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Table of Contents 




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+ * • 

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♦ ■ 

!••«* + 

» • 

What Is Consensus 

Kinds of Decision-»MiWng Structures., 

The Inspirational Fart: Majority Rule vs. Consensus . 
The Cautionary Part: Can Your Group Use Consensus? 

* « 

* • 

* * 

* » + 

4 * * 


k " 


- • 


. . .. 

Preparing for frroUp Discussion * 11 

Group Discussion: \ Building United Judgment . . 12 

'Mating the Decision , , , ';ssxor . . . . ^ . . , ■ 13 


Attitudes WLioh Impede Consensus 15 

Attitudes That Support Consensus * 19 

The Rewards %: u a >. * * ♦ « . . . 21 





■ _■ ■ 

fl ■ # 


Your Contribution r *•»«•»••«* %* . 23 

Your Responsibility for Others-* 1 -Participation 2*+ 



' -V ■ . r i, 

■—*-*■* + -. *rf *■ 

M r + 

Background •-•«•»*»•*•••**<*••-*•*»***•*• 27 

A Definition of "Blocking" ■ ,,*.«*, 28 

Deciding Whether to Block . • . ■ .>W \ 30 

Alternatives to Blocking , • 31 

When a Decision is Blocked 32 


• ■ 

Meeting Phases 

Using Agendas. 

WorkJbag Outside of the Meeting 

Doing Discussion 

Recording and Implementing Decisions . 

Evaluations .... 

• * 

+ ■ 

* • * 

* * • * 

* • 

* * + 

• • 







What Is a Facilitator? m 

Sharing Facilitation .!!!,....! 51 

Facilitative Functions !!.'....!.'!!!].'!!.'.! 52 


Listening- ^ 

Feedback and Criticism " „ !!!!!!!!! 65 



Why Be Concerned About Peelings? 69 

The Sources of Feelings in Groups 70 

Diagnosis: What's Going On? ♦ . * '" " 71 

When Feelings Are a Problem . . - • [ [ [ * * \ 71 

When Feelings Help a Group ..,..«,, + 75 



Guidelines for Responding to Conflict ■ . , ♦ « 77 

Creative Problem Solving ftQ 

**^~" " - - ."■ * III I I I I 83 



Take Your Group Seriously .«....*. 86 

Share Responsibility , gy 

Encourage Social Interaction **,».!*. I I 90 

Increase Involvement and Trust [ * [ 91 

Help New Members Become Part of the Group * * - 94 


Formalised Process , + p + 97 

Representative Consensus Decision Making + 99 

The Majority Rule Escape Clause !!!■!! 100 

The Minority Rule Escape Clause . . 102 

The "Consensus-Trust" Convention Model , . . . ( XQk 


Polarised Factions . , \ jq7 

Endless Discussion , '"*}■ \ 109 

Low Quality Decisions , ] [ [ * £j i Jill 

Nonparticipation by Some Members ;.**\ \ * 113 

Some Individuals Dominate Discussion 115 

A Group Member Apparently Won't Cooperate -,!.■!.. 116 

BIBLIOGRAPHY ......... J » 119 






- U 


In February of 1978, several Center for 
Conflict Resolution staff members and 
friends met to begin working together to 
produce a publication on consensus de- 
cision making for tommunity use. 

The Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) 
is a nonprofit collective in Madison, 
Wisconsin, which teaches other groups 
skills in group process, conflict reso- 
lution and problem solving, CCR does 
this by sponsoring workshops, by pro- 
viding consultation and crisis inter- 
vention, and by offering written / 
materials through a resource center, 
QCR works with diverge groups including 
food and housing cooperatives, various 
collectives, the public school system, 
city government j university groups , and 
many others. Although many of these 
organizations do not use consensus de- 
cision making, CCR has remained commit- 
ted to this process as a way of 
increasing group cohesion, member in- 
volvement, and meeting effectiveness. 

Our original intent was to write a 
short "how-to-do-it rr piece that a 
reader could skim rapidly. We soon 
discovered, however, that to discuss 
the skills of using consensus in a use- 
ful way, we also had to ^discuss a wide 
variety of other group process skills. 
We found there is no sharp division 
between good group structure, meeting 
organization* communication skills, 
values, and the ability to make good 
decisions by consensus. They are all 

^-^ From our original project emerged a 

handbook on how to be the kind of group, 
- L and the kind of group member, that can 
use consensus decision making well- We 
weren't able to include everything we 

wanted to say about every subjects but 
we've tried at least to introduce some 
basic and useful concepts in areas, such 
as communication skills and problem 
solving when we weren't able to cover 
the subject thoroughly. 

The layout of this handbook is a 
scrambled montage of rT main text 11 and 
boxes containing personal statements, 
examples, artifacts from the writing* 
process and additional bits of infor- 
mation. We've organized the book this 
way for several reasons: 

—First, any smooth, logical pre- 
sentation would be artificial. We 
found it extremely difficult to choose 
a sequence for our chapters since al- 
most every section is relevant to every 
other section. 

* ** 

— Second, we want to demonstrate that 
the ideas we present here were developed 
through interaction — a long, jumbled 
process that included painstaking reason- 
ing, flashes of inspiration, argument , 
humor, and always, sharing and building 
on each other's thoughts. We can't 
count the number of people who contrib- 
uted to this work by sharing their in- 
sights and experiences on different 
subjects* We want you to be aware of 
this dialogue, to recognize that it 
isn't finished , and to become a part of 
it. You and others will respond and 
build from this book, which is only an 
arbitrary stopping point in the dialogue. 
(If we didn't have other things to do, 
we might have gone on revising and 
adding forever, ) 

— Finally, while we hope you find 
this book enjoyable, we don't mean for 
your reading of it to be smooth. We 
want you to stop and think, to see 

* p 



comments other people have made, and 
to ponder over contradictions in our 
ideas and experience. We believe that 
such a struggle to understand is part 
of the process of real learning, and 
it is certainly part of the process of 
consensus decision making, 

This book is written for everyone who 
has been working with consensus, A new 
approach to the process and a new syn- 
thesis of concepts can be useful both 
to beginners and to "old timers," The 
book is also written for members of 
newly forming groups who are consider- 
ing consensus and for groups that may 
want to change to consensus from some 
other decision-making process. Finally, 
it attempts to include groups which are 
not planning to use consensus, but which 
can benefit by adapting some of the 
ideas we present to tiieir own methods* 
While consensus itself is more apprd- 
priate for some kinds of groups than 
others, we believe -the values and 
skills we describe for consensus groups 
can help any group. They can promote 
the effort to elicit the best contribu- 
tion from each member and to provide 
the most satisfactory kind of experience 
for participants, 

We have tried to make this handbook as 
widely applicable as possible. Since 
we believe the skills we describe can 

be used by a wide variety of groups, we 
tried to speak to a broad audience. But 
we realize that everything we say comes 
from our own experience and you may want 
to know what kind of people we are as 
you evaluate our ideas for your situation. 

As individuals, we describe ourselves 
with the words "educator," "activist," 
"scientist," and "counselor." We all 
have backgrounds that include univer- 
sity education and work in academic or 
service agency environments. We have 
also been involved in alternative or- 
ganisations including cooperatives 
and collectives, and our strongest 
interest and excitement are invested 
in the latter arena. Most importantly, 
we have all worked in groups — lots of 
groups — and we see group membership as 
an important part of our lives. In 
fact, one reason we struggled together 
for so long writing this handbook was 
our commitment to our own project group , 
The satisfaction of working together 
and the excitement of developing ideas 
and learning with each other was an im- 
portant motivation for each of us. 

Other individual motivations included: 

Groups that night not find this helpful: 

Inhabitants of monasteries where silfence is the rule I 

Idren below ege 12, more or less, though it could be 
Simplified and used to great advantage by the very young 

Groups from very diverse educational and opportunity back- 
grounds,, but they could be trained to use it, using 
considerable patience and understanding 


e * 


■ a ■ 



^cause of the long time spent working 
on this project, membership in the writ* 
Ing group changed several times during 
the three-year period. 

In addition to the four of us listed as 
authors, ve received invaluable assis^ 
tance from Elaine Nesterick, Education 
Coordinator of Intra- Community Coopera- 
tive > a network of food cooperatives 
in the Midwest that are served by the 
ICC Warehouse in Madison, Wisconsin* 
For most of the project j Elaine worked 
with us ae a full participating meisber 
of the writing group. Her influence on 
this mmial has been important and 

pro round, Klaine left the project a 
few months before completion due to a 
reassessment of her ovn priorities, so 
the final version of the book does not 
necessarily reflect Elaine's own "view- 
point. : 

Janice Kinsolving was also very active 
in the first half of the project. She 
foimd it necessary to leave in the fall 
of 1980 to make way for other activities 
in her life. She also is not listed as 
an author since she cannot be held 
responsible for the final version of 
the book. Yet this manual beare a 
strong mark of her contribution, 





— A long frustration both with 
Tl Robert's Rules 1 ' decision making and 
with poorly structured consensus, re-'' 
suiting in a dedication to developing 
methods which can make the "consensus 
process effective. "The ideals of 
consensus needed to be put into a con- 
crete framework." 

— 1T I believe people always want more 
than efficiency from their groups . . * 
They want to experience a meeting not 
as the smooth workings of a body of 
rules, but as an occasion of being with 
others, I would be personally satis- 
fied if I thought our work increased 
the times when this really happens." 

--"I'm doing this book because I 
think consensus is radically exciting 
and fun — and I learn about people and 
how the world works from doing consen- 
sus * . * Consensus embodies so many 
of the things I value. It's healthy. 
It T s intelligent, effective and prac- 
tical. There's space for stretching, 
kisses , humor and silence. The 
process/product balance of consensus 
pleases me." 

— "In some areas of 'expertise' there 
is an advantage for individuals who keep 
their skills to themselves. People get 
ahead by being 'better 1 at something. 
But in consensus, you cannot exercise 
your skills alone. Skilled people need 
other skilled people to work with. 
Since I want to work in consensus -■ ." 
groups ... it is to my advantage to 
develop what I know and share it with 
others as much as I can." 

— "I joined this group because I'd 
discovered I loved consensus . . . and 
I wanted to learn much, much more about 
it, I was hungry for dialogue about 
how it worked, where its origins lay, 
and how it could evolve. I wanted to 
grapple with it, understand it, and make 
it my own rather than to continue to 
float on the surface through rather 
idyllic group meetings." 

February, 1981 

Chel Aveiy, Brian Auvine, Barb Streibel, 

Lonnie Weiss 
The Consensus Handbook Writing Project 






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Notes on Our Style 







When speaking of a person whose gender is 
unidentified, ue use "he or she" in odd- 
numbered chapters, and "she or he" in even- 
numbered chapters- Our intention is to 
avoid confusion while attempting to use 
the two variations equally; if one version 
appears more than the other, it is acciden- 



First-person plural -pronouns ("we, 11 "us" 
and "our") are used only when referring 
specifically to the authors, . When speak- 
ing of "everyone," or "most people in 
this society, 11 third person ("they") is 
used. This distinction is made to avoid 
confusion, not to set the authors apart 
from the readers. When we say, "People 
in this culture learn to hide their emo- 
tions," for example, we mean to include 
ourselves in the generalization. 



Many examples are included in the text 
to illustrate principles and techniques. 
Some examples are drawn from real-life 
experience and are recorded accurately, 
using correct names. Other examples are 
purely imaginary. While no special ef- 
fort has been made to distinguish real 
from imaginary examples, it is usually 
apparent by the wording which is which. 
All boxed examples, unless otherwise in- 
dicated, are from life. 


At the end of most chapters is a section 
entitled, "Most Highly Recommended Re- 
soitrces." The publications mentioned in 
these sections are the ones we consider 
to be the best available on the subject 
of the particular chapter* Not. every 
relevant reference from the BIBLIOGRAPHY 
is always included. Full citations for 
the publications mentioned in these sec- 
tions can be found in the BIBLIOGRAPHY. 

Quotations which appear in boxes are fol- 
lowed by full citations only when the 
publication quoted is not included in the 
complete information on other referenced 

When a quotation is attributed to the 
name of an individual, the person is 
either one of the authors or one of our 
friends/associates who reviewed early 
drafts of the text and made comments. 


We include two types of boxes: those 
that contain artifacts from the writing 
process, and those that contain examples, 
additional material, or relevant quota- 
tions from other sources, (See the 
PREFACE for an explanation of why we 
have used this layout style.) Below is 
the "code" for the different types of 
boxes : 


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er 1 

Introduction: Why Use Consensus; When 
to Use Consensus 

Consensus decision making can be a power- 
ful tool for bulding group unity and 
strength, and for choosing wise, creative 
courses of action. However if attempted 
under the wrong circumstances or without 
a good understanding of the technique, 
the consensus process can result in con- 
fusion, disruption or unrest in a group. 

We have written this book because we be- 
lieve in the benefits of consensus, in 
its power to develop strong groups and 
excellent decisions. In this chapter we 
will be promoting consensus, describing 
it in all its glory so you will be en- 
couraged to try using it in your group, 
if you haven't already. We want you to 
share our enthusiasm for this satisfying 
and productive approach to group decision 

We will also be cautioning you in this 
chapter, advising against the hazards of 
using consensus inappropriately. We will 
describe the conditions under which con- 
sensus is most likely to work well so you 
can assess whether your group is likely 
to be successful in making decisions by 

For those who choose to use consensus, 
the following chapters in this book de- 
scribe structures and techniques that can 
help the process work smoothly in your 
group rather than backfiring. Chapter 11, 

stance, describes how to prepare a group 
to /use consensus. Chapter 2, A STEP- BY- 
to use consensus in concrete, nitty- 
gritty detail. Other chapters, such as 
PROBLEM SOLVING offer approaches to on- 
going needs of a group using consensus 

decision making* These and other chap- 
ters in this book can be applied to 
groups that use other decision -making 
processes; adapting the cooperative 
values and assumptions behind consensus 
can improve all kinds of group decision 
making . 


