RE: All-but-one consensus
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Mon, 2 May 94 10:23 CDT
Martin Tracy  asks:
(regarding a previous posting in which I talked about a mediation experience)

I would be curious to know at which point the group brought you in for
mediation.  How long had they been blocked?  How were they feeling?  How
long did you have to work with the dissenter until he/she/you discovered
the real issue?  How did the group feel afterwards?  Was the group
cohesion damaged?  Did the dissenter stay with the group?

Let me first be sure to qualify that I am not in any way a professional 
mediator. I got started about three years ago when I was sitting around 
the kitchen table with some friends in a community and overheard  and 
became part of a discussion of a conflict.  Since I was an outsider, 
and they liked my off-the-cuff ideas about solutions they asked me to 
help them.  Through word of mouth other people have asked me to help 
them with conflicts. Most of the time I say no and refer them to 
someone more experienced and who actually has some training. I don't 
really have any qualifications to do mediations other than an easy 
going and friendly personality which people seem to open up to, and the 
knack for asking the right questions at the right time.

Occaisionally I get suckered into saying yes and try and do a 
mediation.  The answers to most of the above questions I don't know the 
answer to.  SInce I am an outsider in all my mediations I don't how the 
group feels, I usually don't ask how long the blocking has occured, I 
usually only hear limited feedback from a mediation so I don't know how 
the group felt afterward nor could I say if the group cohesion was 
damaged.  The first question I ask, (and sometimes the only question I 
ask) is What exactly is the problem.  I then compare the various 
answers to this with the behavior described, it usually doesn't jive, 
and I ask the question again and again.  So, depending on the situation 
I often get to the real issue  within a couple of hours, although 
sometimes I never do, I just get deep enough to solve the immeadiate conflict.

I think if I ever went to grad school I would want to do some serious 
group dynamics work and learn how to be a real mediator.


It sounds like the groups you worked with had a fallback to mediation,
which I think is a great idea.


Actually what I meant to say here was that my experience teaches me 
that unless everyone is willing to put the best interests of the group 
over their own personal self interest, consensus is not a good decision 
making structure to use.


 Since you didn't mention size, I guess
you feel that consensus works for both small and large groups.

Caroline Estes, who is my consensus guru, states that there was a peace 
group of several thousand, who met annually and made all decisions by 
consensus.  I have only personally seen consensus work in groups of 
less than 30, and that was within an environmental organization who had 
a very clear mission and all the people were committed to that mission.

My own community claims to use consensus, and when we are at our very 
best, we probably approach consensus. However we are only at our very 
best a small amount of the time.  My experience watching other groups 
use consensus also leads me to the conclusion that consensus is not 
well understood by those who claim to use it.  Many groups confuse 
agreement, with consensus for example.

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood Cohousing

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