Being assertive is crucial to having successful relationships, be they intimate, friendship or collegial. A major drawback I find in standing up for myself is: 'Am I making a bigger deal out of this issue than is called for?' We can often feel guilty about standing up for ourselves and what we believe to be important. Even if we master our assertiveness skills, being neither passive nor aggressive, we can still feel overly intense and confrontational, as if we're causing a scene. The problem is, some people can really get on our nerves and do the wrong thing by us, be it consciously on purpose, unconsciously or semi-consciously. They might even think they're justified in doing what you find offensive. Some people are dominating by personality and boss you around. They might be natural leaders and extravert, but it can also feel intimidating and controlling. So where do we draw the line? When do we make a scene and stand up for ourselves and when do we 'get over it'?
Firstly it is always useful to think before you act. Think about what your intentions are for confronting someone. If your intentions are honest, kind, necessary and justifiable then go ahead. If they are petty, foolish and ignorant, stop right there and deal with your feelings and personal issues first. This is just plain common sense. Ask yourself 'am I in a bad mood, tired, hungry or annoyed about something else in my life?' We can often project difficulties and feelings from other parts of our lives onto what is happening to us presently. Projection is often the reason behind over-reacting. A build-up of stress (excessive demands on scarce resources) can often make us edgy and reactive. Learn to take deep breaths and relax yourself before being assertive. Separate and compartmentalise what is your business and your responsibility and what is others'.
It is always helpful to have reasons behind a complaint, so think about what these are before you open your mouth. Use your assertiveness skills and be straightforward and open about what you think and feel without being overly critical or aggressive. Speak in an even pace and volume of voice, and look at the other person with a gentle gaze without eye-balling them or pulling a face. Don't point your finger and don't shout. Just say what you have to say conversationally. Its the content that really matters so don't let this be drowned out by superficial and bestial aggressive devices.
If someone you know is being controlling and intimidating, for example, you could choose a suitable time and say to the person "I'm feeling pretty intimidated by you - you're coming across as a bit intense. Is this your intention". This is a good balance between pointing out your concern, whilst not being overly critical or deprecating. You're also being clear and describing how you feel about the behaviour without revealing and disclosing too much of yourself. It's important to 'own your feelings' but it's also important not to make a public record of them. So much of ourselves is public property nowadays - let's keep some sovereignity over our inner feelings and handle and share them with care. A wise person keeps his own counsel unless he needs to talk to someone else.
Traditional assertiveness training, I think, makes people overly-vulnerable by expressing too much of their feelings. In intimate relationships this is usually okay to do (in fact necessary to deepen trust and intimacy), but with associates, work colleages and the like you may come across as weird by saying 'I feel' all the time and by sharing personal feelings that you harbour. So keep the feelings bit manageable. If you feel devastated and terrified, you might say something like 'I feel pretty intimidated and a bit worried'. If you feel someone is being overly contolling you might say 'I feel a bit controlled here - can't we do things a bit more democratically'. Its quite an art-form finding the right balance. I often find it useful to insert a few comments that don't necessarily require a response from the other person in order to help them think about things themselves for a moment without being confronted and feeling on the spot to retort. This could otherwise bring on conflict that could escalate.
Regarding conflict - bear in mind that it can't be avoided. So treat it as normal. If you are intimidated by conflict in general I recommend that you normalize conflict for yourself. Tell yourself every now and then, over and over, that conflict is a normal part of life. "Conflict happens". Because it damn well does. The conflict is not so much the problem. What matters is how you go about it and how often you need to have conflict with certain individuals. If you engage in conflict and / or be assertive and make a comment only when you need to others will come to respect your criticism. Constructive criticism and fair assertions will also make others less defensive. If you can accept other people's assertive comments and constructive criticism, without getting all reactive and defensive, then you are also showing yourself to be open and honest and without a double standard. Always be prepared for the other person's retort. You might not like to hear it but you have to consider it. Also - never make a threat you are not willing to carry out. Let this guide you with any consequences you assert to the other person. For example, if you say 'I really need you to do this or otherwise I don't want to be your friend anymore', then you have to be prepared to walk away if they decline. Making threats is generally bad form, but if you do feel the need to make an ultimatum because what the other person is doing is in deed so offensive, then make sure you take responsibility to back it up. Otherwise you teach people that you are flaky and not to be taken seriously and you threaten them unnecessarily.
Also, if you're like me I can often feel a little guilty after being assertive. I can also feel empowered, responsible and in charge of my own life. Typically the way I feel afterwards is the litmus test for my true intentions and how justifiable I was. If I am feeling okay afterwards it means I handled myself pretty well. If I feel guilty it shows that what I said was either unncessary or I went about it in an overly harsh way. Learn to reflect on these feelings afterwards. They can help you refine your assertiveness and relationhsip skills. If you have made a mistake, learn to say sorry for that mistake. If you make an apology be specific with the apology. Do not say 'I'm sorry for everything' as this grants full permission to an unscrupulous person to in deed blame you for everything. Tolerate your feelings of shame and then act responsibly. Remember you are a human being and you are fallible, learning how to be a better, more successful and honourable person every day. You may just say something like 'what I said is still important to me, but I am sorry for coming across overly intense'. Again, this separates what is important to you from what you have done that may have been inappropriate such that the origional intention of the asserted message is not lost.
You will feel better about yourself if you talk directly to the person you have a problem with. If you only gossip to others about it you might feel dishonourable. So make sure you address the person you have a problem with before you gossip about them! This is even the case if you only say a few quick words to them. You at least haven't done so behind their back.
So hopefully this have given you a few tips and something to think about regarding whether you stand up for yourself and act assertively or keep it to yourself. And if you do stand up for yourself the most important thing is how you go about it. Remember, if the other person gets hot under the collar or acts in a silly or petty manner, they will be the one left with egg on their face - not you. Sometimes integrity is your only reward. Learn to savor it.