The following is excerpted from a series of articles that appeared in Communities magazine in 2012. Diana Leafe Christian wrote a piece called “Busting the Myth that Consensus-with-Unanimity is Good for Communities,” to which responses were written by me (posted here), Laird Schaub, and Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig (posted here). Diana then wrote a Part 2 in the following issue, to which responses appeared from me and Laird. This section below is excerpted from that second response. Note that most of the items mentioned below are addressed in more detail in other writings by me.
by Tree Bressen
1. Meetings should be fulfilling, with a good spirit. Regardless of whether your group uses leadership by elders, majority vote, or consensus, if your discussions have poor energy it’s important to address that and change it. How can you reconnect with your love for one another? What will nourish your sense of unity, in a way that welcomes the individual while honoring the long-term well-being of the community?
2. In my experience, every successful consensus system—and there are a variety, including Quakers, N Street, Formal Consensus, Sociocractic Consensus, and more—restricts blocking power in order to guard against tyranny of the minority.
3. Regardless of decision process or rule, if you let someone in your group bully you, you will be unhappy. If there is a problem with bullying and you want it to stop, the group must stand up to it. If that doesn’t happen, the group is enabling and co-creating the problem.
4. If the same person blocks repeatedly, that’s a danger sign. While consensus allows space for legitimate different interpretations of existing group values and mission, if one or two people continually hold to an interpretation at odds with others’ in a way that causes high impact, i’d be carefully and thoughtfully asking whether their membership is a good match. At a minimum such a group may need to take a step back from the particular issue and engage in some deep conversations about common values.
5. No decision-making system is perfect, nor does any decision-making system give you your way all the time. Compromise is a necessary part of collective life, part of the price we pay for the rewards of shared living. While consensus when practiced well has the potential to arrive at creative, emergent solutions, there are plenty of times when the standard of “Can you live with it?” is appropriately good enough.
The understandable desire for an outcome that brings everyone active joy needs to be weighed against the considerable investment in time and energy it may take to get there, and the costs of inaction on the topic at hand in the meantime.