Re: Conflict Resolution: Really about Consensus blocking
From: Stuart Staniford-Chen (
Date: Fri, 4 Dec 1998 10:59:07 -0600

Rob Sandelin wrote:

> group to go ahead with a decision. Often you will do so, thinking the group
> is blowing it, only to learn that YOU were wrong. This personal humility is
> a very important key to using consensus as a group process. Or, maybe in

This has certainly happened to me :-)

> In my experience, blocking is very misused by poorly trained groups using
> consensus, and it causes them a lot of problems. In my opinion as a

I think this underestimates the importance of blocking as a tool for personal
and group growth.  I think groups need to go through a couple of experiences of
complete failure to make a decision in order to develop to the point where they
can work together at a higher level.  I think this is one of the problems with
voting - since it's always possible to make *some* decision, the group is not
forced to grow.

[It's also the problem with groups which figure out how to bully dissenting
members into submission.]

> If individuals block the group because they don't like a decision, or
> because they need or want to exert power over the group, then you should NOT
> be using consensus as your decision making process because you will be very
> ineffective, make few real decisions, frustrate just about everybody in the
> group, and lose group members.

Rob is stating the orthodox view - I'm going to play the heretic on this point.
I think it can be important to allow individuals to block for self-interested
reasons.  One of the critical factors in a cohousing development is that people
are taking absolutely huge risks with large amounts of their hard-earned money.
I think the reason consensus is important is to provide people the security that
the group will not do something crazy with their money.  I think "I'm blocking
the decision because the personal costs to me are too great" can work and be
necessary for the individual to stay in the group.  Of course it should *not* be
done lightly, only over something really important.  The group may be resentful,
and that has to be balanced against the cost to the individual of going ahead.

I have done a lot of consensus facilitation in cohousing, but I also do a lot of
facilitation at work in technical meetings of engineers who represent different
companies.  They are often *very* conscious of the self-interest of their own
company.  They are willing to co-operate, but the value of consensus there too
is that it gives them the security that the rest of the group will not trample
them.  These situations *can* work - it may not be as pure as a group of
like-minded Quakers, but it can produce useful results which couldn't be got
another way.

> In my opinion, most cohousing groups would be better to create a decision
> making process based on a 3/4 majority vote, then strive to achieve

This seems to me kind of a radical suggestion.  Have any cohousing groups which
actually used their voting procedure on a regular basis built projects and lived
happily ever after?  (We have lots of examples of groups who succeeded using
consensus, despite the allegedly poor quality of their process).


[Incidently - hi guys!  I'm back after a long absence :-)]

Stuart Staniford-Chen           stuart [at]
President, Silicon Defense  &&  Asst Adjunct Professor, UC Davis
Voice: 707-822-4588             Fax: 707-826-7571

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