Simply stated, consensus is different 
from other kinds of decision making be- 
cause it stresses the cooperative devel- 
opment of a decision with group members 
working together rather than competing 
against each other. The goal of consen- 
sus is a decision that is consented to 
by all group members. Of course 3 full 
consent does not mean that everyone must 
be completely satisfied with the final 
outcome — in fact, total satisfaction is 
rare. The decision must be acceptable 
enough, however, that all will agree to 
support the group in choosing it. 




old friends 

all their antennae out 

weaving together a fabric of agreement 

liow such listening can a room bold? 

in a sea of ambiguity 

each on© takes a turn 
catching a thread of clarity 
and offering it to the rest 

caring sensitive fingers 

probing the tangle of ideas 

sorting the threads 

tying loose ends 


holding the pattern- that-might-be 
in the mind r s eye i 

the skill and patience 

intelligence and creativity 
of a do sen lovers 


building with fine fan&liar tools 

in an uncharted land * *?- 


these procedures for over 300 years. At 
different times in history, consensus has 
also been used by groups in Africa , Spain 
and Russia , as well as by Native American 
people* Consensus is also popular with 
alternative community groups, such as 
cooperatives and collectives , that wish 
to maximise individual input and satis- 
faction, fairness and human-ness in their 

meetings. Consensus decision making in 
modern American society is not limited to 
Quakers and community activists , however. 
Forms of consensus are often used by uni- 
versity departments , committees of pro- 
fessional people, and in many other 
diverse situations , often without actually 
being labeled "consensus." The princi- 
ples of consensus can have broad applica- 
tions and can be adapted to a wide Variety 
of situations where people want to in- 
crease the creativity, sensitivity and 
fairness of the decision making structures. 

By Pamela Haines 
Dandelion* Spring ; 


In "classic" consensus decision making, 
every member must consent to the decision 
before the group can adopt it. If even 
a single member has a strong objection to 
the decision (for example, it violates a 
deeply felt moral belief), then the in- 
dividual has the power to "block" the de- 
cision and the group must keep searching 
for a new, acceptable solution. 

Not all groups which practice consensus 
do so in this classic sense, allowing 
individuals the full power to block the 
whole group for as long as they feel they 
must. Whether a group goes to this de- 
gree or not, the emphasis in practicing 
consensus is on listening to everyone f s 
ideas and taking all concerns into con- 
sideration in an attempt to find the 
most universally acceptable decision pos- 
sible at a particular time. 

Consensus is most often associated with 

the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) 

who have successfully used and developed 



In a continuum of decision-making pro- 
cesses, consensus represents the extreme 
of highest participation and involvement 
from the most people. Below is a brief 
description of some other decision making 
procedures, the kind of participation in- 
volved in each method, and the advantages 
and disadvantages of each. Elementary as 
this short discussion is, you should get 
some basis for comparing consensus to 
alternative methods and for analysing how 
appropriate consensus may be in different 

1. Autocratic : Ctae person, usually 
the most powerful individual in a hier- 
archy, has the authority to make deci- 
sions for the group. Decisions can be 
made quickly and consistently since they 
all rely on the judgment of a single 
person. The autocratic method is con- " 
venient, simple, and can be effective in 
situations where strong, recognizable 
leadership is called for, as well as in 
day-to-day decisions so simple that one 
person can possess all the necessary in- 
formation relevant to the decision. 






The disadvantages of autocratic decision 
making stem from its reliance on one per- 
son's ideas, values, experience and knowl- 
edge* The quality of the decision may 
suffer from this limited input. People 
who are expected to carry out the deci- 
sion may not be committed to doing so be- 
cause they are not involved in making 
the decisions, do not. understand the 
reasons behind them^ or feel imposed upon 
by the decision maker. 

2. Autocratic -with polling: A single 
person with authority makes decisions for 
the group after asking for the opinions 

of others involved. Consulting with others 
gives the decision maker more information 

and a greater understanding of what -other 
people want and what might work well. 
This kind of decision making also informs 
the consulted group members of the issues 
being considered and may prepare them -for 
greater participation in future decisions. 
However this approach lacks- opportunity 
for interact ion , for people. to think 
together, to learn each other's needs, 
and to develop new ideas out of the 
exchange . 

3, Minority rule : The decision is 
made by a few people in the organisation. 
They might be the Board of Directors , a 
steering committee, or other top decision 
makers in the organisation's structure, 
or they may be a committee representing 

a variety of positions in the group. De- 
cisions by this method are usually man- 
aged more quickly than decisions by 

larger groups, since only a few individu- 
als are involved. There is also oppor- 
tunity for exchange of ideas and inter- 
action in this method. The amount of 
interaction depends on whether the - 
decision-making body operates internally 
by minority rule, majority rule, or con- 
sensus. The quality of the decision and 
its acceptability to the larger group 
may depend on how well the viewpoints of 
different group members are represented 
by the decision makers. 

4, Majority rule: The decision is 
made by choosing a solution which is ac- 
ceptable to more than half the entire 
group, with each person having equal 
power {one person, one vote). Variations 
may require a majority of two-thirds, ^ 
three- fourths, or another fraction. Un- 
like the other decision-making methods 
described so far, the power to decide lies 
with the whole group rather than with one 
or a few people. The decision is more 
likely to be satisfactory to the group 
as a whole because all individuals can 
participate. The quality of the decision 
will depend on the amount of discussion 
before voting, whether the group considers 
many alternatives or only a few, and 
whether their work was cooperative or 

competitive. Of course the more dis- 
cussion, the longer the decision will 
take, Parliamentary Procedure (Robert's 
Rules of Order) is often used to structure 
majority- rule decision making. Majority 
rule is commonly used In voluntary orga- 
nisations, unions, and government bodies. 

(4) One thing you could stress in the introduction, is that a 
consensus decision making process is broadly used in many settings 
without being labeled as such. Project management f and other 
interdepartmental projects in large agencies, as well as corporations, 
are usually organized as a problem solving process- The proceedures 
for problem solving are well known in all administrative circles. 
Problem solving as a series of steps, parallels the consensus 
process. The two major differences are thatjjbusiness and govern- 
ment when problem solving fails, folks fall back on hierarchies 
rather than majority rule to make the decision; and5l think in 
these settings, problem solving is understood as a scientific 
technique quite devoid of a value system* Thats probably also 
why it doesn|t work nearly as well in business and government 
settings as it does in alternative settings where the value system 
is better understood. If this perspective makes sense to you, 
I would suggest including it as a part of your context setting 
efforts in the introduction- 





Majority rule is sometimes held up as 
the ideal form of fair decision making. 
Often majority rule works veiy well. So 
why do we prefer consensus? We believe 
there are some inherent problems in ma- 
mority rule that a well-executed consen- 
sus process can solve. The vignettes 
below illustrate some common problems 
that you may have experienced in majority- 
rule groups. 

Your political group is planning a plat- 
form for the city elections. Dave pro- 
poses that you advocate a fare increase 
for the bus system so service can be ex- 
panded to outlying areas. * 

You say you like the idea of expanding 
service* hut you don't think it should be 
paid for by a fare increase. You want to 
discuss the subject more? but the chair- 
person is in a hurry to push this item 
through and move on to other issues. It 
is obvious that a two- thirds rmjority 
supports the plan* so most people aren't 
interested in spending more time discuss- 
ing it. A quick vote is held* the deci- 
sion is recorded in the minutes* and the 
discussion moves on to other topics. 

After the meeting you and Janet* the only 
other person who opposed the fare hike 
motion* express your frustration to each 
other. As you talk about it* you figure 
out another way that expanded bus service 
could be financed.' But it's too late to 
think of new ideas now* and there wasn r t 
a chance to be creative in the meeting. 
You are frustrated; your group and the 
city are deprived of your ideas* which 
may have provided a better solution to 
the problem. 

Another common problem is shown below: 

Your cooperative business is trying to 
decide how to reduce expenses. Gary 
suggests that you cut back on staff 
salaries by only having one person in 
the store on the mornings when business 
is slower. He presents carefully rea- 


saned arguments about how much money 
could be saved and about the cost returns 
of staff wages at different hours of the 

Karen, who doesn r t often speak out at 
meetings* says shyly* "But I hate being 
in the store alone. There isn r t anyone 
to support me if a customer gives me 
trouble* and I get rattled when too many 
things happen at once. And on the really 
slow days* I get so lonely. " 

There is a short* awkward silence* Then 
the chairperson calls on Phil who says 
scornfully * "The facts that Gary present- 
ed clearly show that the logical thing to 
do is reduce our staff in the mornings. " 

As the meeting continues, you observe 
that Karen and several other people are 
silent and uninvolved in the discussion. 
No one else seems to notice or care that 
they are not participating. 

The scenarios above illustrate some of 
the problems that frustrate people in 
majority- rule decision making:. Majority 
rule involves an assumption of competi- 
tion. You "win" if you get the most 
people voting on your side; the opponent 
"loses," This win/lose approach encour- 
ages divisive arguing, each "side" tiying 
to prove that they are right and the 
others are wrong. People may listen to 
each other's arguments not out of concern 
for the other's needs or opinions, but to 
develop counter arguments which can bene- 
fit their own side. 

Often, majority- rule groups have a 
hierarchy of power in which the opinions 
of leaders, experts , or assertive and out- 
spoken members carry disproportionate in- 
fluence over the rest of the group. Tim- 
id individuals or people who find it 
difficult to put new ideas into words 
can be ignored in such a group , even 
though their ideas may be^just as good. 
The minority can easily be dispensed 
with by outvoting them. So although in' 
theory everyone may participate in ma- 
jority rule, in reality this method 
ensures less democracy than it seems to 

The quality of decisions made with ma- 
jority rule may be lower than ideal be- 
cause everyone's ideas, including the 
innovative and creative ones, are not 
necessarily heard. There is a tendency 
to expedite discussions and opt for 
"efficiency" by settling quickly for the 
favored of the two most obvious alterna- 
tives. Rarely is the full range of 
possible decisions explored. Time may 
be saved, but it is hard to measure the 
wastefulness and inefficiency of poor 
decisions that suffer from lack of 
support, possible sabotage by the losing 
minority, and the necessity to re-decide 
an issue after a quick decision proves 

The scenario below shows how consensus 
decision making can be a better alterna- 
tive when practiced skillfully: 

You are a member of a collective that 
provides training in interpersonal 
communication skills, At one of your 
meetings Lisa introduces a new item on 
the agenda* She says a professional as- 
sociation of educational agencies is 
sponsoring a fair for such organizations 
and your group has been invited to have 
a display at the fair* 

"It means they're taking our work seri- 
ously^" she says* "I really want to do 

Dan addSj "It will be a great way to make 
new contacts. " Several group members 
talk about the idea enthusiastically. 
Someone asks^ "Won't it be a lot of work?" 
"I'm willing to do it if someone witl 
help; " says Lisa. A couple of people 
say they would be interested. 

The facilitator asks y "Do we have agree- 
ment that we will go ahead and do the 

"Wait a minute , " Lisa says* u Sara^ you 
haven't said anything. I'd like to know 
what you think. " 

"Well; I don't know. I'm uncomfortable 
with the idea — but I'm not sure why I- 
don 't like it. " 

The facilitator suggests that the group 
talk about it more. "What possible 
problems do people see with this project?" 

"Wells f° r one thing , " Mark saySj "we *re 
very busy with other things that month 
and I f m afraid we 're going to have to 
hustle to meet our other commitments if 
we have several people working on the 
display. " 

That comment reminds Al of something and 
he makes a remark. People discuss the 
pros and cons of the is sue „ playing off 
each other's ideas. 

Finally Sara says^ "Now I know what is 
bothering me r I'm not sure I want us 
putting forth so much effort advertising ■ 
ourselves in professional circles when 
we haven r t done an adequate job making 


the general public aware of us. We 
should be doing outreach to people who 
might actually use our services. It 
makes me wonder about our priorities. " 

Lisa agrees. "I think that's an impor- 
tant concern. What can we do about it?" 

The facilitator says* "This is an issue 
for a long discussion. I suggest we put 
the subject of 'outreach ' on our next 
agenda. In the meantime* let's have a 
brainstorm about how to deal with this 
fair. " 

Participants toss out suggestions fora- 
while without discussing them. Some of 
the ideas are obviously unworkable. Some 
are silly. But people respond to each 
other r s ideas by thinking of new ones 
until a long list of proposals has been 
developed. ? 

"OK* " says the facilitator', 
what we r ve got. " 


Let r s see 

Most people agree that the best sugges- 
tion is that the group go ahead and cre- 
ate a display for the fair* but try to 
make something permanent that would be 
appropriate for different settings in 
the future. That way* the display could 
also be used where it would be seen by 
people who might use the group's services. 

The facilitator says* "It looks like we 
have agreement here. Are there any objec- 
tions ? " 


Mark says* "Well* I'm still worried about 
whether people have enough time to do it* 
but if Lisa and Anna and Rich really want 
to put out that much energy* I guess I f m 
willing to say* 'go ahead. ttT 

Lisa says* rt Sara* since you were con- 
cerned about this* will you help with 
planning the display* to make sure it 
will be appropriate in other contexts?" 

