RE: DSM: Majority Rule vs. Consensus

Joe Jackson (
Sun, 23 Jan 2000 13:04:56 -0500

Joe - Fairhaven

On Conflict and Consensus
a handbook on Formal Consensus decisionmaking
by C.T. Butler and Amy Rothstein

I read this whole website. I think there's great value in the techniques
outlined. I found the #6 section on techniques to be an excellent resource.

I think consensus is a potentially useful and attractive mode in certain
situations. I could see it working in committee meetings. I could see it
being used in my workplace at certain times. I don't see it being useful in
larger groups, groups that have many day-to-day decisions to make, or in
really super-crucial decisions. I'll try to explain why:

I think the entire idea completely negates two truths about people and the

1 - That two people can have ideas that are completely mutually exclusive,
they both think their idea is the correct course, and that it is damaging to
the group for there to be unspoken pressure for one of them to step aside.

2 - That it is damaging and potentially fatal for a group not to be able to
make a series of vital, complex decisions very quickly. I feel that a large
consensus group filled with leaders is invariably going to end up blocked if
they try to make five _really_ hard decisions in a day. I've been in many
_small_ consensus groups who followed a procedure close to the formal
procedure listed on the website. It's common in those groups to finish a
three-hour meeting with half of the agenda items undecided. I simply see it
working less in the larger groups I'
ve been involved with.

I could see it working in a larger group, but I think it takes different
types of people than we have.

There are also some statements in the consensus handbook that puzzle me:

"Generally speaking, when a group votes using majority rule or Parliamentary
Procedure, a competitive dynamic is created within the group because it is
being asked to choose between two (or more) possibilities. It is just as
acceptable to attack and diminish another's point of view as it is to
promote and endorse your own ideas."

This confuses me, because the site states that Formal Consensus works best
in an atmosphere in which conflict is encouraged and supported. If someone
disagrees with an idea I have, they SHOULD seek to diminish my idea.
Otherwise, how can the group be convinced as to the weaknesses behind my

Maybe the site's trying to differentiate between "attacking and diminishing"
and "pointing out the concerns". I personally think they mean the same
thing, but if this is the case, the whole issue is just a cultural
difference that could be exemplified by East Coast/West Coast personality or
coming from a "loud" family versus coming from a "quiet" family. To some of
my friends from "quiet" families, my saying "I could not disagree with you
more" sounds like I grew horns, lept on top of the table, and screamed at
them like a banshee.

"Often, voting occurs before one side reveals anything about itself, but
spends time solely attacking the opponent! In this adversarial environment,
one's ideas are owned and often defended in the face of improvements."

This has never happened in any School Meeting or Assembly Meeting I have
been in.

"The will of the majority supersedes the concerns and desires of the
minority. This is inherently violent."

I repulse when I read this, but I won't debate the use of the work
"violence" here, since it has become so broadly applied today that it really
doesn't mean anything. I will say this:

I think this is a digital question - that either the will of the majority
prevails, or the will of the minority prevails, and that there are no other
possibilities. The application of consensus in critical situations is just
the will of the majority prevailing, but throw some coercion at the minority
for good measure.

I still think consensus is a good technique, I just don't think it's the
right one for a Sudbury Model School Meeting or Assembly Meeting.


> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf Of Kenneth
> Winchenbach Walden
> Sent: Sunday, January 23, 2000 10:31 AM
> To:
> Subject: RE: DSM: Majority Rule vs. Consensus
> I have to speak up briefly in defense of the consensus form of decision
> making. An important note to make is that there are many types
> of meetings
> that are labelled as consensus. Some of those can be very destructive to
> the group's work and sense of community - especially if they are based on
> the idea that 'everybody has to agree'. True, formal consensus
> is a process
> just as detailed as Robert's Rules of Order, and with the intent
> not to make
> everybody agree, or to keep discussing things until everybody gives up and
> agrees. Rather, the intent is to come to a decision that is the best that
> this group can create, and that everybody is willing to let go forward.
> I would highlight two essential differences between consensus and majority
> decision making. The first is more obvious, that each individual in the
> group is empowered in the decision. While an individual blocking
> a decision
> is exceedingly rare, the basis of the system is that each member of the
> group is an essential part of the group process, and is trusted with that
> ability. The second difference is the one that is most often missed, I
> believe, and the one that makes comparing the two systems hard. In
> consensus decision-making the intent is to arrive at the best decision for
> all the people involved. The purpose is not to pick between two
> options, or
> to say yes or no. The purpose is to examine a proposal, find all the
> concerns that would make the members unsure about going forward
> with it, and
> examine those concerns. Rather than a majority voting down a proposal,
> those who don't agree with it will explain what they feel is
> wrong about the
> proposal. Or rather than a minority being against a proposal but
> outvoted,
> those few are able to voice their concerns. This allows the
> opportunity for
> a group dialogue, that may change some members' minds. More
> importantly, it
> may lead to an improvement of the proposal, that settles the concerns of
> some of the members, and perhaps allows the decision to go forward.
> Consensus is more about a group dedication to making good
> decisions than it
> is about voicing opinions and decisions. In majority voting, you have a
> chance to voice your opinion, but nothing more.
> Of course there is no guarantee that such discussion and improvement will
> ensure that everybody ends up liking the proposal. Consensus allows for
> various means of dealing with that. Stepping Aside is the individual's
> ability to voice their disapproval of the decision. When a person steps
> aside, they not only are showing that they do not approve, but
> they are not
> to take part in the implementation of the decision. It is a sign of the
> respect for an individual's values, that they have the option in
> the end of
> not taking part in a decision they do not agree with. However,
> if there are
> several people in a group who are stepping aside, that is a sign to the
> group and the facilitator that this decision is a weak one, and it should
> either be discussed more, or perhaps dropped. A decision that is not able
> to garner the support of a consensus of the group is probably not
> the right
> one for that group. A member also has the power to stand in the way of a
> decision that they feel is not correct for the group, and is in fact
> dangerous for the group. This however is a very rare thing to happen.
> To bring things back to the topic at hand, a school's decision on
> whether to
> use consensus is a big one. For the positive, in a non-coercive
> environment, there could be no more suitable method than a non-coercive
> decision-making process. While I understand that some people have had bad
> experiences with the process, that does not mean that consensus is a bad
> system. It either means that the version of the formal consensus process
> they were using was not a good one, or that the group has issues they need
> to deal with. If members of the group are being coercive, then that issue
> needs to be dealt with. Certainly in a majority voting setting those
> coercive members could be ignored, but that isn't making the
> issue go away.
> Consensus is for groups interested in facing their group dynamics
> honestly.
> My experiences with consensus have been exactly the opposite,
> they have been
> exhilirating, and have supported and respected all the members, especially
> those who would normally have little to say or do in a voting
> situation. We
> were able to hear the members' concerns and make better decisions
> that took
> them into account, rather than ignoring them. When members have been
> displeased with the way parts of the process have gone, we have
> been able to
> discuss and take care of those concerns as well, to assure that group
> dynamics don't make for bad decisions. Most importantly,
> although consensus
> decision making takes longer on average than majority-rule, the decisions
> made are ones that have been agreed to by all the members. Therefore the
> decisions are easier to implement, because you are not working against the
> inertia of a minority who didn't want to do this thing in the first place.
> However, consensus is not for every group. If your group does not have a
> common purpose, and some common values, you will not be able to
> run a proper
> consensus meeting. A group that has no shared basis for making decisions,
> won't be able to agree on anything. Other important values are
> respect for
> all group members, a sense that all are equally valuable, honesty, and a
> belief in common ownership of ideas - not private ownership. I think it's
> also important that the group learn about the basics of consensus, and
> follow a formal process. Informal consensus will undoubtedly lead in the
> direction that the previous messages pointed towards - coercion by the
> stubborn, and frustration by everyone. For anyone looking for some
> information on the subject, I'll recommend this -
> I apologize for the length. I didn't want to take up too much of
> the list's
> time, but I think that it's important that those who have no
> experience with
> consensus not be given a one-sided view of it. However, I respect that
> there are many decision-making processes, with different
> strengths, and that
> each is simply a tool in the hands of a group with good intentions.
> Ken
> "In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain
> one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live
> simply and wisely."
> -Henry David Thoreau-
> >-----Original Message-----
> >From:
> >[]On Behalf Of Scott David
> >Gray
> >Sent: Sunday, January 23, 2000 9:01 AM
> >To:
> >Subject: Re: DSM: Majority Rule vs. Consensus
> >
> >
> >I have been part of meetings run by consensus, and meetings run
> by Robert's
> >Rules. Consensus is VERY coercive. In practice, a consensus
> meeting says to
> >the minority "we don't get to end this meeting until you CONSENT
> >to what the
> >majority wants". I have felt obliged to depart more than one
> group, because
> >I was made to feel uncomfortable and unwanted when I refused to
> >things I thought were wrong. In a regular Parliamentary Meeting,
> I am never
> >denied my right to voice my objection, maintain that the
> majority is wrong,
> >and yet submit to the will of the majority. As a perpetual member of the
> >minority in many gatherings, I cannot tolerate the intrinsic
> >my individuality that comes from a consensus style meeting.
> >
> >The most fundamental right of any minority, is the right to stand
> >by and let
> >the majority do what it will without ever letting go of their personal
> >belief that the majority is wrong.
> >
> >Consensus equals government by the stubborn, and encourages people
> >to act as
> >rubber stamps.
> >
> >As far as discussions being ended as soon as it is clear that a
> motion will
> >get the majority, advise that your collegues actually read
> >Robert's Rules --
> >the rights of the minority to be heard are taken very seriously
> (much more
> >so than in any consensus meeting in which I've participated). Shee
> >
> >
> >Martin Wilke wrote:
> >
> >> Hi all,
> >>
> >> I and three parents are going to (try to) start a non-coercive
> school in
> >> Berlin. On our first informal meeting we found that we have quite
> >> different ideas of how decisions should be made in a non-coercive
> >> school.
> >> While I think majority should decide they insist on consensus. Their
> >> main argument is that the majority would oppress the minority. That
> >> discussions would be ended as soon as it is clear that a
> motion will get
> >> a majority, and thus the minority would simply be ignored. What
> >> experience do you have in School Meetings or Assemblies with
> this point?
> >>
> >> Martin Wilke
> >
> >-- Scott David Gray
> >reply-to:
> >
> >Phone: 508/650-9639
> >ICQ: 27291292
> >

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