Consensus

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Putting People in Boxes is Not Okay

In principle, when we look at people in certain ways, place labels on them, or “put them in boxes,” it limits what they have to offer. It is especially tempting to “contain” those who disagree with us. We are tempted to ignore our adversaries, work around them, wall them off, shut them down. These techniques might help us win as individuals, but they work against making good group decisions.
In principle, the best group decisions come when we genuinely consider ALL offerings, not just the ones we like. In fact, what makes group decisions better than individual decisions is the tension of initial disagreement.
Practical Tip: Muster the courage to really consider disagreement. Muster the discipline to work with people you do not like. Resist labels, walls, boxes and be open-minded to all offerings. When someone is placed in a box – silenced, contained, ignored – they add about as much value to the decision as, well...a cardboard box.

Separate Inputs from Outcomes

In principle, groups make their most creative, win-win decisions when each participant puts in their personal best and no participant thinks they know best for the group. It works best when no single participant is working for a single, predetermined outcome.
Practical Tip: Show up, pay attention, give your best, and let go of the outcome. Go into meetings well prepared, with an open mind, and a humble heart. Take full responsibility for playing your part as best you can and do not take full responsibility for how it all turns out.

Shared Expectations Minimize Conflicts

In principle, most conflicts are because of mismatched expectations. Where the expectations are really different the conflict can be really big. No one likes disappointment: when you think something is going to be one way, and then it changes. The best prevention is a shared expectation of how things are going to be, who is going to do what, and how things are going to work.
Practical Tip: Among two or more people with a shared task, figure out your shared expectations and write them down (or at least say them) so you can test your shared understanding. Contracts are shared expectations written down, so are ground rules, guidelines, and by laws. The process of writing these documents forces us to “out” our expectations and understand each other. If you do not take time to discuss expectations with those on who you plan to depend, best not to have any.

Structure Sets You Free

In principle, decision making “structure” consists of things like rules, agendas, mandates, and plans; and when these things frame our choices it frees us to focus on the substance of our work. A third-grade teacher once explained that when she decides where the kids are to sit in the classroom this does not take away their freedom, but actually frees them from the burden of having to decide this for themselves (a potentially large burden for a third-grader). It frees them to focus on math, history, and writing rather than who to sit next to.

Establishing a firm structure allows maximum creativity within the structure. Knowing there is a “container” provides safety and encourages risk-taking. Lack of structure fosters anxiety and encourages caution. Lack of structure causes inefficiency; it requires a group to go over the same ground over and over again.

Consensus Decision-Making

register nowOne Day Workshop: Fri 8:30 – 5:00

Price: $95, includes lunch

A past participant says...

I've learned a lot from Tree. Her breadth of knowledge and training has placed many fine tools in her toolkit and really she knows how to use them.

Wondering how to make consensus really work for your group? This workshop will offer a coherent approach to both theory and practice, explaining what you need to know to bring together the wisdom of the group for the best possible decisions.
Topics include exploring multiple perspectives; how to get from an issue through creating a proposal to crafting an agreement; and the careful balance between nurturing dissenting voices vs. offering a robust response to inappropriate blocks. Presentation will be mixed with exercises and practice to help you learn to put the ideals into action.

Is Pure Consensus Right for Your Group?

 

How can the most number of people get the most of what they want, most of the time?

I’m intrigued by how the members of N Street Cohousing in Davis, California practice consensus. They seem to get the best of this decision-making method without any of the exhausting and demoralizing aspects that sometimes plague other communities. This is important to me because, ideally, the most number of people in community would get the most of what they want in community proposals and policies, most of the time.

Consensus Decision-Making — a Double-Edged Sword

Every cohousing community I know in North America (and almost every non-cohousing intentional community too), uses pure consensus as their decision-making method. This means, of course, that if someone blocks a proposal it doesn’t pass.

Good Information Makes Decisions Self-Evident

In principle, there are basically three ways to influence the choices people make. You can regulate what people cannot do and punish violations. You can offer incentives to encourage certain choices. Or you can provide accurate information that rings so true it compels good choices.

If you believe that for the most part people want to do the right thing, the most effective and peaceful method of influencing good decisions is to provide good information so “the right thing” becomes self-evident.

Good in Everyone

In principle, the chances of making good group decisions are greatly increased if all the participants believe there is good in everyone. We are more likely to do well if we look for the best in each other. For some, believing that there is good in every person is a moral conviction. For others, seeking and bringing out the best in people is just plain practical.

Practical Tip: Act as if there is good in everyone, even when it is not apparent. Treat every person along your path as if they are special. If you believe in God, act as if there is that of God in every person.

Handling inappropriate blocks in consensus

by Tree Bressen, Walnut St. Co-op

When a block arises in consensus process, the situation is typically scary for everyone involved, and it can cause so much frustration that it gives the whole process a bad rap. The accepted wisdom says that blocking should happen extremely rarely. Doyenne Caroline Estes says that in 45 years of facilitating hundreds of groups she’s witnessed a correct block less than a dozen times. But less skilled groups often struggle with more frequent blocks. Blocking based on the individual’s personal preference or values rather than on the group’s well-being and values is the most common mistake in attempts at consensus process. What can you do when someone blocks inappropriately? Here are suggestions.

The Wisdom of Group Decisions

by Craig Freshley

copyright © 2006 Craig Freshley, unless otherwise noted

Please see the Good Group Decisions website to learn more about your usage rights or learn about Craig and his work.

Interested in a hard copy of the whole book? The Wisdom of Group Decisions is available for purchase online. or download the free e-book.

Learn more about Craig at his website or in the Contributors section of this online book.

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