Applying the ATOMS Technique

Discover the power of tentatively exploring issues in a conversation so the other person remains open to listening. An example is provided of how to effectively apply the ATOMS technique to ensure you don’t avoid having the conversations that matter.

You then prepare for your conversation. The next stage of the ATOMS process is to be Tentative and Open-Minded, whilst you're checking out your assumptions. The last part is to Say what you want and educate other people how to treat you. It might sound simple, but say you've done that.

You've come away from a conversation, you've thought about it, you've identified the reaction it's had in you emotionally, physically, and what's been said to you. You're going to be tentative and open minded, and ask them lots of questions using your listening skills to check it all out. But at the end, you're going to set some boundaries effectively. Say no, and this is how I need you to treat me, and let's talk about how we can improve our relationship.

So the first one, we're identifying our assumptions. Let's say for instance, you've had a conversation with someone and we ask them for some help and they immediately, agreed to help you. But there was a note of sarcasm in there, and they felt that you were asking too much and you felt they treated you in a disrespectful manner.

You would go back to them and say, “Hey, can I have the conversation?” You make a contract with them. “Is now a good time to talk?” Lovely. You say, “Okay, after our conversation, I came away thinking that you were not taking this situation seriously, you were also sarcastic, although I may be wrong, but I'm just wanting to check that out.” Whatever your little list is.

Then you say, “I'd like to explore that with you.” And while you're examining it and giving them an opportunity to explain the effect they had on you — was it their intention or is that just how it came across? — be tentative, "T" and open-minded "OM".

At the end, after you've explored each of those things and clarified them, you need to say "S" what you want, and educate them how to treat you. Firstly, you say to them, “I appreciate what you're saying, and it's unfortunately you came across in that manner. I’m really pleased you didn't mean to say that, because if you did, it's not really good for our relationship, it'd be very unsupportive.”

Say how you feel when they do a certain thing. So you could say to them, “I appreciate you didn't mean to be rude in any way. And you said there wasn't a note of sarcasm. You know, I would find it really helpful if in future when you're sharing information with me, you would do X.”

Okay? Because you tell them that when they do it this way, this is the effect it has on you. You're educating them how to treat you, but you're also giving them some tools so that they can improve communication.

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Handling Resistance from Others

Learn simple but powerful techniques to maintain your boundaries without conflict and maintaining rapport.

If the person tries to get you to change your mind, which is something that's going to happen (particularly if there's a lot at stake for the other person) just repeat it. Don't turn into someone who's trying to get the other person to take the pressure off.

Say, “I appreciate you're really upset and I can really see that. I know everyone's coming from abroad to be at the family event. And as I said before, it was impossible for us to go away earlier in the year and we have decided to do it now. Let's try to find another way, perhaps the week before we can all get together, or we can have an early celebration.”

Give the person something back, but just repeat it. Provide a bit of context and it's not just about saying no, but give people evidence that you've thought about it. Then they're more likely to go along with what you say; they won't resist or pressure you.

If they don't think you've thought it out and you're not particularly committed to the choice you're making, they'll try to get you to change your mind. That's why clear voice, good communication, and owning what you say is going to improve the ability for you to be taken seriously.

When you start taking yourself seriously, then you can actually show other people that that's how you want them to treat you. If the other person continues on and will not give up, and they keep trying to get you to change your mind and they try to make you feel guilty (although we did point out earlier that that's not a possibility), they can have an effect on you. You know when they say that, you might feel guilty but they don't make you feel guilty.

This is simple, but it's a massive shift in responsibility. Now, if the person keeps doing that, shift the responsibility. Not to you, trying to give them more information; you've repeated it a couple of times. You've shown empathy. You shift it, and you know, you really don't have to defend your choice here. You then get the other person to defend that position on why they're not listening to you.

You could say, “Hey, we've been talking about this for 10 minutes. I can see you're disappointed, and I’ve said about three times that I'm not able to make it.” (See how my voice is nice and calm? It's not aggressive or sarcastic.) “You know, I'm struggling here. You don't seem to be taking me seriously.”