Sara agrees to the request and the 
meeting proceeds to other issues. 

The vignette above shows what can happen 
when consensus decision making is used 
by a group of people who understand the 
skills and principles of consensus and 
who work cooperatively together.- Since 
the goal is group unity, rather than 
beating the opposition, every member is 
considered important and the group tries 
to listen to and respond to each person. 
Everyone's support is needed, so the 
softer voices that night be drowned out 
in a competitive situation are encour- 
aged and attended to, Both feelings and 
logical argument are treated as impor- 
tant. When a decision is not satisfac- 
tory to the group as a whole, even 
though a majority may favor it., new 
options are explored and often creative 
solutions are discovered that would * 
otherwise be overlooked* 

This may all sound too good to be true, 
so let us emphasize again that in con- 
sensus, group unity does not mean that 
each person is delighted with every 
decision- It does mean that everyone's 
concerns have been considered and that 
group members are willing to accept the 
decision as a good one for the group, 
even when it doesn't represent their 
personal first choice. 

Argument and conflict do occur. In 
fact, conflict is an important element 
that spurs people on to clearer thinking, 
better understanding and greater crea- 
tivity. Although a consensus group may 
experience intense and heated disagree- 
ment, behind the conflict is an assump- 
tion of cooperation: people are commit- 
ted to working together to meet everyone r s 
needs as best they can. Such a mutually- 
supportive process is the source of this 
book's title, "Building United Judgment," 

These are idealistic principles. They 
are part of our vision of a better world. 
But they are not just idealistic— they 
are also practical. Our experience with 
consensus has shown us that in the 
right situations it can work. In fact, 
consensus is a practical tool for pursu- 
ing our ideals— a better way for working 
together and a way for people to learn 


and change so they are able to work to- 
gether better. Consensus decision making 
teaches participants skills and increases 
their awareness of themselves and others. 
The consensus process is a social change 
activity in itself, as well as a tool for 
pursuing further goals, 


Using consensus is not easy. Consen- 
sus assumes certain skills and attitudes 
from the group as a whole and from the 
individual members, Since many people 
have learned to assume a competitive 
attitude and to expect the same of oth- 
ers, it is difficult to risk changing to 
a cooperative approach and to trust oth- 
ers to do so also, Some J serious problems 
that people have experienced when using 
consensus in an unprepared group include: 

— One or a few individuals block con- 


sensus to further their own power in the 
group or to promote their personal advan- 
tage , 

— The group is dominated by outspoken 
or intimidating members, 

— The struggle for unity takes too 
much time and discussion goes on and on 
without getting anywhere. Meetings may 
meander aimlessly without focus , result- 
ing in stress 3 boredonij and no decisions, 

— Group members become exhausted and 
Tr bum out" over time from the extensive 
involvement required by the process. 

^ ^ ^^v* ^ ^ ^^ ^ 

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> 9 A •«►/«. 

J*0***Jl S*.*C 


Mt>*»s h 

a rmr& 



I like the Kfigag linkage of consensus as ideal istic, but prac- 
tical. The recognition that the consensus process is idealistic, 
but yet practical, partially addresses the issue I was raising above. 

You may want to expand the section on commitment & satisfaction a 
little to clarify this point. I am concerned that some people may per 
ceive the possibility of "intense involvement" as a negative. Perhaps 
merely clarify that people are mo tin ted to becoming involved more in- 
tensely in such an active process mfgKt speak to this. The essential 
point is that the intensity of involvement is voluntary and desirable 
by the participants, & therefore more satisfying and less alienating* 

* A^VA%V ^ M^^ 




^NV^ / W W^ NV * 

The reason why consensus emerges Is that it is "more practical 11 • There 
is an important theoretical point somewhat buried here, that is, that social 
; Innovations— such as socialism, for instance—do not win out unless they rA^ 
;have this practical superiority. Mere moral superiority never got a society V X 
anywfeere. Consensus will be widespread insofar as the decisions it pro- v/^ 
duces are s imply ^eUerjlecisi_qn^: more productive ,, less wasteful, T^ 


P^A^ A h A s . ln . ^.?^RQL r fi 5 lm a s well as the moral realm. 

There are practical answers to these 
problems and to other kinds of problems 
that arise in consensus decision making. 
This book can provide many of those 
answers . Before attempting to use con- 
sensus, however, it is necessary for a 
group to have certain characteristics 
and for nembers to possess certain skills 
and attitudes that can help the consensus 
process succeed, The "prerequisites" 
listed below should help you assess your 
group f s readiness to use consensus. .- 

Group Conditions That Support Consensus 

1- Unity of purpose : There should be 
a basic core of agreement within and about 
the group. Of course there will be many 
areas where group members have vaiying 

opinions about what is best. But there 
must be a unifying base that is recog- 
nized and accepted as a common starting 
place by all members. 

2. Equal access to power for all 
members: There should be no formal 
hierarchy which gives any member more 
authority than other members. Addition- 
ally, there should be an effort to 
share informal distribution of power. 
Ideally, then, there not only is no 
"director" or "president," but there is 
also an effort to have all members con- 
tribute and participate equally, despite 
differences in seniority, assertiveness, 
and other personal qualities. 

3. Autonomy of the group from 
external hierarchical structures: It is 

very difficult for 
sus within its own 
group is part of a 
does not recognize 
such as university 


a group to use cons en 
operations when the 
larger system that 
the process. Groups 
departments, state 

agencies, or divisions of a business have 
often experimented with using consensus 
and have sometimes been successful. 
Their success, though, can easily be 
disrupted by interference or mandate from 
the larger structure. For example, it is 
difficult for a person to participate 
within a group as an equal when the same 
person is designated "director" by * 
associated or controlling bodies. 

*** Time : The process of developing 
an effective consensus group requires 
time spent on group process and relations 
between members as well as time spent 
making decisions. Consensus groups can 
often work very smoothly and efficiently 
to make effective, stable decisions , but 
a difficult consensus decision cannot be 
rushed* If your group does not have the 
time to devote, or the patience to use 
the time, consensus will be thwarted. 

5* A willingness in the group to 
attend to process : The way group members 
work together to reach decisions is im- 
portant and needs attention. Members of 
a consensus group must be willing and 
able to spend group time discussing pro- 
cess and working towards necessary 

changes in the process, as well as at- 
tending to tasks and decisions. 

6, A willingness in the group to 
attend to attitudes : Consensus works 
well when group members are willing to 
work cooperatively and when they feel 
they are able to trust each other. 
This requires a commitment by individual 
members to examine their own attitudes 
and to be open to change. Such trust and 
cooperation also require a caring group 
community which supports the development 
of these attitudes. 

7. A willingness in the group to 
leana and practice skills for meeting 
participation, facilitation and communi- 
cation* The group must encourage and 
assist all of its members to develop 
these skills for the group to work well 
as a whole. 

Analyzing Your Group 

The seven conditions described above 
are a tough list of qualities for a group 
to live up to. Don't be discouraged if 
they seem far away from the present 
reality in your group. Sometimes a com- 
mitment to reach slightly beyond your 
grasp can provide extra motivation and 
opportunity for positive growth in a 
group, We present the list of prerequi- 
sites as a set of goals to strive for 
and as a description of a strong, 
healthy group. 

After checking your group 1 equalities 
against the list of indicators, you 
may find that your group meets or is 
close to meeting most of the condi- 
tions necessary for using consensus* 
Perhaps you are integrating many 
qualities of consensus in your deci- 
sion making already. Other parts of 
this book will help you translate 
your potential into actuality. If you 
are already using consensus, this manual 
can make you aware of your assumptions 
and skills and can expand your ability 
to think and talk about your group pro- 
cess so you can use consensus more 


If you are using consensus but having 
problems with it, the checklist of in- 
dicators is a good place to start iden- 
tifying sources of your trouble. Are 
you weak in a fundamental prerequisite? 
Bo you need to change some assumptions 
or learn new skills? 

If your review of the prerequisite condi- 
tions reveals several areas that your 
group does not yet meet, we suggest you 
use this book to build your group 1 s 
skills, awareness, and unity, rather than 
attempting a premature and ill-fated ex- 
ploration of consensus. When you have 
reached the point where you feel ready 
to attempt consensus, do it slowly. For 
example, you can use consensus for a 
•"few, easy decisions first and work up*to 
full-time consensus. 

Many groups do not possess the qualities 
of a consensus group and may never be 
able or inclined to do so. If yours is 
such a group, you may still be able to 
use this book to improve communication, 
meetings, or conflict strategies within 
the group, 


We want to repeat that the skills and 
values of consensus can be applied in 
many different ways. There is no single 
correct method for "doing" consensus* 
In the following chapters, we will pre- 
sent one model which we have found par- 
ticularly useful for a variety of 
situations. We encourage you to adapt 
this model to the needs of your group* 

I see in your book an implicit assumption of a "consensus to use consensus" 
on the part of your readership. Thus I think your examples paint too rosy 
a picture for those readers who don't share this basic prerequisite, but 
would like to* JfttY-ififiM 

In my experience consensus decision-nakinp; is an overused 
tool, often applied in situations where the conditions are not 
present for it to work. Maybe noee effort has to zo into intermediate 
steos betv/een an organization's total reliance on consensus (L*yv- m 

3tffi u% 

decision-making and it's total relaincc on some other for^i. 

^ ^ ^^ ^ ^ ^^*^^^^^^^^^ ^ 



1 * Qua I it j of the de c ision : Since 
the decision oust be acceptable to a 
variety of people, it is more likely to 
be examined carefully and to meet com- 
plex standards of workability, desira- 
bility, and Integrity. 
+ * 

2. Creativity, Rather than a quick 
choice for the favorite of two, or a few, 
options , a decision which attempts to 
seat everyone's needs will require the 
group to produce and consider a vide 
range of proposals . Often sore imagina- 
tive and creative possibilities are 
discovered . 

Finally , we want to remind you that learn- 
ing to use consensus is a never-ending 
process. Consensus doesn ! t operate like 
a perfect machine among a group of people 
who have the values and skills "down pat." 
Even the most experienced users of con- 
sensus , if they are sincere, stop fre- 
quently to evaluate the ways in which 
they put their skills and beliefs into 
practice. We are always struggling to 
do better, to see our mistakes, and leam 
from them. Consensus is a cooperative 
learning process through which we support 
each other in the struggle to be more 
understanding, open, caring and effective 
human beings. 


INVERT'S materials 

Chapter k s "The Consensus Decision- 
Making Process 11 by The Training/Action 
Affinity Croup 

3* Commitment and satisfaction* The 

■■■!■■■*■ — M-n 

struggle to reach consensus requires 
isore intense involvement from group mem- 
bers* In majority rule, dissenting group 
member $ are often committed to the deci- 
sion merely by contract * In consensus, 
commitisent arises froia involvement ae 
well as froa satisfaction* 


*i* Fostering of values and skills* 
Consensus requires people to consider and 
demonstrate such values as respect for 
others 1 opinions, responsibility for the 
group* and cooperation. It also requires 
that we leara group process skills- 
These values and skills cany over into 
other activities. 


Chapter 2 

A Step-by-Step Process for Consensus 

Where do we begin? Tills first chapter 
on how to "do" consensus refers to many 
concepts and skills, such as "agendas" 
and "facilitation," that will not be 
fully explained until later in the book. 
Yet we decided to begin with this brief, 
introductory outline showing how the 
consensus process works so : you will have 
a framework for placing the ideas we 
discuss further in later chapters. 
Below is a step-by- step model of how 
a decision is developed in consensus 
groups. Specific tools and techniques 
mentioned here will be explained more 
fully in subsequent chapters, We spe- 
cifically refer you to Chapters k 
FACILITATOR) for more extensive 
"how-to M instructions for putting 
consensus into operation. 


A. An agenda is set at the beginning 
of the meeting so members know and 
agree on what they will talk about 
and In what order, (See "Using 
Agendas'* in Chapter 6, STRUCTURING 

B. The facilitator introduces an item 
from the agenda (or calls on someone 
else to introduce the item), The 
introduction should include: 

1, A clear definition of the area 
being discussed. 

2. A clear statement of what has to 
be decided . Exactly what needs 
must be filled or what problem 
must be solved by the decision? 
This statement should be precise 
enough to have a limiting effect; 
members should know what they are 
not talking about* 






Exanple: Vague— "He want to 
solve the problem of school 
closings." (This may include 
discussion of city government 
policies ? citizens 1 attitudes 
about property taxes, emigra- 
tion of young families to the 
suburbs 7 etc.) 

Specific— "Today we have 
to think of a way to raise 
funds to keep Albion Middle 
School open next year." 

Background information is provided 
by the person who introduced the 
topic and by other group members who 
have information* As the discussion 
progresses, other relevant informa- 
tion is added whenever needed. 




An individual introduces an idea for 
disc ussion . This idea may be an 
opinion, a definition of the problem, 
a suggestion for an approach to the 
problem, or a proposal for a decision. 

Another individual responds to that 
idea . The second speaker's statement 
iT~a" combination of her or his own 
opinion and that of the previous 
speaker. It includes a response to 
the first speaker's idea and her or 
his own thoughts as they have been 
influenced by the previous statement. 

C A J-M- r* person devel ops the ideas 
further . Her or his contribution is 
different than it would have been if 
the two previous speakers had not 
spoken * 


D other people beg in responding to 

ft ar Ti er statements and offering their 
views on the subject. Each contribu- 
tion builds on previous statements 
and yet is unique as different in- 
dividuals express themselves. The 
effect of such a discussion is that 
the comments taken as a whole are 
greater than the sum of them indi- 
vidually: group members respond 
to each other so each statement is 
the unique contribution of an in- 
dividual and at the same time is 
influenced by previous speakers. 

