RE: Consensus-A Time to Rethink?
From: TomMOENCH (
Date: Fri, 20 Jan 95 13:40 CST

I have been fascinated by consensus and unanimity since I began managing
through it some 15 years ago.  Cohousing and the difficulties around what it
calls "consensus" were a surprise to me in many ways.   Three years ago I was
involved in rewriting our bylaws and with it came an attempt to define
consensus.  While I have been successful in defining, teaching, using and
consensus decision-making in business and professional groups, I was not able
to do so for my group.  Why?  For two years now I have been trying to
understand these nuances about consensus and its role in cohousing--at least
our group.  The quotes I shared--from others well respected and highly
experience--were to set the stage for my observations.  I thought they gave a
pretty good sense of what people think consensus is.

Now, what consensus is not:
"... a lot of groups claim to be using consensus, yet they have very little
understanding of its intricacies and possibilities.  Some methods, in effect,
give every member and unqualified veto over the actions of the group.
 Result:  the larger the group, the quicker it is paralyzed.  Some methods
discourage honest disagreements, leading some members to suppress views which
they fear might not be popular.  But the group needs to have those contrary
opinions expressed in order to avoid making bad decisions.  Disagreements can
bring really fresh points of view... and the group needs every point of view
it can get."  -- Joel David Welty - veteran cooperative organizer of
democratic membership groups. (Communities 1993 v80/81:51)

"First of all, I think it's important that we don't define consensus as
everyone agreeing on everything... If the staff seems to be leaning in one
direction,xthe facilitator will ask the few people who did not like that
solution if they can live with it."  -- Alisa Gravitz - Executive director of
Co-op America (Communities 1993 v80/81:  43)

When I look at the definition for "consensus" in my first post [Consensus-A
Time to Rethink] I find it means harmony and cooperation and ranges from
general agreement to unanimity.  But after reading Peck & Schein & Estes &
Welty does anyone really believe that in operation consensus is synonymous
with "unanimous agreement?"  What do we mean by agreement?  Why do we have
two minds about consensus, one worrying about whether one or two individuals
agree and the other wanting consensus about group will, not the individual's?
   Why do we build into our consensus building processes the right to block
(e.g., red cards) the will of the group in arriving at a decision?  Doesn't
this promote individualism? Afterall, if we grant someone a right should they
not exercise it?  If we thought consensus was a way to move away from the
polarization we believe comes from majority voting, are we better off using
the sometimes long, arduous task of consensus building only to have
polarization between one or two and the group?  These are some questions I
plan to explore and hope to hear your perspectives. 


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