How not to be nice

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The Independent Culture
If the thought of Christmas fills you with dread, it is probably because you are simply too nice. The solution to being too nice could be a course teaching you how not to be. If this all sounds too much like psycho-babble, can you, in all honesty, say that you will be spending Christmas doing exactly what you want this year?

What many of us would probably like to do is to tuck ourselves away with a partner and a selection of videos, but what we're actually going to do is stay with the mother-in-law and other ghastly relatives. Or are you expected to "do" the whole Christmas entertaining thing for family and friends? So it's the perfect time to learn to say a resounding "no". And it doesn't even have to sound rude.

Robin Chandler and Jo Ellen Grzyb run a course called The Nice Factor, which aims to stop you being a people-pleaser, and teach you to take back control of your life.

Grzyb, an American, who doesn't come across as unassertive, confesses that Christmas used to turn her into a quivering wreck. "When I was married, my husband and I were adopted into people's families. I was a professional buffer," she explains, "but rather than say 'No, this year I'm not going to do Christmas', I would leave the country just so I could say 'Oh gosh that's too bad we are actually going abroad this year'. It's a pretty extreme way of dealing with it. But it wasn't about assertiveness; it was an issue about being too nice."

But what's the alternative to being nice? Isn't it to be nasty? So much for the season of goodwill. Chandler believes it's a question of balance and finding the middle ground. "The longer you have been nice the more likely it is that you will be nasty when you try to change your behaviour," he says. "Or there is the kicking the cat syndrome - putting your frustration elsewhere. You will explode inwardly, which may lead to stress or inappropriate behaviour, like road rage or getting angry at the supermarket checkout. We aim for people not to be nasty, but not to be nice."

The first point of departure on The Nice Factor course is that no-one is going to tell anyone what to do. Which is why nice people always get saddled at Christmas in the first place - the "Oh, Auntie Joan won't mind having them round for lunch", or "Peter has got a big flat, he can put them up for a couple of nights" syndrome. Chandler and Grzyb believe that there isn't anything wrong with being nice as such, it's when you are crippling yourself in order to provide for somebody else that the problems begin.

"We concentrate on simple things," says Grzyb. "For example, there is always a thing about taking or not taking the last jaffa cake left on the plate. One person got to the point where she said 'I'm taking the last jaffa cake'; she thought this was a big step from saying 'Does anyone else want the last one?'. If anyone asks 'Is it OK if I ask a question?', we always say 'No', just to get them to be aware of the stuff that comes out of their mouths."

One of the techniques employed on the course is called "getting your no in quickly". Apparently, the quicker you say no to a request the less likely you are to have your arm bent. It can be quite blunt: "Would you like to come and stay with us for Christmas?" Chandler suggests, answering: "No". Then you can revert to type and fix things. "Sorry, didn't mean to sound blunt but... I was looking forward to spending it alone."

Nick attended the course because he was tired of saying yes. "I now find that it's better not to go all round the houses to make everything nice for people. Everybody knows where they stand and knows the boundaries. I shall be saying very clearly where I'm spending Christmas."

JULIE ASCHKENASY

The Nice Factor (0171-226 1877) weekend course on 9-10 Dec, pounds 150 plus VAT (includes lunch)

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