Consensus is a decision-making process that fully utilizes the resources of a group. It is more difficult and time consuming to reach than a democratic vote or an autocratic decision. Most issues will involve trade-offs and the various decision alternatives will not satisfy everyone. Complete unanimity is not the goal – that is rarely possible. However, it is possible for each individual to have had the opportunity to express their opinion, be listened to, and accept a group decision based on its logic and feasibility considering all relevant factors. This requires the mutual trust and respect of each team member.
A consensus decision represents a reasonable decision that all members of the group can accept. It is not necessarily the optimal decision for each member. When all the group members feel this way, you have reached consensus as we have defined it. This means that a single person can block consensus if he or she feels that it is necessary.
Here are some guidelines for reaching consensus:
- Make sure everyone is heard from and feels listened to. Avoid arguing for your own position. Present your position as clearly as possible. Listen to other team members reactions and comments to assess their understanding of your position. Consider their reactions and comments carefully before you press your own point of view further.
- Do not assume that someone must win and someone must lose when a discussion reaches a stalemate. Instead, look for the next most acceptable alternatives for all parties. Try to think creatively. Explore what possibilities exist if certain constraints were removed.
- Do not change your mind simply to avoid conflict, to reach agreement, or maintain harmony. When agreement seems to come too quickly or easily, be suspicious. Explore the reasons and be sure that everyone accepts the solution for basically similar or complementary reasons. Yield only to positions that have objective or logically sound foundations or merits.
- Avoid conflict-reducing techniques such as majority vote, averaging, coin toss or bargaining. When dissenting members finally agree, do not feel that they have to be rewarded or accommodated by having their own way on some later point.
- Differences of opinion are natural and expected. Seek them out, value them, and try to involve everyone in the decision process. Disagreements can improve the group’s decision. With a wider range of information and opinions, there is a greater chance of that the group will hit upon a more feasible or satisfactory solution.