Last year I wrote a blog about being too nice for your own good.
This blog is going to concentrate on The Art of Saying 'No'. Or as I said in the Independent article a few years ago, I had to learn to be a little bit nasty in order to be a nicer person.
Oh, oh, I can hear some of you saying, I don't want to become nasty!
Of course not in the usual way we think of being nasty; the problem is that people who are too nice attract other people and situations that take advantage of their good nature.
What often happens is that resentments get stored up and build over time so that there is an inevitable explosion - either internally, turning your anger against yourself; or externally, spewing your accumulated rage all over an innocent bystander or directed at the right person for the wrong reason.
Now that's really being nasty.
The 'little bit nasty' I'm talking about is a way of toughening yourself up so you aren't so much of a sitting duck.
That's why I want to talk about The Art of Saying 'No' because there is an art to telling someone that you either can't or won't do something they want you to.
People make decisions in a nano-second about who might or might not be cooperative. You do it too - we all do it. We need something doing and we go through the list in our heads and chuck out the ones who will be more trouble than it's worth and make a short-list of those who we figure might be more willing.
The 'nicer' and more unassertive you are, the more you end up at the top of other people's short-lists: they know you'll find it hard to refuse or they choose to ignore any protest you may offer.
So how to toughen up without losing your essential niceness? Here are a couple of very simple things to try.
Be well prepared. One problem that unassertiveness people have is that they think of what to say after the fact - that's when they have long conversations in their heads about what they could have said.
My advice: have a few excuses up your sleeve:
"I'm so sorry, I'd love to help but I've already committed that time to_______."
"Oh dear, I can't talk now as I have a deadline that was just given to me."
"What a shame you didn't contact me earlier but I've already promised my time to ____."
"Good heavens, is that the time? I have to run; let's talk tomorrow."
These are all designed to accomplish three things: 1) you aren't ever really nasty as you are using 'nice' language as a way of saying 'no'; if you notice, I never once suggest you even use the word 'no'; 2) you buy time and get yourself off the hook, while still appearing cooperative; 3) you begin to look like a person who isn't always available at the drop of a hat just because someone wants you to be.
Wipe that smile off your face! That sounds a bit harsh doesn't it? Yet smiling on the outside when feeling unhappy on the inside gives out mixed messages. Unassertive people smile a lot, especially when they are saying something they think the other person won't want to hear.
Practise this one in front of the mirror. First say, "I'm sorry, I won't be able to help you with that," with a smile one your face. This is where you should be able to see the mixed message a smile and saying 'no' gives out. Next say the same thing without a smile.
You don't have to look grumpy! Just turn down the volume on your smile and see what happens when you look at yourself in the mirror.
If someone really wants to rope you into doing something they can happily take your smile as a signal to keep pushing - that you really, deep down want to help.
These and many other simple techniques that we use on our Assertiveness Skills courses are designed to be easy and doable so that you really don't have to put yourself through the ringer to become less nice.
The Art of Saying 'No' can have a very positive impact on your life.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory