Saturday, December 15, 2012

Guidelines for Consensus Decision Making

I've mentioned before that my primary responsibility at work is to go through boxes of old documents and determine what needs to be salvaged and what can be shredded.  Occasionally I'll come across a gem, something out of the past that gleams across decades of correspondence between employer and union.  I found these guidelines in a box from the 1980s; they were on a photocopied sheet with a handwritten note on the top, "From Brother Huff."  Brother Huff might have been a helpful member on a bargaining committee.  What strikes me during this holiday season of clicking time clock negotiations on the fiscal cliff is how far removed our politics are from consensus.  I think these guidelines are accurate and effective not only in a bargaining situation but for worklife in general.  That our political discourse is the direct opposite of the guidelines is proof to me that the system (what does one call it, plutocratic, a.k.a., "pay to play," representative democracy?) is designed to produce indecision.


Treat differences of opinion as a way of:

  • Gathering additional information
  • Clarifying issues
  • Forcing the group to seek better alternatives.

If conflicts arise, try to deal with them immediately so they don't continue to hinder the group. Your willingness to take the risk and deal with personal conflicts can mean the difference between success or failure for the entire group.
  1. Be wary of quick and easy agreements. Examine the reasons for the apparent agreement to be sure that a true consensus has been reached.
  2. Try not to compete. Even if you win, in the long run the group may lose.
  3. Avoid arguing.
  4. Avoid win/lose stalemates.
  5. Avoid either/or propositions.
  6. Avoid a compromise if you feel your position is the most reasonable -- provided you have carefully listened to and answered the objections to your point of view.
  7. Try not to settle an issue by voting. It will split the team into winners and losers.
  8. Try to stick with the discussion even if somebody attacks you or your ideas.
  9. Don't attack people. It only causes them to be defensive and therefore less effective.
  10. Don't ignore conflict. Find out why it exists so that it can be dealt with and resolved.
  11. Listen and pay attention to what others have to say.

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