E ThiriT ipr the discussion the facilitator 
'and other members are responsible for 

1. Keeping the discussion on topic. 
(If it is necessary to redefine 
the topic, the shift should be 
made explicit and all group 
members should understand the 
change . ) 

2- Providing clarification and re- 
phrasing of complicated or con- 
fusing discussion, 

3, Summarizing underlying agreement 
and differences in viewpoint. 


*The power to create « . + depends on 
a living synthesis of diverse elements- 
A meeting controlled by an Individual 
or by a pro gram seldom produces what 
is not already there in that individu- 
al or program. If, however, many in- 
dividuals, each sensitive to the Light 
of Truth, bring together their diversity 
of tendencies and possibilities, some- 
thing new may emerge more inclusive, and 
hence more 'true* than any one point of 
view. This is brought about, not by a 
mechanical juxtaposition of different 
opinions, but by a real fusion. One 
may mix oxygen and hydrogen and obtain 
nothing new* But apply a flase and 
the new substance, water, is created*" 

Howard Brlnton as quoted by INVERT 



*K Identifying new issues . as they 

5- Ensuring that all viewpoints are 
heard and understood by the group 
as a whole, 

6. Identifying problems with the 

group's process and attempting to 
remedy them. 

All group members share responsi- 
bility for the group's process and 
may perform any of the above func- 
tions, (See Chapter ? y THE ROLE OF 
thorough development of the skills 
necessary to perform these activi- 
ties. ) 

When it is apparent that most view- 
points have been expressed, all new 
information has been given, and/or 
some part of the discussion begins 
to be repeated, the facilitator or 
someone else states the conclusion 
toward which the group appears to 
be moving* 

Example: T1 It seems the group is 
leaning towards writing a grant 
to the Mott Foundation to fund 
the school as an experimental 
center for community education. 
Does anyone object to this pro- 

When "testing for consensus, ,r ask 
whether anyone has anything else 
important to say. Central to con- 
sensus is gathering all relevant 
information, opinions and feelings 
about the subject, so it is essen- 
tial not to move forward until these 
views have been expressed. 


A. The group responds by agreement or 
disagreement . Special care is taken 
to make sure that any objections are 
heard. The facilitator may ask if 
there are objections, or if consen- 
sus has been reached. In addition 
to raising specific concerns, it is 
legitimate for someone to say , "I 
have no specific objections, but I 
don't feel settled on the subject 
yet , » 

B, Concerns are discussed and the pro- 
cess of developing agreement, or 
"building united judgment," contin - 
ues until a decision is endorsed by 
the meeting as a whole . The deci- 
sion that is reached may not com- 
pletely satisfy everyone in the 
group, but it must be one that all 
group members are willing to live 
with. If serious objections still 
exist, then a decision is not made, 

C- If a decision implies that an action 
be taken , responsbilities are clari- 
fied to ensure that the. action is 
carried out. If a phone call must 
be made, or a letter written, make 
"sure that someone volunteers to do 
it. In addition, some method should 
be chosen to follow up on the deci- 
sion- This may require reporting 
back to the group when the task is 



completed, writing down the outcome 
and posting it, or putting the matter 
on the agenda for discussion at the 
next meeting. Record your decision 
and implementation plan in the min- 
utes for future reference* (See 
"Recording and Implementing Deci- 
sions" in Chapter 6 S STRUCTURING 

D. If the group cannot agree : 

1. It is possible that the group 
does not have enough information 
to make a good decision. Some- 
times a decision must be de- 
ferred until more facts are 
gathered, more discussion takes 
place, or members have more 
time to think about it. Fuller 
understanding by each partici- 
pant will increase the possir 
bility of reaching consensus, 


2. The group as a whole may decide 
that it is more important to 
reach a decision at this partic- 
ular time than to make a decision 
that meets the group's usual 
levels of acceptability, " Some 
members may feel that this is a 
special circumstance where reach- 
ing an immediate decision is so 
important that they will go along 
with a decision they would not 
otherwise support. (This kind 

of concession is sometimes made 
by individuals for the sake of 
the group, but a group should 
never pressure someone into doing 
so, or the result will not repre- 
sent a true consensus decision, ) 



INVERTS materials 

*Is alasost all decisions which carry over 
between meetings, there is a great deal 
of development of thinking, and some 
crystallization of opinion, so that in 
the next meeting there is an accounting 
of Dew thoughts, opinions, and ideas, 
The group is often much closer to a 
consensus at the beginning of the second 
meeting than at the end of the first* 11 





1* Discuss the Isaues In the spirit of 
consensus; calm, friendly gathering 
of friends to determine truth, rath- 
er than tense contest to see which 
side can prevail, 

2# When the meeting becomes tense, or 
when people are not saying new 
things, wait in silence* 

3. If nothing comes out, or if the at- 
mosphere is getting unfriendly and 
pressured, n sxi spend Judgments- 
agree to discuss the matter again 
when the group can do so in a more 
meaningful way. 

Take no positive action on the mat- 
ter as a group until it has been 
satisfactorily resolved foT all 
members of the group, 

5. B e i*, to M «. P ™, s 

patiently as often and as long aa It 
takes to find that mutually accept- 
able solution, 


—from INVERT 















Chapter h t "The Consensus Decision- 
Making Process" by The Training/Action 
Affinity Group 







Chapter 3 

Attitudes and Consensus 

As experienced groups have learned , the 
consensus process is susceptible to common 
pitfalls. Some of these difficulties / 
such as "burn-out" or misuse of time, stem 
from poor application of the practical 
techniques of consensus. We will suggest 
some remedies for these problems in later 
chapters. Sometimes, thought the process 
falters because of the attitudes, values, 
expectations or norms of behavior which 
members bring with them into the group, 
This chapter will focus on how the con- 
sensus process is affected by the pre- 
existing attitudes of group members. 

Individuals growing up in this society- 
are exposed to a variety of attitudes 
and values from which to shape their 
outlook on human relations and group 
participation. Many of these common 
attitudes can impede cooperative deci^ 
sion making. The first section below 
will outline those attitudes that can 
hamper the consensus process, The sec- 
ond section will describe some attitudes 
and values which support consensus. 
We want to promote these latter ideas, 
not only because they are essential to 
effective group process, but because we 
believe they are important to foster In 
all areas of our lives. 





American society encourages competition, 
teaching individuals to determine their 
own worth in terms of how much better or 
stronger than the next person they are, 
In a group, competition is evidenced 
when members try to achieve their own 
goals at the expense of other members. 
For example, there may be atteinpts to 
win verbal battles by proving that one 
person is right and another person is 
wrong* Group members may try to capture 
the limelight, withhold information, 
manipulate others to accept their own 
ideas, or they may try to choo;?e the 
"winning side." Competition festers 
both distrust and inequality as members 

try to outdo each other in performance, 
power and prestige. It leads to a focus 
on the weaknesses rather than the 
strengths of other members' contribu- 
tions j to a search for points that can 
be criticized rather than ideas to use or 
learn from. 

Lack of Interest in Others 

Most people are trained to view work 
performance and social responsibility 
in a very individualistic way. They 
tend to think a person's role in a group 
meeting is to contribute his or her own 
ideas, skills, experience and Insights 



and that the responsibility ends there. 
This perspective seriously affects mem- 
bers 1 commitment to working out problems 
and disagreements. It causes people to 
put their personal needs ahead of the 
needs of the group instead of struggling 
through the often difficult process nec- 
essary to reach a group resolution, or 
instead of sharing the responsibility 
for finding an answer to another mem- 
ber's concern. Participants may only 
feel involved to the extent of rep- 
resenting their own personal needs. 
Example: The majority of a group 
may want to hold a meeting late on a 
Monday night, Gail, who also wants to 
meet at that time, does not consider 
it her problem to deal with .the con- 
cerns of llarian, a single mother who 
must find a babysitter if she wishes 
to come to the meeting- 


Owning Ideas 

M - r " 

Another product of this culture's empha- 
sis on individualism is the tendency to 
think of the ideas put forth in a group 
as the speaker's property. This attitude 
not only results in speakers expecting 
credit for their suggestions (and being 
offended when they don't get it), but it 
also means that speakers are personally 
attached to their ideas and take any 
criticisms or suggested changes as a 


personal affront to themselves. Feel^ 
ings of ownership can lead group members 
to argue defensively for their own ideas 
because those ideas are their own, rather 
than being open to improvements or to 
other suggestions, : 

Suppressing Feelings and Conflict 

Social norms encourage people to express 
motivations and desires in logical terms 
rather than recognising and expressing 
the feelings that are influencing them. 

Example: Jean may argue that Jack 
should not represent the group ab an 
upcoming conference in New York be- 
cause the group can't afford it. 
Since this is accepted by the group , 
and by Jean herself, as a sound, spe- 
* cific reason for her opposition to 
Jack ! s trip, the entire discussion 
may be carried out at a logical level 
without any expression of feelings. 
No one, not even Jean, may ever 
realise that the real reason she is 
arguing so energetically is that she 
is angry and jealous. She thinks 
Jack enjoys more than his share of 
privileges in the group and gets to 
take part in most of the exciting 
activities. Since these feelings go 
unrecognized and unexpressed, they 
will continue to smolder and may be 
the hidden motivation behind other 
disputes that Jean masks in logical 
argument . 

In a similar manner, people are taught 
that conflict is dangerous and socially 
unacceptable. They learn to fear con- 
flict, to suppress it as long as possible, 
and if it does emerge, to smooth it over 
quickly. A typical response to disagree- 
ment is to try to resolve it quickly by 
compromise. By reaching a settlement 
at some point halfway between the two 
"sides," participants may bring a rapid 
end to the argument. But by neglecting 
to explore and develop the concerns ex- 
pressed, they may miss an opportunity to 
discover innovative and more satisfactory 
solutions to the conflict. 







is) Sj*%#^ 


** * **** 

a n nit-pick'\ in the same vein: "conflict shouldn't be a clash of one 
personal interest against another, but a cooperative effort to bring out 
all perspectives",. . I can live with that, but more compatibly if you 
qualify that sentence by emphasizing that you are only talking about con-, 
flict within groups that have met all the other criteria (trust, respect j 
cooperation, etc.) Consensus not only "doesnH come easily" (p. 13) , it* 
might not even be valid for it to come at all in some situations. Some 
conflicts are win-lose situations, depending upon the way power is 
















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Relying on Authority 

Many people have learned to be passive 
when facing issues, to rely on committees 
of authorities or experts to do the 
thinking and to make the decisions. On 
a societal level, this has resulted in 
individuals losing power over many im- 
portant aspects of their lives — such as 
environmental quality — to control by 
government, industry, and scientific 


Listening to the advice of experienced 
people is an important tool in good 
decision making, but in the consensus 
process , this input must be balanced- by 
the active involvement of all group mem- ^ 
bers. When some members are passive, 
they deprive the active decision makers 
of information from a variety of view- 
points and give them power which could 
be abused. Members who take a passive 
role may later fail to take responsi- 
bility for changing a bad decision. 
Even when good decisions are made, mem- 
bers who have not participated may not 
understand or be willing to implement 
the decisions. Consensus decision making 
requires a high level of involvement and 
responsibility from all participants. 
Although this requires a lot of time and 
energy from group members, the results 
are worth the effort. 

Social Prejudices Reflected in Group 

Unfortunately, the perfect human society 
hasn't evolved yet- Everyone has grown 
up exposed to biases, assumptions and 
prejudices that interfere with the equal 
participation of all members in society. 
In one way or another, all people are 
influenced by these attitudes, even 
though they may deplore them. People 
generally are not encouraged to confront 
these prejudices in themselves or others, 
except when the discrimination is very 
blatant, so members often continue to 
reflect social problems in their groups 
without realising it. This lack of 
awareness can be seen in a group that 
views dynamics between members as in- 
dividual, personality issues without 
recognizing the social attitudes that 
underlie the problems. 

Example: Sally refuses to give Abdul 
a key to the office because she feels 
that Abdul, as an individual, is un- 
trustworthy. She doesn't realise that 
this opinion arises from an unacknowl- 
edged assumption that Arabs are un- 
trustworthy/ Since the conflict is 
viewed at the individual level, no one 
recognises that social patterns are 
influencing group dynamics. 

All of the attitudes described so far in 
this chapter can interfere with a group's 
ability to function well. As a group 
member, it is your responsibility to 
recognise when your actions are influ- 
enced by negative social training and to 
change those actions. You can also sup- 
port other members in their efforts to 
recognise and change their assumptions. 



0£>^ 3'^ 



My preference would be a franework emphacisin^ the overall sjoal4 
of combat Iw; oppression and achieving transformation with organizations! 
serving and controlled by members as means* We need to be careful 
about what organizations do to people but at the sa^e time acknowledge I 
the severe constraints within which the strup^le exists in the U.S. 
today. Do you all think consensus decision-making is more the choice 
of well educated, upper middle class people and their organisations? 
I say this as a. member of or^anizAfli^usins consensus. J -le need to 
address this issue so as to interrupt classist patterns and in the 
process learn from and v/ork with and understand the backgrounds, 
needs and preferences of indviduals and groups from other areas 
of the society. 


