Consensus: everyone says Yes. Consent: nobody says No!

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Non Violent Communication at work

“We need to find a consensus with our management team before we move on”.

“Have you reached consensus with all stakeholders of the initiative”?

Does it sound familiar?

I will not go through why seeking consensus when making decision is not very effective nor does create alignment and buy-in.
I found a great article here from Susan Mazza who nicely elaborates on why consensus is rarely adequate.

We work in increasingly collaborative environments, providing fantastic opportunities to tap into team’s collective intelligence, and yet, the way we take decisions and apply them is still pretty much centralized and top-down.
Models exist to develop more inclusive decision-making processes and design different organizations to ensure better decisions, stronger buy-in, sharper execution and sense of belonging.

Consensus is when everyone says YES.
While consent, which I would like to discuss here, is when nobody says NO!

Consent is at the heart of sociocracy.
Dynamic governance, or sociocracy, is a decision-making and governance method that allows an organization to manage itself as an organic whole. To make this possible, dynamic governance enables every sub-part of the organization to have an authoritative voice in the management of the organization.

Consent is being defined by the founder of sociocracy as follows: “it is the principle of consent which governs decision-making. Consent means no argued and paramount objection. In other words, a policy decision can only be made if nobody has a reasoned and paramount objection to it. Day-to- day decisions don’t require consent, but there must be consent about the use of other forms of decision-making.”
Sociocracy defines exactly when and how to use consent in decision-making circles.
But, in short, consent means decisions are being collectively made when there is “zero-objection” left. And objections need to be argued.

Consensus does not really work, as it is almost impossible to get everyone to say “yes” to a proposal fulfilling their individual needs.
Instead, consent is about having the persons involved in the decision process able to live with the proposal within their own limits of tolerance.
If the proposal does not fulfill their needs (that is, it is outside the limits of what they can tolerate, accept, or adhere to), they will have the chance to propose an argued objection, which will then be taken into consideration by the circle to improve the proposal.
That is why consent is very ecological, in that, it is based on the quality of the arguments rather than on proving who is right or wrong.

It develops a specific energy whereby team members carefully listen to the objections, and seek to explore how to integrate them to come to a better joint proposition.
No winner, no loser, the team wins instead!

“Ecological leaders” will be the ones who understand that their authority and influence do not come from only making top-down decisions, but those who will be more inclusive. Very often, their proposals may actually turn to be the “best” ones, given their insight and perspective due to their experience and position in the company. But not always…

Benefits are a stronger buy-in, faster execution, better productivity and a more engaged workforce.

When is your next team meeting? Why not start there!?


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