Be confident, not intimidated. Initiate respectful communication before a situation becomes emotional. Express your views in a way that is positive and gets results. Do not be aggressive (also known as bitchy). Do not be angry or defensive. Do not, under any circumstances, cry at the office.
In other words, be assertive.
Assertiveness training became popular within the women's movement in the 1970s, when many otherwise capable women discovered they could not stand up for themselves effectively. It is now used in schools, corporate boardrooms, drug abuse treatment facilities, and many other situations.
I took part in assertiveness training in the mid-70s. In one session, we worked with an acting coach to expand our command of our personal space and to exercise our breathing and vocal cords to relax and potentially deepen our voices. Not to sound like men, but to lose the shrillness that can come with tense, tight muscles.
In another session, we talked about personal power. Many of us said we didn't want power. The trainer asked whether we wanted to get things done. "Of course," we said. "Then you want power," She said. "It's not a bad thing."
She had us line up according to degrees of perceived power. I was president of the organization sponsoring this training, and people nudged me to the head of the line.
The trainer talked some more about personal power - about making your opinions known, exercising influence, helping a group reach a decision, etc. Then she had us line up again, telling us to exercise our judgments about each person's relative power.
This time I ended up near the end of the line. The trainer pointed out that my position had given me situational power the first time around, but my personal interactions did not match up.
"How do you feel about that?" she asked. I admitted that the exercise was eye-opening. I was well respected because of my skills and hard work, but I was an introvert and I hated confrontation. I did not always participate to the degree I could have, and I tended to back off when challenged. Clearly, I did not use my personal power to accomplish as much as I could have.
I always took on big projects and big goals. And each of my jobs has required me to raise issues and give advice. Some bosses were not very receptive, and some projects ran up against other peoople's agendas.
I worked a lot on being stronger and believing in myself more in order to get things done. Marrying a confident New Yorker made a big difference; he coached me to hold my own in difficult situations and helped me to trust myself. But it doesn't always come naturally.
Bottom line: unlike so many trendy and shallow self-help notions, assertiveness training was worthwhile. Given the course I set for myself in life, I probably could have benefited from more of it!