This section will focus on the assump- 
tions , values and norms of behavior that 
are needed for a group to make consensus 
work well* We describe them not just/ 
because they contribute to a particular 
type of decision making, but because we 
believe they could be an asset to society^ 
in general and to interpersonal rela- 
tionships as well. - 



A group benefits when its members expect 
each other to be cooperative rather than 
competitive* In a cooperative group, 
members perceive themselves as having 
mutual goals* They share information 
and resources and provide mutual support 
and suggestions. Participants make 
diverse contributions to the group ac- 
cording to individual talents and 
abilities. When a group works coopera- 
tively, members tend to like and trust 
each other. There is a high acceptance 
of and appreciation for individual dif- 
ferences, and a willingness, to see 
issues from others 1 viewpoints. Where- ' 
as competition tries to make me a winner 
and you a loser, cooperation tries to 
make us both winners. 

One outcome of working cooperatively is 
that group members recognise that there 
is not always a single "right" solution* 
A group caught by an IT either~or" deci- 
sion may actually face a false dilemma. 

There are probably other, more creative 
« options available , some of which may , 
respond to the needs and goals of all 
members. The group's task is to work 
together to discover which choice is 
most acceptable to all members. When 
members realize that no single choice 
is "right," rendering all others "wrong," 
they may be more open to influence by 
others 1 viewpoints. 

Example: Kay may strongly believe 
that the best location for the new 
theater is on Parks ide Avenue, while 
other group members have equally 
strong opinions about other locations- 
But once they all recognize that each 
location has advantages and drawbacks, 
they can find an acceptable, good 
solution, without having to agree that 
one is absolutely right and the others 

An Emphasis on Mutual Trust 

If consensus is to work, group members 
must strive for trust in one another. 
When you trust the others in your group, 
you will not conceal or distort informa- 
tion and will not avoid stating facts, 
ideas, conclusions and feelings that 
might make you vulnerable to the others. 
You won't be defensive about attempts by 
other members to influence you, but will 
be responsive to suggestions, even when 
you don't agree. When you trust other 
members, you can depend on them to abide 
by agreements and to carry out tasks 


competently. You can also trust that 
others vill attend to and remember what 
you say so you don't have to continually 
repeat and defend your ideas. 

Common Ownership of Ideas 

An idea that develops in a group using 
consensus is considered the property of 
the entire group, not just of the in- 
dividual who first articulated it. In 
contrast to the competitive perspective 
that ties ideas to individuals, group 
"ownership" of ideas acknowledges that 
new concepts are developed through the 
process of members responding- to pre 
vious contributions from other members. 
What Debbie says is a combination of h&r 
private store of information and insight 
and the stimulation of others' input. 
If different statements had been made 
earlier, Debbie's contribution might be 
different . 

By considering ideas the property of the 
entire group, no matter whose mouth they 
come out of, all members can feel in- 
volved in the development of a decision, 
when someone criticizes a suggestion, he 
or she criticizes the idea, not the per- 
son who expressed it. Members are open 
to modification of the ideas they have 
suggested without being defensive, or 
feeling personally attacked. In a sense, 
an individual's ideas are gifts to the 
group. Individuals deserve credit for 
their contributions, but the group's ap- 
preciation should not give individuals 
disproportionate prestige or power. 

Valuing Feelings 

Feelings are an important component of 
a eroup: they affect how members ^ter- 
acfwSh eac/other and how they approach 
decisicns that are being made. A group 
that recognizes the importance of leel- 
ings and includes expression of feelings 
as an integral part of group interaction 
will benefit by developing a clearer 
understanding of its own process. By 
discussing emotional as well as logical 
factors in making decisions, the group 
will also have a better chance of reach- 
ing agreements that are satisfactory to 


Val uing Conflict 

Conflict itself is neither good nor bad; 
it signifies only that there is disagree- 
ment. Conflict can be handled competi- 
tively, such that one side "wins" or 
"loses," or it can be handled coopera- 
tively, so that the whole group benefits 
from the exchange of opinions and the 
process of working out a mutually satis- 
fying resolution. Conflict shouldn't 
be a clash of one personal interest 
against another, but a cooperative 
effort to bring out all perspectives. 
Diverse viewpoints should be welcomed ■ 
as a means of becoming aware of the 
strengths and weaknesses of all ideas so 
a strong and workable solution can 
emerge . 



^^^^^T^^T^ve^V^ag7a-ph about consensus ©6 an& 
(5) On page 16, you ***%* p " ? al % hange , which I love, 
instrument* for personal and social cna j , and 

What undercuts the values ^consensus e|, and departments to 

business is competition ™"* *f ^£i* Sports to) . Thats 
please ^general' (eg ; "^ever everyon^ P f .^ ^ 

what prevents people from sn g vidualism , in my experience. 

nurtures a defensive Jcma oi _ leader takes affirmative 

It gets pretty bloody unless the leader ^K ^ t&kes 

action to nurture the values ^hind^ .^ his or her own 

guts because in a sense uic 

power that way . 


Valuing the Contributions of All Members 

Every person has unique knowledge, per- 
spectives, experiences and abilities* 
No one can know in advance the value of 
what an individual will contribute "at a 
particular time. The contribution may 
be a feeling of calmness or patience 
which helps the group perform its task 
more effectively. It may be a practical 
solution to a vexing problem. It may be 
a fresh perspective that comes from being 
inexperinced and naive in a particular 
area- In any case, what counts is 
tapping the resources of the group as a 
whole. In addition, by expecting and en- 
couraging full participation from every 
member , the group fosters in each person 
a sense of competency and responsibility, 
and the development of knowledge and the 
ability to play an active role in diverse 
situations. This broad range of partici- 
pation cannot happen in a group atmos- 
phere where individuals feel inferior to 
or competitive with -One another, or where 
some members' opinions are valued while 
others 1 are ignored. 

Making an Effort to Equalize Power 

Members will enjoy their work together 
and will try to contribute more if they 
feel they each have an equal share in 
decision making. This equality can't 
occur if certain individuals have a 
monopoly on the possession of informa- 
tion, experience, communication skills, 
or the respect of other group members. 
A commitment to equalizing power means 
that the group is alert to and confronts 
situations where particular members 
exert more or less influence than is 

While striving toward equality of power 
and influence, at times the consensus 
group should give special respect to in- 
formation from some members. 

Example: A group is trying to es- 
tablish an alternative school in the 
community- Some group members have 
had considerable experience working 
in alternative schools elsewhere, 
while other group members have no ex- 

perience but are highly interested in 
the project. The challenge facing 
this group is to preserve the fresh 
perspectives of inexperienced mem- 
bers while paying special attention 
to what can be learned from the oth- 
ers T experiences . 

It is important for groups to learn from 
their history so new members don't simply 
repeat mistakes or patterns that have 
been problematic for the group in the 
past. At the same time, such experien- 
tial wisdom should not be allowed to 
foreclose consideration of new ideas. 
It is a difficult balance to maintain. 


We have discussed the values necessary 
for practicing consensus in the most 
favorable conditions, But why do we 
value consensus decision making? For 
one thing, consensus is effective and 
it produces quality decisions. In order 
to be acceptable to the whole group, a 
decision must satisfy stricter criteria 
than one which only requires the ap- 
proval of a majority of the group. The 
decision is likely to be the best of 
many options that were considered rather 
than just the favorite of two. 


A consensus decision is also "Jf**^ £ 
V^mented well. The high level of par 

fion'Su retain members ******* 
it better and being *°re ^itte* t * 
than if consensus had not been used. 

Consensus is also an instrument for 
personal and social change. In using 
consensus, group members pract ^e values 
and learn skills which foster better re 

lationships on both ^ te ^ ers f a ^ d that 
community levels. Consensus demands that 
members be more caring responsible and 
fair with each other. It provides a 
Sructure In which these qualities are 
legitimate and necessary. And it ° Iie ^ 
^opportunity to help each other develop 
appropriate attitudes and skills for 
expressing these values. 

We have painted here a glowing Pj ct ™ f 
we uivB Fa . , t -u as been to point 

consensus. Our otgecwidf ^ *\ 

out the ideals from.which-an interest in 
consensus decision making grows Learn- 
m to understand the™ lues benm^he 
process is an important s^ep -ui 
to work with consensus. The real strug 
gle, tbough, comes in learning to ex- 
£ess those values in your behavior In 
the following chapters, we will try to 


^^-Hr^l idea of how con- 
give you a . f ^^fdescribe specific 
sensus works. We J* 1 t these va iues 
skills that can help you pu^ 
and ideals into practice. And we wii 
describe specific structures that you can 
adapt for your meetings whether you are 
a small living cooperative or a coali 
tion of professional agencies Keep n 
mind that consensus decis i°* ®^!LfLe d 

to meet new challenges, me xu 
difficult to reach, but we think the 
effort produces results which are well 
worth while. 



^VERT'S materials (especially "0k6*t Games 
to Illustrate Some Attitudes in 
"Sharing Consensus") 

■ Scut inte-^ ("9>V ^J^^^SSaT^ I & 





/ / A pract 
I 1 there m 

c k u„ w leads one to the related principle that 
leal extension of the above leads one 

- »miilizint power ^rhin the group . It makes 
there mast be * to eg^alizinE^g^g 

ftD«3 equality to all group member* if there 1. no attempt 

little sense to -i ^_ 

„.= „f eoual veifiht. Power in a group «""« "^^—Iffy/ 
to nake everyone's resources oi equal we s - — T 

™ e rJ=nce and communication skills. A willin S - 
possession o£ information, experience. 

j X~ provide the opportunity for those with 
ness to share information and/to provide tne o PP 

a f^ u( .»^kills to acquire such is a necessary remedy, 
less experience and fewc^sKiiis 4 

^A^f* Mfl 

. lf ^^a* **£**f * * ? 



Chapter 4 

Your Participation in the 
Consensus Process' 

Consensus requires a qualitatively dif- 
ferent kind of participation from group 
members than do other forms of decision 
making. Two kinds of contribution are 
basic to a good consensus process: the 
clear presentation of your own ideas and 
opinions, and your encouragement of 
others 1 participation. In other words, 
you have a responsibility not only for 
contributing what you have to say, but 
also for eliciting others' ideas, even 
if they contradict your own. In a con- 
sensus group, each individual shares the 
responsibility of ensuring that all con- 
tributions are effectively voiced and 


A group needs a large shared pool of 
information and opinions to make the 
best decisions and to meet its goals. 
In order to create that pool* each 
person must provide what, she or he 
knows about the topic. Give both 
facts and opinions and attempt to 
distinguish between the two. You can 
recognize opinions by their hybrid 
nature: they contain both objective 
fact and subjective feeling. Express- 
ing the feelings that are part of your 
opinions helps others understand why 
you support a particular decision. 

Be clear and direct in explaining your 
ideas, your reasons for them, and your 
feelings about the issues. As long as 
your comments remain focused on the 
issue under discussion, you can offer 
new information, facts, historical 
parallels, appeals to group values, and 
other forms of argument to convince or 
persuade the group. Make an effort to 
* be concise and relevant in what you say. 
Conciseness makes it easy for others 
to listen to you; long rambling mono- 
logues tax others f attention and make 
it difficult for them to understand 
your viewpoint, in addition to wasting 
group time. 


Expressing confusion also has its place 
in' group discussion. Sometimes members 
cannot articulate their doubts about a 
course of action because their intui- 
tions are not yet completely formed or 
because they are afraid of seeming fool- 
ish. Statements such as, ?l I T m not sure 
why, but this whole approach seems wrong 
to me/ or "I just can't make sense of 
this/ 1 can push a group on to clearer 
reasoning. Uneasiness and intuitive 
doubts are often the creative edge of 
the decision-making process, signalling 
a time when new lines of thought or new 
perspectives may emerge. 

Aim for a balance between being persua- 
sive and being persuadable. After pre- 
senting the best reasons which support 
your ideas , try to understand others 1 
perspectives. Don't feel as if you 
must answer every objection to your 
viewpoint. Doing so will prevent you 
from paying close attention to what 
other people say. If you are thinking 
about counter arguments while others 
are speaking, then you can't concen- 
trate on understanding their ideas. 
Each member should be open to the in- 
fluence of new information and perspec- 
tives. Remember, you are working 
r together in a group to come to a 
' mutually acceptable decision. Make 
your best contribution to that deci- 
sion and be responsive to the con- 
tributions of others. 

If you have listened with an open mind 
to others 1 ideas, and still believe 
that your views are right, be firm in 
, your opinions* A group can put strong 
' pressure on a minority to give in to 
the majority opinion. Consensus offers 
an alternative to majority rule by 
ensuring that the outcome Is acceptable 
to all participants. However you 
shouldn't try to be a heroine or hero 
and always hold out for every convic- 
tion. If you don f t agree with the rest 
of the group, you should ask yourself 
if you can at least accept what the 
group wants. If you have good reasons 
for deciding you cannot, ask yourself 
what the outcome of "blocking consensus" 
will be. (See Chapter 5, WHEN AGREEMENT 
CANNOT BE REACHED, for guidelines on 
deciding when to block.) 


