Re: Formal Consensus, passivity & groupthink
From: Ann Zabaldo (
Date: Mon, 19 Jul 2004 09:32:19 -0700 (PDT)
Hello all -- this is indeed a fascinating thread.  I've saved the many
thoughtful responses and queries made by participants on this list.

I'm wondering, Norm, what piqued (spel?) your interest in "groupthink?"
Have you felt you have had to deal with this in your cohousing community or
have you seen it operating in other cohousing communities?  I realize now
that I'm not sure where you are coming from in having made your original
post.  Is this just an exercise or is it tied to something more concrete?

I'm an advocate of Formal Consensus precisely because it specifically seeks
out divergent opinions.  One can abuse ANY system of governance or decision
making.  Therefore,  I'm also an advocate of training, training, training
and then when you think you've got it right...some more training.

It's been my experience that a well facilitated consensus process results in
anything other than snoozing in a meeting.  Formal Consensus is easily
adapted to an active affirmation stance.  In fact, FC can be easily adapted
to almost any process.

Never in my meager 12+ years experience using consensus have people just
followed along on someone's charisma in a meeting.  Quite the opposite is
true if you follow the norms of consensus.  Or maybe I've just belonged to
more cantankerous groups!

I agree w/ Sharon's comments below about "thumbs"  and dare I say it? Color
cards.  Yes, I know color cards promote and produce efficiency in meetings.
Like "thumbs" they are too close to a "voting" posture.

And just so you don't think we're in "groupthink" mode...Sharon and I
frequently disagree about stuff at home here in Takoma Village.   And we
still go shopping together and engage in serious conversation w/ each other.
This is the beauty of consensus and diversity in a collaborative community.

Thanks everyone for your contributions to this thread.  Very interesting!

Best -- Ann Z.
Takoma Village 

On 7/19/04 8:48 AM, "Sharon Villines" <sharon [at]> wrote:

> On Jul 18, 2004, at 11:27 PM, Norm Gauss wrote:
>> In this model, groupthink is more likely to occur, because in the
>> environment of passivity  there is no compelling reason for people to
>> get
>> involved.
> Group think is actually more pernicious than this. It does not result
> from passivity but from active putting forward in a point of view that
> is unquestioned. I find that it is not passivity but bullying and
> wishful thinking that lead to group think much more than lack of
> participation. Groupthink is a very strong run at a brick wall, not a
> drifting toward it.
>> We at Oak Creek Commons actively seek members approval by asking for
>> "thumbs
>> up", "thumbs horizontal (meaning a concern), and "thumbs down".  Thus
>> more
>> assertive actions result and we have fewer passive abstentions.  This
>> departs from the described model in that a member can declare a block
>> instead of the facilitator.
> I find this is exactly the perfect way to stifle discussion because it
> emphasizes the majority and puts everyone in the mindset of voting. You
> want to avoid that mindset at all costs if people are to think in terms
> of consensus. You want to encourage objections -- seek them out. That
> is the only way to test the action being proposed. You want to hear the
> objections so you have to focus on them. Allowing the "thumbs up" view
> of the room (and people ALWAYS call for thumbs up first!) is the
> conscious or unconscious display of the majority which is often
> intimidating to the one person in the room who may actually have a
> better solution but not the energy to "fight" the majority.
> Thumbs is an insidious practice -- voting. and does not help bring out
> objections or concerns. Asking for objections and for concerns (and
> distinguishing between the two) brings the discussion to the point much
> faster and allows you to deal with objections when everyone is fresh
> enough to deal with them.
> Sharon
> -----
> Sharon Villines
> Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC
> _________________________________________________________________
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