Time to get tough: How being nasty can improve your life

Being nice can ruin your life, according to the authors of two new books. Their advice? Stop being so pathetic!

My raison d'être," says American psychotherapist Jo Ellen Gryzb, "is simply to make people a little less nice." It's been her mission ever since she found herself huddled in her bedroom with her husband one Christmas, whispering about how on earth they were going to get rid of their house guests. "I had no idea how to tell them they had overstayed," she says. "I was a complete walkover."

Gryzb returned to work at Impact Factory, a personal-development agency, and found herself in conversation with colleague Robin Chandler, who had similarly spent his holiday tiptoeing round friends and family. "I know what our problem is," declared Gryzb. "We're suffering from the nice factor."

The pair set about devising a workshop designed to harden us up and cut back on excessive manners; an etiquette class in reverse, if you like. It has been so successful that they are now bringing out a book entitled The Nice Factor: The Art of Saying No.

Gryzb believes the symptoms of niceness are everywhere: every time we let someone off the hook, can't say no, avoid conflict to keep the peace, feel guilty when we ask for something, and get roped into something we don't want to do. She also believes our tendency to over-apologise reveals a worrying undercurrent. "If an apology isn't genuine," she says, "psychologically you are saying you're ashamed of yourself. It's almost as if you are apologising for your very being."

The number of people Gryzb and Chandler have come across in their workshops who make life-changing errors because they don't want to let others down is astounding. "One scarily prevalent issue is the number of people who get married but don't want to," says Gryzb. "They become caught up in the machinery – the dress, the reception, the cake, the ceremony – and don't know how to get out of it. We know of numerous women who spent the whole of their big day crying... and not out of happiness."

The problem, Gryzb says, is that we are brought up in a culture of pleasantries. The ethos of the saying that it's nice to be important, but more important to be nice, is ingrained in all of us. "There's a lot of subtle cultural messages," says Gryzb. "We get it right from birth when we are told good children don't cry. Parents brainwash us about what makes a good child and what doesn't. What's wrong with crying? What's wrong with saying you need something?"

Gryzb isn't the only one who thinks that niceness is holding us back. Next month sees the arrival of Asshole: How I got Rich and Happy by Not Giving a S*** About You, by New York author Martin Kihn. "I was the nicest guy in the world – and it was killing me," he says in the book. "My life was a dictionary without the word 'no'. If you asked me for a favour – even the kind of favour that required me to go so far out of my way that I needed a map, a translator and an oxygen tank – even if I didn't know you that well, I might hesitate a second, but I'd always say yes."

Kihn walked other people's dogs, traipsed out of his way to bring back the most complicated lunch orders for colleagues and handed over his money to whichever charity or sales scam asked for it. The result of such "kindness" was a dead-end job and a second-rate apartment.

While Gryzb recommends subtle personality changes, Kihn takes it a step further. He picked up tips from the masters – Donald Trump, Scarface and "the guy in my building with a tattoo on his face" – and decided to "blowtorch away my old personality and uncover the rock-hard warrior within". In his book, Kihn devises a "10-step programme to assholism" for anyone wanting to acquaint themselves with their darker side. He himself signed up to the National Rifle Association, started kickboxing, screamed at colleagues and ate garlic bagels on public transport.

What is refreshing about both Gryzb and Kihn is that they offer an antidote to simpering self-help books. This isn't about bettering yourself; it's about worsening yourself.

Gryzb's workshops are confrontational. The first thing she asks participants to do is turn to the person on their right and think nasty thoughts about them. And her advice if you do find yourself at the altar with someone you don't want to be with is stark: "Run away," she says. "Don't face up to it. Don't make a big announcement in front of all your family and friends, that would be awful. Just get a cab to the nearest airport."

She also recommends practising being less nice. Buy something you know you don't want just to exercise your right to take it back; tell someone on the phone you are too busy to talk to them when you're not. Small things maybe, but if well practised, that inner alpha personality will have much less trouble coming out when it is really needed.

Kihn's recommendations are a little more brutal. Show no interest in others, he advises. In the workplace, take credit for everything except mistakes, and conduct all conversations on speakerphone. "The speakerphone is a great way to avoid the inconvenience of having to listen," he writes. "This enabled me to start executing one of my original Asshole fantasies: to turn into one of those office jerks who are loathed even more than the person who steals yoghurt from the fridge."

Kihn claims his project led him on "a voyage of months which succeeded beyond my wildest dreams". And Gryzb has long sorted out her problem of overstaying house guests. "No longer am I afraid of being selfish or being seen as selfish," she says. "I don't offer apologies or excuses, nor do I put someone else's needs before mine. Becoming less nice has made me a nicer person."

'The Nice Factor: The Art of Saying No' by Jo Ellen Gryzb and Robin Chandler (Fusion, £10.99) is out on 20 March. 'Asshole: How I Got Rich and Happy by Not Giving a S*** About You' by Martin Kihn (Penguin, £7.99) is out on 3 April

Gryzb and Chandler's 10-step guide to getting tough

1. Don't smile

Smiling gives someone permission to think you don't really mean what you say as you have this big grin on your face

2. Stand your ground

Backing off is wishy-washy. Standing your ground gives weight to your intention. This means both physically and verbally

3. Tell the truth

Let the other person know what you are feeling. Let them know you aren't comfortable with what they are doing

4. Agree when it's unexpected

If someone tells you you're being silly, agree. They have no place to go after that. "You're a bit touchy." "You're right, I am." It takes the wind out of their sails

5. Don't point fingers

If you intend to tell someone you don't like their behaviour, start sentences with how you feel, not what's wrong with them. Pointing an accusatory finger will only make them more defensive

6. Make up a list of handy excuses

This will get you out of situations long enough to see clearly what's going on before you put yourself back in the fray

7. Change your mind whenever you want to

You have the right to change your mind, whether it's two minutes, two hours or two months after the fact. There will be times when you don't want to honour your commitments

8. Keep things short and sweet

Gabbling won't help, it just gives the other person rope to hang you with

9. Don't engage

Never apologise or explain. Don't supply fuel for someone to use against you

10. Get your 'no' in quickly

Set your marker right at the beginning of the discussion. You can always change your mind later, but if you say it fast, it's out on the table and can't be ignored

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform