist or sexist judgments.
If one picks only psychology, then one risks making the fundamental attribution error.
If one picks only sociology, then one risks making judgments based on the “blank slate” concept. [from Steven Pinker]
So we need to study and do research in all three academic disciplines in order to make the best judgments, policies and laws for the sake of all individuals and civil society.
That’s a tall order and humanity still has a lot of work to do!
I was not aware of the Six Sources of Influence model. It appears extremely practical and I plan to start using it.
Thanks again for the wonderful lesson and story. I feel so grateful for Crucial Learning providing so many useful tools!