Re: consensus or groupthink
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 22 Jan 2021 09:27:25 -0800 (PST)
> On Jan 22, 2021, at 9:37 AM, CJ Q <homeschoolvideo [at]> wrote:
> I just had an experience this week that sheds light onto the way consensus
> was used that seemed more like groupthink than making decisions.  A similar
> issue came up with a facebook group and many wrote their opinions and
> discussed and had varying opinions and no problem. But in cohousing and,
> even with the mediator, there seemed to be pressure to t to hold onto one
> opinion and not even hear dissenting ideas and it was an emotional issue -
> not something like construction in the Common House.  So, those who don't
> agree just don't say anything.  I noticed the same thing happened with the
> budget - not much discussion or wanting to figure out different methods.
> Even in Laird's blog he discusses outliers a lot and that confuses me.  Is
> cohousing and community living just pressure to all think the same?

I repeated this long quote because I think it is very important. This is an 
example of pretending to be using consensus to reach a decision based on an 
inclusive, intelligent analysis that has received comprehensive consideration. 
But really it is being used to produce groupthink. The majority is dominating 
the minority. Not everyone is equal in this process.

This is why I speak out so often about using “the common good” as a criterion 
for consenting. “The Common Good” is too often defined by the majority. That’s 
what makes it “common.” So in effect, accepting the common good is submitting 
to majority control. And the majority can be dead wrong.

Even when a group has decided to make a decision by majority vote—and sometimes 
this is appropriate— it should hear all the arguments and consider all the 
data. Everyone should be able to feel that their concerns and preferences have 
been taken into consideration and to understand why others don’t believe that 
those are the best solutions for moving forward.

People being silent is what leads to group think. Some people (like me) can 
make very good (and forceful) verbal arguments. I have an advantage on email 
because I like to write and it is relatively easy for me. That’s why I said 
last week that I would like to see sociocratic processes promoted because they 
“force” the silent people to speak up. Sociocracy provides a place for everyone 
in rounds. Rounds are used to reestablish equivalence in the group. When one 
person or persons seem to be dominating, do a round to balance the discussion. 
Maybe all those people agree so they are saying nothing.

Story: (Story means you can skip this if my stories bore you) I was in a 
faculty meeting where the decision was to hire a certain person or not. One 
faculty member had prepared an elaborate speech supporting the person. When no 
one said anything, he assumed they didn’t agree with him. So he kept talking on 
and on. In fact there was unanimous support for hiring the person and everyone 
was silent because they agreed and didn’t contribute more pointless speeches. 
And they were bing respectful of the speaker. What should have taken 3 minutes 
to register consent extended to 45 minutes of a 90 minute meeting because no 
one spoke up. A round would have headed the whole thing off at the pass.

The purpose of making decisions by consensus is to ensure that all members of 
the decision-making group are able to provide any information or reasoning that 
might be relevant in making the best choice available to the group in that 
moment. Consensus means all the concerns/objections have been resolved by 
clarification or modifying the proposal.

The consensus process strives to be based on full information and to meet the 
needs of every person in the group one way or another because that’s what makes 
a strong group.

And a group consists of individuals. The group is strong when the individuals 
are strong.

In one of the examples quoted, however, construction of the CH, the full group 
might delegate some decisions to a small group that can focus on educating 
themselves about construction materials and a design. All members of the group 
making the decision about faucets means educating everyone about faucets. Not 
everyone is interested. Some will beg someone else to make that decision. And 
sometimes a choice is irrelevant because costs will determine the only choice.

Often people are outliers because they have the most informed opinions. It’s to 
the group’s best interests to know what their position is. That’s the whole 
point of consensus.

Sharon Villines
affordablecohousing [at]
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