Consensus Attitudes

by Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig

(posted here with permission)

The following are some attitudes that help 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 us find 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 don’t have 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 intuition in 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 into assuming 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 in group process. They can help see the connections between what people are saying, and ease the burden on the facilitator for spotting creative solutions.