When do I use the block?
At the decision stage of the consensus process people have several options: to agree with the proposal (with or without reservations), to stand aside from the proposal but let the others proceed, or to block the proposal.
The option to block a proposal is based on the principle that no decision should be made against the will of a member of the group. It is an integral part of the consensus process. It means that a minority can’t just be ignored, but solutions will have to be found that deal with their concerns. If a proposal is blocked, it means that the group can’t move forward, and needs to come up with a different proposal that addresses the concerns that led to the block.
However, a big responsibility comes with the option to block. The block stops other people from doing something that they would like to do, therefore it is only appropriate to use it if major concerns about the proposal remain unresolved when it reaches decision stage. A person considering blocking needs to think carefully about whether standing aside from the decision – letting others in the group go ahead – would be enough.
Key skills for consensus
Active Listening: When we actively listen we suspend our own thought processes and give the speaker our full attention. We make a deliberate effort to understand someone’s position and their underlying needs, concerns and emotions.
Summarising: A succinct and accurate summary of what’s been said so far can be really helpful to move a group towards a decision. Outline the emerging common ground as well as the unresolved differences. Check with everyone that you’ve got it right.
Synthesis: Find the common ground, and any connections between seemingly competing ideas, and weave them together to form proposals. Focus on solutions that address the fundamental needs and key concerns within the group.
Handsignals can make meetings run more smoothly and help the facilitator see emerging agreements. The following three signals usually suffice:
|Raise a hand when you wish to make a point.||Raise both hands if your point is a direct response to the current discussion. This allows you to jump to the head of the queue.||Silent applause when you hear an opinion that you agree with, wave a hand with your fingers pointing upwards. This saves a lot of time as people don’t need to chip in to verbally agree.|
Guidelines for taking part in consensus decisions
- If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to say so.
- Be willing to work towards the solution that’s best for everyone, not just what’s best for you. Be flexible and willing to give something up to reach an agreement.
- Help to create a respectful and trusting atmosphere. Nobody should be afraid to express their ideas and opinions. Remember that we all have different values, backgrounds and behaviour and we get upset by different things.
- Explain your own position clearly. Be open and honest about the reasons for your view points. Express your concerns early on in the process so that they can be taken into account in any proposals.
- Listen actively to what people are trying to say. Make a deliberate effort to understand someone’s position and their underlying needs, concerns and emotions. Give everyone space to finish and take time to consider their point of view.
- Think before you speak, listen before you object. Listen to other members’ reactions and consider them carefully before pressing your point. Self restraint is essential in consensus – sometimes the biggest obstacle to progress is an individual’s attachment to one idea. If another proposal is good, don’t complicate matters by opposing it just because it isn’t your favourite idea! Ask yourself: “Does this idea work for the group, even if I don’t like it the best?” or “Are all our ideas good enough? So does it matter which one we choose?”
- Don’t be afraid of disagreement. Consensus isn’t about everybody thinking the same thing. Differences of opinion are natural and to be expected. Disagreements can help a group’s decision, because with a wide range of information and opinions, there is a greater chance the group will find suitable solutions. Easily reached consensus may cover up the fact that some people don’t feel safe, or confident enough to express their disagreements.