Tiying to encourage all members to make 
full contributions and helping the group 
make full use of these contributions Is 
every member's responsibility. One way 
to involve others is to actively seek 
their taiowledge and opinions. Ask ques- 
tions which encourage quiet members to 
become involved. Try to clarify state- 
ments when you don't understand their 
meaning or the reasons behind them. You 
may ask someone to give a fuller ex- 
planation of a statement, or you may 
rephrase something that has been said 
and ask the speaker If your understand- 
ing corresponds with her or his original 
intent. (See Chapter ?, THE ROLE OF THE 
GROUP FACILITATOR,, for a better explana- 
tion of the techniques mentioned above. 
BUILDING, for ideas about equalizing 
■participation in meetings*) 

When others are participating, try to 
listen carefully to the facts and opin- 
ions they present. An atmosphere of 
trust has a strong impact on people's 
f - willingness to participate. You can 
bring about such an atmosphere by avoid- 


lug quick judgments of others 1 contri- 
butions. Show respect for others 1 
ideas and reinforce their validity* 
whether or not you are in agreement. 
You might say, U I seem to see the issue 
differently, "but I want to understand 
your viewpoint. Could you say more 
about your reasons?" Such comments 
signal that you are tiying to listen 
and understand, thus encouraging 
others to participate. An atmosphere 
of mutual respect leads to a more 
fertile pool of ideas and a greater 
probability that differences will be 
successfully resolved. (See Chapter 11 , 
gestions on building group trust.) 

You can also encourage other members' 
greater involvement by having the group 
adopt a problem- solving attitude. When 
issues are viewed as a problem shared 
by the whole group , then everyone ! s re- 
sources are likely to be employed co- 
operatively in the search for an 
acceptable solution. This approach 
contrasts with one which sets up two or 
more sides in opposition to each other 
and proceeds towards a decision where 
one .side "wins" and the other "loses, rt 
By focusing on working together to find 
a solution to ir our tr problem, the par- 
ticipants can address ideas rather than 
personalities. Disputants express an 
attitude that says "I don't agree with 
that idea," rather than one that says, 
"You are wrong, M Depersonalising dis- 
agreements reduces defensiveness and 
helps people listen to each other, 

Here are some guidelines for taking a 
problem-solving approach: 

— Before proposing courses of action, 
help the group develop a clear under- 
standing of what goals the decision is 
supposed to meet, what problems it is 
supposed to solve, and what needs it is 
supposed to answer. Know the resources 
of the group. The issues at hand should 
be thoroughly understood before you 
start a search for possible solutions. 

— Try not to become identified with 
or attached to your ideas. When you 
identify with your own suggestions, you 
are more likely to become defensive 
when they are criticized or changed. 
On the other hand, if the group accepts 
your ideas, there will be much more 
commitment to them if all members share 
a sense of ownership of the ideas. 
Ideas are a product of human interchange 
and rightfully belong to the group, 

(See the section entitled, "Creative 
Problem Solving, " in Chapter 10, CON- 


INVERTS materials 

JOINING TOGETHER by David and Frank 
Johnson (especially questionnaires 
for analysing your own behavior in 





n A friend of mine once said of a dis- 
criminatory action - - . % thej had to 
draw the line sosaewftere, and they drew 
it right through ma, * ify fellow /group 
Etembers/j I'm happy to say, were gen- 
erally unwilling to draw lines through 
real people, ■ # 

"The reason is simply that there was a 
general effort to rule fay consensus. 
It's much simpler than it sounds really* 
After a motion surfaces on which there 
is general agreement in parliamentary 
procedure, the work is usually over and 
the item passes on a majority vote* 
"Under consensus rule, this point be- 
comes simply a mldetage. Objections 
are asked for until they are all heard, 
and a process of compromise begins, 
continuing until everyone feels com- 
fortable with the new decision, or ■ 
willing to live with it, without bit- 
terness, for the general good. Its 
effect is that the majority and minor- 
ity bodies on any particular issue are 
reminded of their responsibility to , 
the other *s needs and desires* The 
will to be together as one loving 
people, when expressed, has the power 
to allov the majority to give up 
happily some of what might have 
seemed its right, and to permit the 
minority to accept without bitterness 
a ruling favorable to It out of pro- 
portion with its numbers* ff 

by D^ve Bra let 

from "A Gay Clam at Smbvook u 
tfffl, June 16 ft 23, 1977 

i i.i* t AlA d amn book 
anywhere_in_the^ whole B q x 

"May we always have the patience to 
listen and the courage to speak. " 

— The Facilitation Committee 

Federation of Ohio River Coopera- 



Before you enter your thing into the dis- 
cussion — your reaction > or similar experi- 
ence, or whatever— try if it's at all 
possible to introduce in a sentence what 
your words aim to do - * * What each per- 
son is doing with speech* -comparing, dis- 
agreeing » connecting, trying to get lees 
confused — can more easily be followed* 
And the person speaking, in. order to tag 
what she's saying, has to look taaide and 
see where she is in relation to the dia- . 
cussion — with it, against it> her own 
experience and ideas excited by it, adrift 
or whatever. So "there is a heightened 
and shared awareness of what's going on* 


^A^^^ ^A^^ ^ 

n the Introductory quote? generally quite good, and If you're going to quote/- 
an't change the words. But the use of the word " compromise " is unfortunate. 

at occurs in consensus is not ekhkpto compromise, k i.e. , the giving up 
up of something you want, a something that is assumed to be fixed and un- 
changeable, but a profoundly li subtly different event: reformulation, in 
which what you started out want tog Itse lf changes . You do not lose 
something of this fixed position, you change, see something better, im- 
I prove your benefits in the contexts of the group exchange, the new infor- 
mation, the longer better vision generated. The whole nature of con- 
sensus is based on the dialectical view of reality-wptfprocess: emergent 
truth, continuous self-development, and so forth. The whole nature of 
compromise is based on the !Jffrartec "metaphysical" (I don't like the word 
but that's the one they used) view: of static reality, every change being 
somehow a loss t competition, and so forth. Xf^K M,itlv*^^l 






Chapter 5 

When Agreement Cannot Be Reached 

"Blocking" is one of the most contro- 
versial and confusing aspects of con- 
sensus decision making* The concept of 
blocking evokes strong reactions in many 
people, although there^ is little agree- 
ment on what blocking is and is not. 
This chapter starts with a definition 
and explanation of blocking, offers some 
practical suggestions for the individual 
who is deciding whether to block, dis^ 
cusses alternatives to blocking, and 
makes suggestions about the roles and 
responsibilities of the dissenter and 
the other group members in a blocking 
situation. In addition, this chapter 

"Blocking consensus" often carries 
a negative connotation 

includes two personal statements with 
different perspectives on blocking and 
a history of our writing group's strug- 
gle to come to consensus on how to 
present the role of blocking in this 


Group decision making requires balancing 
the needs and wills of individuals with 
the goals of the group as a whole. There 
is always a tension in this balance. 


On the one hand, this tension between the 
group and the individuals can check the 
possibility of tyranny by the majority, 
a situation in which an individual or 
minority's views are ignored- It can be 
argued that blocking is the philosophi- 
cal base of consensus since the Indi- 
vidual's right to block a group decision 
represents the respect and power afforded 
to each person In a democratic group* 

On the other hand, the tension between 
the group and the individual can also 
mitigate possible tyranny by the minori- 
ty or excessive individualism, That is, 
the balance can prevent individuals or 
special interest blocks from overriding 
the goals of the group. It can be ar- 
gued that the individual's right to 
block actually undermines the philoso- 



As or this writing, IV B early In March, 
I960. We have been working on this book 
for just two years* The group writing 
process is a slov one, and not as steady 
as we'd like* We work in fits and 
starts, talking and writing* and going 
off to write more, reviewing each oth- 
er's pieces and re* working them, discuss- 
ing thes again and reworking the ideas 
and the form over again* There axe very 
few ideas , chapters or sentences that 
can be identified as mine, or Brian's, 
or any individual's anyisore. We've 
learned and integrated each other* a 
perspectives on consensus through the 
writing process* We've been building 
a strong group through using a con- 
sensus process in our writing work, 

The single most difficult issue our 
group has grappled with IS blocking. 
We went round and round and could not 
agree on the role of blocking in con- 
sensus* To clarify her perspective, 
Blaine wrote a one-and-a-half page 
statement explaining why she thinks 
blocking should not be allowed. While 
the others of us in the group could 
see her perspective and gained more 
appreciation for the potential dangers 
of blocking in groups, her stand on 
blocking was simply not part of con- 
sensus as we knew it* Cfael spoke most 
insistently that the philosophical 
underpinnings of concensus lie in the 
individual's right to block* 

We could agree to disagree among our- 
selves, but what about this book? We 
couldn't just leave out the role of 
blocking. For awhile we thought we 
could eliminate the word "blocking" 
altogether. We'd have a short chapter 
called "When Agreement Cannot Be 
Beached,* 1 and edit the rest of the 
book to eliminate use of the word 

Continued . , . 


phy and intent of the consensus process 
by giving undue and unfair power to 
individuals, instead of placing the 
greatest power in the group as a whole. 

The issue is raised: does the Indi- 
vidual need to be protected from the 
undue influence of the group? Or does 
the group need protection from the un- 
due influence of the individual? The 
individual's right to block an other- 
wise consensual decision is at the 
center of this Issue, 

The answers to this dilemma are differ- 
ent for each person and arise from 
unique sets of experiences. We are 
including some personal statements 
about the implications of blocking in 
an attempt to present the issues as 
completely as possible, as well as to 
involve you in the process of examin- 
ing the questions for yourself- The 
story of our group's effort to hammer 
out a shared perspective further illus- 
trates the depth and extent of con- 
troversy around blocking. (See the 
section entitle d 3 "Our History: A Case 
Study of the Blocking Is sue s, " boxed in 
this chapter. ) 


To clarify what we mean by "blocking, " 
we can start by saying what it is not. 
It is Important to distinguish between 
the power of an individual to disagree 
with others in. the group, and the power 
of an individual to block consensus. 
The former is at the heart of the con- 
sensus process. Sometimes a group 
quickly and casually accepts a proposal 
for a solution or action and is nearing 
a decision when someone raises objec- 
tions or brings in new information which 
changes members' perspectives. When 
this happens, it is the dissenter's re- 
sponsibility to give all relevant infor- 
mation, explain reasons clearly, and 
present the information and opinions as 
thoroughly as he or she can. It is the 
responsibility of the others to listen, 
to ask questions, and to seek out as 
much relevant information as possible. 

If the majority does not change its 
opinion, the objector may attempt to 
convince and persuade until he or she 
believes his or her perspective has 
been presented in a positive and con- 
vincing way. Usually the reasoning 
and information behind the opinion, if 
they are sound and accurate, will get 
people to consider other alternatives 
or another approach to the issue. This 
is not blocking consensus: it is 
utilizing consensus, bringing to bear 
all opinions and facts, including con- 
flicting ones. 

Blocking consensus, on the other hand, 
occurs when one or a few individuals op- 
poses an otherwise agreed-upon decision 
that has been developed through full 
group participation. After time and 
energy have been invested in discussion, 
debate, persuasion, careful listening, 
impassioned argument, and other ex- 
plorative and persuasive interaction, 
after serious attempts to understand 
the issues have resulted in agreement 
by almost all of the group , then a 
holdout can be called "blocking, " 

This definition of blocking does not 
apply to a situation in which there are 
two large opposing factions, subgroups 
with different perspectives or, as de- 
scribed above, objections during the 
course of early discussion. In these 
situations, there is no consensus yet, 
so consensus cannot be blocked. It is 
only after the synthesizing process has 
$ had a chance to take place that any 
blocking of consensus can happen, 

Tn short, blocking consensus occurs when 
one or a few individuals preclude what 
otherwise would be united judgment on 
an issue which has evolved through the 
consensus "synthesizing" process. Block- 
ing is a statement of the great seri- 
ousness of someone's objections to a 
decision. In practical terms, it is a 
strong indication that the group requires 
more time to reach consensus. The group 
as a whole is not ready to move ahead 
because some individual members are not 
yet represented in the group's decision* 

We continued to work on this issue in 
the group, though, Chel wrote a 're- 
statement of Blaine's position in an 
attempt to understand it and to find 
areas of agreement, and she wrote out 
her own views * too. We Bade another 
decision, by consensus, to re- work the 
blocking chapter (ve always called it 
'The Blocking Chapter," whatever title 
we had currently picked out for It) to 
accommodate all the views, n A Dialogue 
on Disagreement" would consist only of 
a brief introductory explanation that 
conflict over blocking is the currant 
state of the art, and the rest of the 
chapter would be boxed individual state- 
ments representing" all the diverse 
views. We as a group would present no 
view and advocate no one perspective* 

Then things got scaiy. Chel thought 
long and hard and just about decided 
that she had to leave the group over the 
blocking issue. Her beliefs about the 
importance of blocking to the concept 
and functioning of consensus are very 
deep. If the book did not present con- 
sensus with blocking as an integral part 
of itj the book was not representing 
her vie*s closely enough for her to con- 
tinue with the project. Meanwhile, 
Elaine herself was nearing a similar 
conclusion to leave the group. She 
feared her divergent ideas were holding 
up progress on a project that was start- 
ing to feel like it vould take forever ■ 
even under the Eost harmonious of condi- 
tions • 

Brian and I gulped hard and calmly 
(trembling in* our boots) worked at per- 
suading Chel en6 Elaine to think about 
it some more and try to find a creative 
solution. We agreed to stay together. 

