One objector stopping all progress
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 15:18:44 -0700 (PDT)
 When I used to do facilitation trainings in consensus groups a common
problem was one person using their veto power over the group. When this
happens, it often means you are not using consensus, you are using
unanamious agreement, which is MUCH harder to do. I found it very common
that people think that consensus means everyone agrees.  This is not the
case at all. In fact, it is very common in consensus process for members to
give permission even when they don't entirely agree.  

I have seen it where because someone raised an objection, the group assumed
that permission would be withheld (blocking).  This again often not the
case. Many times the objection is noted, but will not hold up the decision,
and when permission is asked for, it is given, even though there are
reservations and objections. This is actually pretty normal since often you
can not know the impacts of certain outcomes without making a decision,
evaluating the results over time then reflecting back on the objections or
reservations to see if they are still valid. And of course, with experience,
individuals and groups change their thinking.

The root of consensus is consent, which means, give permission to. It does
not mean agreement. It is in my experience, normal for consensus members to
hold their humility when they give permission. By that I mean, they give
permission for the group to move ahead even though they might have
disagreements or reservations because they know that their own perspective
is limited, the situation might be different than personal experience, or
they might just very well be wrong about things. After airing their ideas
and feelings, they allow the group to move ahead if doing so meets the needs
of the group.  For all these reasons, and others, the humble member gives
permission to the group to move ahead at this time. 

Obviously if the group is not willing to trust the best interests are being
upheld, or if there is personal pathology, then the group will rarely be
able to move forward using consensus and it is probably not the right method
of decision making for the group at that time. 

I am still astonished when I find groups who with considerable agony and
after hours and hours of work continue to use a decision process that does
not work for them. There is sometimes almost a cult-like attachment to
consensus, an attachment which may not serve the group at all.  Sometimes
consensus process is NOT the right process for a group to use, but they
insist on doing so anyway, until the group disbands because it is unable to
function. Then these people blame consensus for their problems, problems
which had nothing to do with consensus. 

Rob Sandelin
Naturalist, Writer
The Environmental Science School
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