You shift it to the other person there. Now they've got to defend why they're not listening to you and why they keep pushing. Do it with assertiveness, which means that you respect their position as well. You don't turn into aggression or sarcasm because that is really a critical parent stance, and it negates everything that you're trying to build in keeping rapport in that relationship.

Become a better version of yourself when you learn to say no. Do you have to clear up something on the inside? Do you have to practice? Do you have to live with the difficulty that comes up because you're not used to saying no?. And it's old history that actually results in an immediate reaction of guilt. The more you say no to other people, you say yes to yourself.

You can do it with respect. You can do it with awareness of the consequences, and not give into threats.

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Technique for Saying No with Ease

By changing how you present information to another person when saying no, you increase the chance of other people taking you seriously, as you show you are not objecting without due concern for their needs.

The more important the outcome to either party saying yes or no, the more you've got to put things back. A wonderful technique is called the good news, bad news, good news sandwich. Very simple. Think of a situation or problem - and think of a sandwich. There's something tasty in the middle and there's a piece of bread either side.

The piece in the middle, we're calling it the bad news. It may not be bad news, but it's the bit where there's potentially going to be a bit of conflict. The person might want to change your mind. They might want to talk you into doing something. It's a bit where you're going to say no, and potentially there'll be a bit of resistance. The good news is when you put a bit of credit in that relationship bank, you then deal with the difficult bit and then you put some credit in the bank again.

Here’s an example of when somebody asks you to do something, it's really important to them, or it is social or cultural expectation and you don't want to go along with it. We'll stay with the Christmas example at the moment, as it's pretty generic. Your mother says to you, “Great, we're going to have another family Christmas this year. Everyone's coming around, you'll be there, won't you?” And on this occasion, you've decided at this time of year, it's the only time you're going to have two weeks off to go on holiday with your partner.

So if you say, “No, not coming home at Christmas,” when there's a family tradition, you can expect a bit of a reaction. So let's use the good news, bad news, good news sandwich. "Mum, I appreciate how important that is for you, and I know you're getting everybody together and it's a tradition we all enjoy. On this occasion, my partner and I have decided that we are going to have a two week holiday and we're going away for that period. And I know this can be a little bit disappointing and I really wish we could have more time, but I'm going to have to say no.” The good news, bad news, good news sandwich, and then you stop.

Often people just keep talking because they're hoping mum will come around, or the other person who's reacting to the information will come around and say, “Of course, don't come home at Christmas.” But they don't. They're disappointed. They're upset. They might get you to change your mind. And that's often when people just start sort of using all the excuses and imploring the person to understand. They slip into the adapted child. Imploring the other person to take the heat off and stop pushing.

Can't you see how difficult this is for me? That's not being adult and it's not being assertive. The good news element of this sandwich is almost using the nurturing parent. It's empathy, showing some respect for the other person that they will be disappointed and it's okay. We don't have to fake it or fix it.

So you have to do this properly. When you're doing the good news, bad news, good news sandwich, it's no good going, “Well, I know it's really important to you and, um, you know, I know you want to do it sort of thing, but I'm not going to be able to do it this year and we could perhaps do a bit later on.”

Can you see I'm looking away? So what you need to do is use really good nonverbal communication. I know this is really important to you. I can see how disappointed you are. You’ve put an extra effort into that. Genuinely. Of course, you've got a clear and assertive voice. You're not mumbling and bumbling and hoping they'll get this over and done with pretty quickly, but you are also owning what you say.

So often when people say no, they never actually get to it. They might even try the good news, bad news, good news sandwich. And they say, "Hey, look, I know it's really important to you. And, and Christmas is something we do every year. And, um, going away at this time of year is really important to me and I'm sure you can understand and we can do it later.”

That's a very nonassertive way. Nobody's actually said no. So own what you're saying. Put the credit in the bank. Say, “I know it's disappointing and I'm going to have to say no.” Note that I don't say, but. I'm not committed to it when we say, but — we negate everything that's gone before.

Think about it: I'd love to come on holiday with you, but I'm doing something else. It's almost like I'm just saying that because it's a bit of a sweetener, it doesn't mean anything and it has an effect on the brain. Just changing your but to and will improve the quality of your communication immensely.

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