Soon our solution emerged, Elaine went 
away for a few weeks and returned with 
a fresh perspective* She told the group 
that her view of blocking now seeded to 
her to be the minority posit ion , and 
that Chel*s and the "mainstream" perspec* 
tive represented the state of the ar t on 

Continued * * - 




blocking in consensus. She agreed that 
the book should fairly present this in- 
formation We vent back to our earliest 
format decision to present the chapter 
of tert along vith Elaine's personal 
statement in a box* Perhaps she is pre- 
senting the view that vill predominate 

in a few years — What a acoopl 


The next revision incorporated much of 
our group discussion and many ideas from 
a longer paper Elaine wrote clarifying 
her perspective* The presentation of 
potential problems vith blocking is in- 
cluded in the text; only advocacy for 
positions is set off In boxee* And we 
think ve found the best of all possible 
solutions' to our problem 


— lonnie 
March B t 1980 


M ■ 



A group of activists were preparing for 
a court trial. Under consideration was 
a hotly debated proposal to subpoena 
a particular government official. An im- 
mediate decision seemed necessary since 
those urging the group to call the offi- 
cial wanted to allow this busy and impor- 
tant bureaucrat time to arrange his 


But the group cculd not come to agree- 
ment * Too much depended c& yet-unknown 
inf oraation : the attitude of the judge, 
the evidence and arguments of the prose- 
cution, etc* Finally the group realized 
that the time deadline was a false one. 
It would have been nice to allow the 
official advance warning 1 of the subpoena* 
but it was not necessary. The subpoena 
could he made later y if the group so de* * 
aided, An immediate decision was not ■ 
essential after all* 


The decision to block consensus is a 
momentous one. If you as an individual 
block a decision that the rest of the 
group supports j you are saying that 
you feel the decision is so seriously 
wrong that you will not permit the 
group to proceed on it. Your reason 
may be on moral or practical grounds, 
or based on personal feelings or on 
the needs of group members or people 
whom the group affects. It is impor- 
tant not to take your power to block 
consensus lightly. However, if after 
careful consideration, you strongly 
belive that the decision would be a 
wrong one, then it is your responsi- 
bility to block consensus. 

As we have said above, you have a 
responsibility to participate fully 
in the discussion that develops the 
decision. Blocking at the end of the 
synthesizing process without such on- 
going involvement is an abuse of the 
power to block consensus, Another 
basic responsibility is to consider the 
needs of the whole group separately 
from your own needs and opinions. The 
group is more than the sum of its 
parts; what is best for the group may 
be different from what is best for the 
group members individually. 

When you are deciding whether to block 
consensus, ask yourself the following 
questions to assess the situation: 

— What are your reasons for object- 
ing? Why are they important to you? 
Are you thinking about what is best for 
the group? To what extent are you ob- 
jecting because of something personal, 
or a need to express your own power in 
the group? 

— Is there information the group 
does not have that might change people T s 

— Has the group fully discussed the 
issues? Do people already know and 
understand them? In other words, do 


those who support the decision do so 
on the basis of informed consideration? 

—Have your objections been heard and 
considered by the group already? Do you 
need more assurance that your objections 
are understood? 

— What are the effects of delaying 
the decision? Is it something that can 
wait, or are there reasons why the group 
must arrive at a conclusion soon? 

— What kinds of pressure does the 
group perceive itself to be under? Time? 
Needs or feelings of certain people? 
Forces from outside the group? Are 
these legitimate pressures? Can they 
be changed? 

— How important is the decision? 
Does it have far-reaching implications? 
Is it a minor matter that you can let 
go by, even though you don r t like it? 


A careful assessment of what appears to 
be a case of blocking may allow you to 
re-frame the situation as lack of agree- 
ment or lack of consensus- The group 
can then continue to explore the issues 
and work towards an acceptable solution 
Even in a case where a decision is very 
close and you still disagree, options 
other than blocking do exist* 

For instance , you may wsigh all the fac- 
tors and decide it is better for the 
group to go ahead with this decision 
than to make no decision at all. You 
might recognize that no better solution 
is likely to be agreed on soon, so you 
may decide to stand aside and let the 
decision pass without your support. 
In an extreme situation, you might 
realise that significant differences 
between your perspective and that of 
the rest of the group mean that you 
would prefer to leave the group and 
seek another group of more like-minded 
individuals . 


^In some ways, consensus decision making 
is a highly conservative approach* It 
is often a very slow way to move a group 
toward making decisions ♦ For one thing, 
no change from the existing situation 
can be made unless all agree to that 
change, So If a policy now exists, it 
will remain in effect for as long as it 
takes to reach consensus on another 
.policy. If no decision is reached , no 
action can be taken," 

— Lonnie 


"This individualistic yet strongly 
group- centered set of beliefs seems to 
result in a continuing non- conformity 
of the Society of Friends with the cul- 
ture in which it exists* Fresh insights 
get a hearing* Any individual can 
Change the group if he (sic) can state 
the reasons why the change would enhance 
group goals. Tradition must be prag- 
matically sound, or change will occur. 
Thus a certain degree of radicalism is 

— Glen Bartoo 



n If people are using the process properly, 
then there is no individual 'power* to 
block the group — only an individual re- 
sponsibility to express feelings honestly* 
The power to block comes not from some 
artificial set of rules, but from our 
respect for each other and our ability 
to accept reality. n 

— frem TWTCPT 




If you decide not to block a decision 
that you do not support and you are not 
questioning your commitment to the group , 
there are several ways to modify the 
decision so your perspective is taken 
into account. You can ask that your 
reservations be recorded in the minutes. 
You can request that the decision not 
be considered a precedent that will in- 
fluence future decisions. You can 
choose not to be directly involved in 
implementing the decision. In addition 
to any or all of these measures, you can 
ask that the subject be brought up again 
at a future meeting so the issues in- 
volved can be worked through by the 
group. Ail group members share respon- 
sibility for seeking such modifications 
so the decision meets the needs of all 

The suggestions above describe choices 
other than blocking that an individual 
may consider. There are .also organiza- 
tional level alternatives to blocking. 
Such options include specially developed 
problem- solving processes, provisions to 
decide by majority rule if the group 
reaches an impasse , or some combination 
of these and other approaches. Elaine's 
personal statement, boxed in this chap- 
ter, offers a rationale for developing 
procedural alternatives to blocking. 
(See Chapter 12 9 ADAPTATIONS OF THE CON- 
SENSUS PROCESS,, for specific alterna- 
tive techniques . ) 


When it does happen that a decision is 
blocked, the decision-making process 
does not simply stop. The group enters 
a new phase and members may feel uncer- 
tain about how to proceed, in addition 
to whatever fears or anxieties they may 
feel about the fact that blocking has 
occurred, The individual who dissents 
and the other group members have respon- 
sibilities to each other that define 
their continued work together. 


The Dissenter's Responsibilities 

If you block consensus, it is your re- 
sponsibility to clearly explain your 
reasons to the group. You should con- 
tinue to communicate, express your own 
beliefs, and listen to others. It is 
important to remain open to being per- 
suaded by what you hear. Sometimes you 
may have a major objection that has not 
been seriously considered by the other 
group members. Once you are convinced 
that the group understands your concern, 
has considered it carefully, and still 
wants to go ahead with the proposal, you 
may be more willtag to stand aside and 
let the decision pass. If you continue 
to object to the decision, you should 
actively work with the group to seek 
alternatives , 

The Group's Responsibiliti es 

If you support a decision that has been 
blocked by one or a few individuals, it 
is your responsibility to listen and 
carefully consider the objections that 
have been raised. It is easy for the 
larger group to bring the weight of num- 
bers to bear against a small group of 
holdouts. Often those who block con- 
sensus are made to feel guilty for slow- 
ing down the process or causing diffi- 
culty for the rest of the group. The 
larger group may intimidate the minority 
by making them the center of attention 
and showering them with arguments about 
why they are wrong. Blame and intimida- 
tion, however unintentional, are unfair 
and violate the principles of consensus. 

Even when you don ! t agree with the objec- 
tions of those who block, it is important 
to treat them with respect. Your role 
is not to judge whether another person's 
objection is grounds for blocking con- 
sensus. Respond to objections in a 
thoughtful way that seeks greater un- 
derstanding and creative solutions, 
Don f t just listen with the goal of find- 
ing a weak spot through which to attack 
and defeat. Remember that an assumption 
behind consensus is that everyone comes 
to the process with a different but 



equally valid perspective on the "truth. " 
Combining and integrating these differ- 
ent perspectives can result in a com- 
pletej holistic "answer" to a particular 

If no decision can be reached, then the 
group must delay resolution until more 
information can be gathered, or until 
members have time to reflect and gain 
new insights. Any previous decision 
on the matter remains in effect. 

Example: Your group has had a long- 
standing policy of allowing other 
cooperatives in town to use the WATS 
line in your office for long dis- 
tance calls. If you cannot reach 

consensus on a proposal to discon- 
tinue this policy , then the policy 
remains in effect until you do reach 
consensus at some time in the future. 

If there are serious problems with main- 
taining the status quo until a decision 
can be reached, the group might be able 
to agree on an interim solution. In 
the example above, you might agree that 
you will continue the policy only for 
those coops which have been consistent 
in reimbursing you for their calls in 
the past, until such time as consensus 
can be reached on a new policy. 


There are three general methods for 
trying' to meet an objection. A method 
that is appropriate in one instance may 
be inappropriate In another; so if try- 
ing to meet an objection in one way 
turns out to be futile, try another- 
method. These three leethods are: 


Try to get at the root of the objec- 
tion. The objection gives the 
u vhat n ; often bringing out the "why" 
will lead to a way to meet the ob- 

Example: John objects to meetings 
being held in F&rofftovn, la bring- 
ing out the roots-, it develops that 
the objection is not to Faro ff town 
itself , but to the long drive. 
Further probing turns up that it is 
not the time spent that is unac- 
ceptable, but the driving Itself* 
Sally, who lives near John, is agree- 
able to driving John to and from 
seet Ings . 

The objection has been 

™e f 

<J * 

2, Try to ssodlfy the idea under consid- 
eration to incorporate the objection. 

3* Find an entirely new direction. 

Modified from materials by INVERT 








I hold the view that the individual's 
"right n to block an action underlines 
the philosophy and intent of the consen- 
sus process by giving undue power to 
individuals instead of placing the 
greatest power in the group as a whole* 
This view is based on seven years of 
study and of practice in consensus deci- 
sion making. 

In my view, the definition of blocking 
as an act which an individual can con- 



eclously and rightfully choose rein- 
forces the practice of individual 
solutions to group problems* An ulti- 
mate effect of blocking is that an 
entire srroup can be obstructed from 
action due to the vill of one person* 
Allowing for and/or encouraging this 
possibility produces conditions which 
©ay lead to antl-deoocratic situations. 
Three of these situations are occur- 
rences all too coismonly seen in consen- 
sus groups: tyranny by the minority, - 
conflict avoidance, and giving more 
power to already-powerful Individuals. 




Minority Rule 

■■ ■ *— -^ . 

Wiea any group or individual is given 
an ultimate power in a situatiion, they 
will (and should) use that power when 
they need it most* They are most likely 
to use that power in situations which 
are most threat en tog to their interests 
— where they have the moat to lose* 
Just as the practice of majority voting 
makes it easy for the majority not to 
listen to the minority on issues which 
they feel strongly about and do not 
need the minority to pass, the individu- 
al's right to block (IBB) can easily 
allow a condition of minority rule on 
issues which are important to an indi- 
vidual or small group. This minority 
need not convince the rajority or the 
rest of the group in order to bring in- 
fluence to bear, but can merely object 
and block the actions of the majority. 
Giving individuals the right to block 
encourages those in the minority to take 
an individualistic approach, rather than 
a collective approach to solving collec- 
tive problems. It also allows for the 
abuse of the "right, 11 since it is very 
easy for individuals to use it to foster 
their own individual interests at the 
expense of the goals and needs of the 
group as a whole. 

The individual's right to block is in 
effect giving the individual veto power 
over the group. This veto power may not 
be used often, but you can bet it will 
be used at the most critical times— when 
the issues are the hottest and the etakes 
are the highest. These are the times 
when, if allowed, individuals will resort 
to individualistic problem-solving meth- 
ods over working things out with the 
group. There Is also a high likeli- 
hood of. pushing for personal interests 
at the expense of group goals. 
■ ■ 

Conflict Avoidance 


Depending upon the nature of the group 
and the issues at hand, 1KB may also 
encourage conflict avoidance* IRB does 
not have to be used overtly to effec- 
tively block consensus. The threat of 

blocking aione is enough , in many cases, 
to influence the outcome of a decision* 
I see this happening time and time 
again in consensus groups — much more 
often than the overt minority rule situ- 
ation described above* A group , after 
some experience with its members 1 opin- 
ionSj may begin to anticipate what it 
can reach consensus on and what will be 
opossed by a person or email group. The 
group falls into avoiding conflict, dif- 
ficulty, or long drawn-out discussions 
by not even considering those options 
which it Imows will bring about objec- 
tions by these people. Instead , the 
group may opt for a more comfortable, 
easiei>to-get compromise solution, or 
the status quo — which may not be the 
best decision—but which doesn't offend 


■ "*■ I fc* ifi" 


or threaten a particular subgroup or 

Bolstering Poyerful Individuals 

Another problem with IRB is that assert- 
ive individuals and powerful interest 
groups are the ones most likely to use 
blocking. One of the strongest argu- 
ments in favor of IfiB is that individu- 
als who, under conditions of majority 
rule, would not be listened to, are 
listened to in consensus because they 
have the power to block any group deci- 
sion- In my experience working with 
^consensus, I have not s^en a single 
occurrence in which a non-assertive, 
timid individual had the gall to block 
an otherwise consensual decision of the 
group. In all instances, the individu- 
als who have used blocking either had 
strong personalities, had powerful 
positions within the group, or repre- 
sented powerful interests outside the 
group . Instead of serving to equalise 
power among individuals within a group, 
IRB gives more power to powerful in- 
dividuals * 



I think that an individual 1 © right to 
block plays into our society's encourage- 
meat and reinforcement of individualism 
— that is, protecting our own personal 
interests at the em«n** ^r ±h* int*r- — 

Continued - * - 


ests of others and the group as a uhole. 
It can also contribute to conflict 
avoidance by providing a disincentive 
to the group to get into situations in 
which blocking ie lively to occur* And 
because non-poverful individuals will 
rarely block an entire group's will, 
ITS contributes to lessening their power 
in relation to the more powerful members 
who do have the confidence to block a 
group 1 s actions. 

