The following are some attitudes that
in learning to embody the spirit of consensus:
I listen for agreement, and for how different ideas enrich (rather than
detract from) each other. Focusing on where we agree helps
connections and bridges with other people’s ideas. The ideal in
consensus is that we end up with something that is either the great
idea someone came in with, or something even better. We try to be
excited about what others can add to the conversation and to our ideas,
rather than becoming territorial about getting what we came into the
meeting thinking we wanted.
I am curious, particularly
when we disagree. Disagreement is
easy to meet with defensiveness, but we don’t learn anything new if
that is how we react. Meeting differences with curiosity helps us learn
more about each other, and understand why someone is in a different
place. Compassion and understanding make it easier to find solutions
that work for all of us, while responding by defending our ideas tends
to lead to divisiveness.
I try to understand the values and needs in play before jumping to
problem solving. When we start with ideas, we generally
enough information to be inclusive, and are more likely to get locked
into arguing. Gather information first about what a solution needs to
take into account so that everyone is held, and then build solutions
from there. Another way to think of this is that creating a proposal
first and asking people to react to it tends to lead to... reacting.
I am willing to hear your emotions/intuition, as well as your thoughts.
I am willing to share mine. We all have emotions and
addition to thoughts. And some people’s best contributions are
intuition- and emotion-based. While we don’t invite dumping on each
other, we do invite a range of meeting input.
I value and am willing to work for my relationships with the people in
this group. In consensus culture, we value both the
quality of our
decisions and the quality of our relationships. In fact, solid
relationships make for better decisions.
I assume your good intent. While it is very easy to slide
bad things about people we don’t like or don’t agree with, this really
doesn’t help us have a functional community. Assume that the other
people who are here are also intelligent, caring humans who share your
commitment to the community and its mission.
I make my input for the group good, rather than solely for personal
gain. Consensus is ultimately about the health of the
group as a whole.
Sometimes what we want personally isn’t the best answer.
Sometimes what we want isn’t an appropriate need to get met with the
decision at hand, and we need to delay it for a later discussion. When
you give input on a topic, think about whether this is really for the
best of the group, and how to balance your needs with others.
When I don’t have a strong opinion, I show up to help the group build
bridges and problem solve. Neutral people are a real boon
process. They can help see the connections between what people are
saying, and ease the burden on the facilitator for spotting creative
Tree Bressen, facilitator and teacher,
has been assisting intentional communities, nonprofits, and other
organizations with group process since 1994. Pages from her website are
available for copying and distribution free of charge as long as you
continue to include these credit lines and contact information.