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April 2002 - How to Promote Consensus

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April  2002

How to Promote Consensus

One of the biggest problems leaders face is getting a group to reach consensus. If a decision is made without consensus or agreement from others in the group, morale and group satisfaction generally suffer.

Many years ago I published the findings of research on how groups reach consensus. Others have cited the results of my studies often. Here are five things I found that will help your group reach consensus.

  1. Keep the group focused on the problem. Encourage each person to stick to the subject, avoid side discussions, and clarify the issues as they go.
  2. Attend to the process as well as the product. Use statements that focus on the process of discussion as well the product or solution to the problem. Sometimes group members are so intent on solving the problem that they neglect making process statements that stimulate discussion and promote consensus--statements such as: "What you have said so far makes sense. How do the rest of you feel?" or "So far we seem to agree on the first two points. Let's move on to the third" or "I don't believe we've heard from Joe yet." When both the leader and group members use process statements effectively, agreement will come sooner.
  3. Seek different views. Encourage all persons to express their views and provide information and evidence to support their views. Expression of a wide range of opinions and views generates better solutions. At the same time participation by all persons will increase satisfaction with the discussion and promote consensus.
  4. Remain open to different views. We all know people who seek the views of others with no intent to be influenced by them. "Don't confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up." If you really want consensus on the best solution and also satisfaction of group members, remain open to what others say.
  5. Use group pronouns. Studies show that groups that use more self-referent words such as I, me, my, and mine, are less successful in reaching consensus. Those which use more group pronouns such as we, our, and us reach consensus more often and to the greater satisfaction of group members. Talk about what we can accomplish and how to achieve our objectives. Don't emphasize what I want done or what will make me happy.

Promote consensus and the group will be happier and more productive.

John Kline
Troy, Alabama

April 2002 - How to Promote Consensus
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