Is it too late to say what you really want to?

Everyone has the experience of walking away from a conversation wishing they had addressed something important in the exchange. It might be a desire to clarify the intentions or values behind what the other person said, or to tell the other person that they are behaving badly or don’t seem to mean what they say. How do you keep an open mind so you can clarify what’s going on and educate the other person about how you want them to treat you?

The 3-step ATOMS Method is a simple process to help you:

  1. Examine Assumptions
  2. Remain Tentative and Open Minded
  3. Say what you want to say and educate other people how to treat you.

Step 1: Examine Assumptions

Write down the assumptions you have about what is going on. Your assumptions may not be what the other person intended or what is going on for both people, but they are real for you. Don’t censor these; just make a note of them so you know what is going on in your head that needs to be checked out.

Step 2: Remain Tentative and Open-Minded

Tell the other person what assumptions you are holding as a result of the exchange. Do this is in a tentative and open-minded way, allowing them to clarify their intentions with you and advise whether your assumptions are correct or not. They may, of course, deny that they come across in a certain way; they may say you are exaggerating. However, if you raise the issues in an open-minded, questioning way, you allow them to ‘keep face’ and set the record straight. You may still believe that they are not admitting to their intentions, but you will be positioned differently because you have noticed and raised the issue. In future, the other person will not forget that you are prepared to talk about these things.


In our recent meeting, it appeared that everyone had a chance to contribute except me.  Is that how you see it?

In our last conversation, I felt you undermined the effort I’ve made on this project.  Did you mean to do this or have I interpreted you incorrectly?

I always feel I’m the one to make the plans.  It’s as if you think this is not a joint responsibility.  Am I right?


Step 3: Speak out and educate the other person how to treat you

After discussion and the opportunity to clarify intentions (or point out what you have experienced), it is time to say how you want things to be different in future. This often requires you to say how you want to be treated in future, and how the relationship could be improved.


When you say there isn’t time to include my input, I feel undermined.  It would be really helpful in future if you would allow time for me to contribute so I feel I’m treated equally.

Thank you for saying you didn’t allow time for my ideas to be considered properly.  In future, I would like to raise this sort of issues this as they happens.  Can you see us being able to discuss it as it happens, or can you suggest an alternative to ensure we both feel our ideas are explored properly?

Whilst there are numerous techniques that could be used to ensure discussion flows easily, the ATOMS method is a starting point from which to visit issues that often are left unexamined. Whatever the other person’s response, you will feel more empowered when you speak out and educate others about how to treat you. If issues are left unexamined, you may feel resentful towards others, and towards yourself, for not raising them.

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