Saturday, January 15, 2011

Affairs Between Consensus & Decision

In every group, sooner or later, a decision making apparatus must be agreed upon. Whether it be consensus, majority rule, unanimity, or any other method, there must be some modus operandi for the groups to make decision. By consensus, I mean here that every one in the group, regardless of whether or not he individually agrees with it, understands and feels that others understand him. Ordinarily, if the group does not have consensus and a decision goes through, the group pays. For instance : 

Let us suppose that a group, perhaps a committee, has gotten together with the task of deciding a particular issue. The issue has come to vote, and the vote is fairly deciding, say, six -to-two. The two people in the minority, however, do not really feel that they have had an opportunity to express their feelings about the issue. Although they are committed to go along with the decision, they have an inner reluctance to do so. This covert reluctance may manifest itself in any of the symptoms already mentioned. Perhaps the most common symptom is a loss of interest, or involvement, although this situation could be expected to go rise to any of them.

The question of consensus is central to decision making. In a deeper sense, consensus means that every one in a group feels that the group understands his position and he is feeling about it, and he feels, then, that the group should take a particular course of action even though he does not personally agree. If the individual is not at all allowed to voice his sown feelings and reasons for voting against the particular issue, he will, at least unconsciously, resist the efficient functioning of the group from that point on. If consensus is not required, decisions can often be made more quickly (e.g. by majority rule or by fiat) but delay will probably result due to the unacknowledged members having various ways of resisting, once the decision has been made and the action is undertaken.

The ability to detect a lack of consensus is, of course very important attribute for a group leader. A few rules of thumb might be of help here. The clue is that it is very difficult to find out whether there is a consensus unless each person is allowed to speak; for lack of disagreement does not necessarily indicate that the group has consensus. Frequently people are simply reluctant to raise their objections. However, if each member is asked separately whether or not he assents to the issue, the group leader can usually pick up objections; he may be able to spot disagreements by noticing such changes, as changes in tone or voice.

In one group the leader asked if every one agreed on a suggested course of action. As he went around the room he got the following responses ; Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, okay. This leader, being fairly astute, immediately began to discuss the point with the man who said okay, because this man apparently could not quite bring himself to be like the other members of the group with regard to this decision. This inability is usually a good indication of an objection. The individual is reluctant to object directly because of the weight of all the other members disagreeing with him.

After this man had talked for while, it became clear that he did have a strong objection. Once he was allowed to talk it out, he went along with the group and was quite willing to say yes and, in fact, to pitch in an work with the decision that was finally made.

Another good indicator of lack of consensus is any attempt by a member to postpone a decision by further discussion or by further action of some kind. Comments like, “what is it we are voting on?” or “weren’t we supposed to discuss something else first?” or “I have no objection to that, but….” all indicate that the individual is not yet ready to a positive vote for a given decision. He probably has an objection that ought to be brought out into the open and discussed.

Allowing the objector to raise his point for discussion is not just a hollow gesture. The objector will be more likely to go along with the final decision -- or he may eventually carry the day because he reflects some objections that other people had but were not aware of. Whether the group actually changes its vote or not, it is more likely to reach a more effective decision. The opportunity for the group to discuss a previously covert factor is very important for its effectiveness. 

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