I have noticed that one of the ongoing battles in my life is learning to be assertive. I observe this in the lives of people who have left abusive family environments. There seems to be an extreme. Either people are highly reactionary claiming that they don’t have to put up with anything thusly behaving in an almost bully-like way towards anyone and everyone, or they become welcome mats for victimization beckoning everyone to push them around, never self-advocating.
I used to be the latter, and it didn’t help that I hated confrontations. What’s more, distorted interpretations of biblical teachings only kept me under people’s dirty shoes. “Turn the other cheek!” For those of us from intense family environments seeking empowerment and wholeness, self-advocacy can be a very difficult skill to learn.
Enter the stubborn barista.
Life provides ample opportunities for us when it’s time to practice assertiveness and grow in self-advocacy. Who might be the perfect person with whom to practice? Any resentful person working in customer service, but I’ve found that the best place to pick up assertiveness skills is at a café because you will no doubt eventually deal with a barista who’d rather be anywhere than in front of you.
An opportunity arose today. My youngest daughter went to her new therapist today, and I promised that we would stop by a Starbucks or Caribou for a drink topped with whipped cream as a reward. She agreed that this was an appropriate compensation. When we arrived at Starbucks, we were faced with not one but two unenthused baristas. Their blasé expressions foretold of mediocre beverage preparation. I ordered my daughter’s drink, and it was made improperly as I expected. I immediately started to sweat. “Oh no, I have to be assertive. Damn.” I approached the counter. “Uh…so…this drink doesn’t have whipped cream on it. So…uh…would you mind putting whipped cream on it?” The barista continued to make beverages as she spoke with me. “Most people don’t want whipped cream on their smoothies.”
I was thoughtful for a moment. It’s going to be one of those interactions. A wrong-and-right sort of conversation. “Well, that does make sense,” I answered,”but this isn’t a smoothie. It’s a Frappuccino®. Don’t they always come with whipped cream?” She paused and looked at me for a moment. I smiled and suddenly felt the need to fidget with a wooden stirring stick. “I’ll put whipped cream on it,” she said curtly without smiling. “Thank you so much,” I said sincerely. “My daughter will be very happy.” She handed it to me and said quickly, “Yeah, no problem.”
I hate being assertive. It is contrary to my peacemaking nature. I particularly do not like asking for something to be redone when the original was done improperly. This has happened to me numerous times in cafés, and I’ve chosen to make it right. I have seemingly always met with grouchy baristas who resent being asked to make a drink properly. One even openly argued with me when she made a completely different drink than I ordered.
These are very stressful interactions for me. I loathe them, but, when I reframe them, I see that they are excellent practice, too. In my family growing up, no one was allowed to have an opinion or a self. There was, therefore, no point in attempting to self-advocate. As adults, we need this practice. We need to learn how to ask for what we need and want in a way that respects who we are as well as the person to whom we are speaking. I can say that I have always been respectful even when the person on the other side has not. That takes practice, too.
So, the next time that your drink is made improperly or your meal arrives and it’s wrong, think of what you might do next as an opportunity to practice self-advocacy and assertiveness. You can’t help what your server or barista might do in response to your attempts to right a wrong, but you can take advantage of an opportunity to practice being respectfully assertive. I still don’t like it, but at least I know that I can do it. That’s distress tolerance! It’s also, well, good therapy.