As I see it, the group as a whole must 
have, in the end, the final power over 
any individual—not the other way 
around — in order to foster working to- 
gether in an environment which brings 
about synthesis cf opinion and ulti- v 
aately true consensus* In order that 
consensus be a troly collective and co- 
operative mode, at no tiae should the 
group's power be subordinated to that 
of one individual* 


I believe that the entire perspective 
on blocking should be changed from an 
individual view to a group view. That 
is, instead of blocking being viewed 
as a conscious individual act baeed on 
a justified right, it should be looked 
upon as a sign that a group is not 
reaching consensus. Blocking should 
not be seen as a skill to be taught 
and advocated to individuals __(e_.jr._» 
when should an individual block, what 

I I ■! ■ I ~ I I | 

responsibilities come with blocking, 
etc. }, but rather as a problem of the 

n m m w 

m m mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm i ml 

group for which there must be group 
skills to solve* 

— Elfilrm 

s. : 


Adaptions of the 
Process for 
Special Situations 


I believe that the right of an Individu- 
al to "block* a decision endorsed by the 
rest of the group is the cornerstone of 
the consensus decision-making process* 
It is what makes consensus different— 
and better — than other forms of decision 
making. It ie intimately connected with 
the qualities of consensus groups: a 
commitment to cooperate, to listen and 
try to understand, to share responsibil- 
ity, and to strive for what is best for 
everyone concerned. And it is one of 
the reasons that consensus usually pro- 
duces better decisions. 

Blocking Equalizes Power 

The permission of every member , rather 
than just the loudest, sx>st articulate, 
or best known persons, is needed for a 
decision to be made* Therefore it be- 
comes the group's concern to listen and 
respond to all participants and to take 
their thinking into account. Not only 
does this result in a nore eralirarian 

Contirtued * * + 



group* but it also produces a more satis- 
fied group in which every member has a 
chance to feel included and important 
in which responsibility is likely to be 
more evenly distributed, and in which 
members are more sensitive to each other 
and feel more involved with each other* 

Blocking Improves Decision Quality 

Blocking may prevent a decision that 
looks good on the surface from being 
adopted too quickly, before problems 
are recognised or before a better solu- 
tion is discovered* Whan all members 
have agreed to allow a decision, it is 
more likely to have withstood scrutiny 
from a variety of standpoints* If a 
decision is allowed despite concerns 
or doubts j those doubts are more likely 
to have been discussed fully and the 
group may be better prepared to deal 
with potential problems. 

This perspective is based on the as- 
sumption that each individual has a 
unique, but valid, perspective on the 
"truth, fl In a trusting group* we be- 
lieve that others' insights are as good 
as our own, and that others will use 
their understanding in a careful* dis- 
interested way* When another person, 
addressing, a problem openly and sin- 
cerely, feels that he or she cannot 
fllow a certain decision to be made, 
then we can believe that the decision 
is not adequate , or its time has not yet 
come, A better decision can be found. 

Blocking Hakes Us Try Harder 

- " - ■ — ^ a 

When a group has an "escape hatch 11 that 
allows an easy way for making a diffi- 
cult decision, there will be a tendency 
to fall back on that alternative "this 
time 11 more and more frequently, rather 
than struggling to understand* agree* 
search for solutions, and make the ef- 
fort necessary to work through problems 
conaensuaily* Knowing that a quick 
method for making decisions is available 

can result in a slackening oi' 'our win- 
ingness to try. Even when there is a 
strong commitment to working through 
differences cooperatively, groups lean 
towards expediency and will generally 
find an excuse to take the easy way out. 

When group members give each other the 
right to block, though, thqy are making 
a contract with themselves to listen, 
care, struggle and to trust every other 
member to do the same* It is a state- 
ment of faith in the best of our abil- 
ities--and it is a commitment to live 
up to that best. This kind of commit- 
ment can motivate groups and individuals 
to learn better skills for communication 
and problem solving, and to question and 
change the values and attitudes that 
affect our ability to work cooperatively. 

Granted, only a small proportion of 
groups have the necessary conditions to 
effectively use "pure* consensus . (Such 
groups are small, cohesive , and coopera- 
tive. Their members are committed to 
good process not only as a tool to 
achieve immediate ends, but as a goal 
in its own right since it is a vehicle 
for making the personal and social 
changes necessary for a more humani- 
tarian world, ) But to watch such 
groups at work, using consensus in a 
skillful, creative, and mutually 
supportive way, is beautiful* They 
are an ideal— an achievable ideal — 
for which to strive* 

Two such groups I know of can each 
recall only one Incident of blocking 
by an individual during the last four 
years* Blocking is rare because this 
kind of group has learned to respond 
to individuals' concerns during dis- 
cussion* before reaching the point 
where someone feels a need to block, 
and because individuals put the group's 
needs ahead of their own interests, 
only blocking in an extreme case. " 









I believe these groups don't just allow 
blocking because they have the group 
norms and skills to get away vith it. 
They have become such effective groups 
becau se of the kind of cossit stent and 
effort they sake when they allow in- 
dividuals the right to block* 

— Chel 


DIVERT 's materials 

tion entitled, "What If?" on pp. 
by The Training/Action Affinity 
Group . ** 



It ifi the responsibility of the facili- 
tator to insure that the Individual's 
right to disagree is protected, The 
facilitator has several options for do- 
ing this depending upon the situation, 

a) State again for the person(s) 
what the facilitator seases the agree- 
Ben t asong the rest of the group to be. 
She/he then asks the one or two persons 
who are disagreeing to state their spe- 
cific objections. This is often help- 
ful if there have been misunderstandings 
an either part* 

b) If the objections sees to be 
reasonable, the facilitator can ask the 
group to meet again in snsall groups to 
consider the person T s ideas* The group 
may also continue to meet aa a whole, 
but unnecessary pressure is often re- 
lieved by small group vork. 

c) *If the objections seem to be in- 
appropriate or off the track, the 
facilitator can state as objectively 

as possible that it is her/his sense 
that the group has listened as veil as 
it can, but the person's concerns are 
not appropriate for this time* 

d) Call for a break to defer the 
decision, if possible — i.e., give 
breathing and thinking space to dis- 
senters* This could be as little as 
five minutes or as uruch as hours or 


by The Training/ Act ion Affinity 

Group of Movement for a New 





J 0+3 

C #^\ ^ 





Introduction *A 

Values Inherent in Consensus 

Problems with Consensus (in American Society) 

Advantages of Consensus 

Attitudes/Headset for the Practice of Consensus 

A Step-by-Step Process for Doing Consensus 

How to Participate in the Process 

Attitudes About Conflict 

Group Building 

Methods for Dealing with Conflict 
Methods for Dealing with Specific Problems that Arise 
Special Adaptations of the Process (eg* Large Groups) 
General Meeting Skills (Including Tips on Facilitation) 


RE: Participation sections on Content and Process division: 

1, Having little to say about content, and lots on process, may lead 

superficial readers to make false assuipptions/conslusions about our 

values and priorities. 

2 W The division seems (to Crepps) more accurately labeled n l-focused M 

and "other-focused 11 (content and process, respectively) Many points under 

process are really about content. Maybe this sou Id be revised OR say 

something about how hard it is to spparate content and process, and how 

we really haven't done r t, , . 




lO K%J©, 


•/^ 4*w 



■ < *- x .i * 

(o"M*->. «-^ 

Chapter 6 

Structuring Your Meeting 

Consensus decision making necessarily 
takes place in meetings— and to many 
people meetings have a bad reputation 
for being boring wastes of time. This 
chapter is designed to- break "down and 
demystify meetings so you can use them 
as constructive tools for accomplishing 
your work in an effective and satisfying 
way. We will examine the phases that 
meetings develop through, how to use 
agendas, what goes into discussion, and 
the vital details of making and record- 
ing decisions and evaluating your meet- 
ings. These techniques should be helpful 
in structuring your meetings whether or 
not your group uses consensus decision 


Meetings generally progress through a 
series of five phases. The phases can 
be called "social interaction, " "orien- 
tation/ 1 "structuring," " constructive 
work," and "completion," Some groups 
may find this five-phase model doesn't 
fit their process, some may add or de- 
lete a step, but it can be useful in 
analysing 'your meetings for insight 
about where you're going and for avoid- 
ing potential problems. It can also 
shed light on sections within a meet- 
ing, such as a single agenda item, and 
can be applied to group development over 
a long period of time. 

Socia l interaction 

The first thing people usually do when 
they come together is talk to each 
other, "How's work? How's your house- 
hold? How T s you? What T s in the works 
on Community Project 9,999?" Don't ig- 
nore the reality or importance of mem- 
bers liking to be sociable with each 
other. Allowing time for human inter- 
action adds to the health of your meet- 
ing and your group, If you don't take 
time to make personal contact early in 
the meeting , you will do it later, play- 
ing and talking when you're supposed to 
be doing work. Socialising is fine when 
the group chooses to function this way, 
but it is a serious problem when you 
need concentrated effort • (Specific 
suggestions for making the social inter- 
action phase play a positive role in 
your meetings^ instead of being a dis- 
ruption^ can be found in Chapter 11 j 
section entitled * "Encourage Social 
Interaction. "} 


The orientation phase is the time to 
settle down and consider the tasks ahead. 
Usually an agenda is used to orient mem- 
bers to the tasks. We consider agendas 
such a useful tool that the entire next 
section of this chapter is devoted to 
them, «#■* 





"Die third phase , structuring, may be 
especially important to new or short- 
term groups. In this phase decisions 
are made on how the meeting will func- 
tion: Who will facilitate and record? 
Who will introduce topics for discussion? 
What Information will be relevant , and 
how will it be presented? Deciding 
which approaches to take and what in- 
formation is germane to the topic will 
determine who can participate or con- 
tribute. Do you seek experts in your 
group to guide you to your decision? 
Do you require the opinions, experi- 
ences, or feelings of every group member 
to fully develop this decision? 

The issue of power is Inherent in struc- 
turing. The positions of facilitator 
and recorder, of first speaker, pre- 
senter, and devil T s advocate all carry 
influence. Many groups rotate the in- 
stituted positions- of facilitator and 
recorder to spread the Influence fairly 
and to share and build skills. 


You know you 1 re going to spend time on 
the social interaction phase, so why 
not plan for it? Perhaps some members 
of your group get exasperated because 
meetings consistently start late* (III 
some groups you can arrive 1*5 minutes 
late , . . and be just in time for the 
start cf business,) To avoid this 
problem, some groups set (and stick to) 
tvo starting ti&es — one for socialising, 
and one about 20-30 minutes later to 
start the business meeting, Another 
approach is to schedule a potiuck dinner 
for the hour before a meeting- -but watch 
out for the potentially deadening effect 
of full stoasachs on brains and energy. 
Another approach is to integrate social- 
izing into the meeting by starting out 
with a round robin excitement sharing 
In which each person spends a fev min- 
utes telling the rest of the group 
what major events have occurred in their 
lives since the last meeting. 


Constructive Work 

The constructive work phase constitutes 
the hulk of the meeting, when informa- 
tion is shared , ideas explored , and de- 
cisions made. The section below called 
"Doing Discussion" offers concrete ideas 
on how to proceed with this productive 
part of your meetings. The suggestions 
focus on a cooperative approach to ac- 
complishing your tasks. If the earlier 
phases have not been adequately covered, 
though, constructive work may be inter- 
rupted when the group cycles back to 
take care of unfinished development, 
such as friendly chatting or agenda 


The completion phase may be short , but 
it's vital, Seek completion at the end 
of each agenda item by having one person, 
often the recorder, restate the decision 
and check the final wording with the 
group. Reviewing the decision gives a 
sense of closure, can be an encouraging 
moment of group self-congratulation, and 
can pave the way to the next agenda item. 
When a decision has been a hard one to 
make, group members may need time to re- 
assure one another that it was a good 
decision and that it feels good to be 
through it, Tiying to push on to some- 
thing new too quickly will only disrupt 
the natural flow of the group T s process. 

At the end of the meeting, you 1 11 also 
need a time for closure, for planning 
the next meeting, and for a brief evalu- 
ation of the meeting or a short session 
for criticism/self-criticism, (See the 
section further down in this chapter 
entitled j ^Evaluation. u ) 


An agenda is a plan for your meeting, a 
list of tasks to be addressed. For an 
agenda to be a useful tool, each agenda 
item should include these elements: 





— The topic of discussion, stated 

— The action to be taken. Is this 
item an announcement, a report, a dis- 
cussion or a decision? 

— The estimated time needed for the 
item: 1, 15 or k$ minutes? (It is com- 
mon to underestimate the amount of time 
an item will require, so err on the side 
of too much rather than too little time. ) 

--The name of the person responsible 
for introducing the item* 

Including all these points and making 
the information available to all group 
members not only helps you plan and 
structure your meeting, but also has 

democratizing effects on the group. 
By knowing exactly what to expect, each 
member has an equal information base 
and an equal opportunity to influence 
the course of the meeting. Agendas can 
be duplicated so everyone has a copy, 
or posted on a wall in writing large 
enough for all to see. 

Creating the A genda 

There are many ways to form an agenda. 
At CCR we use a page in our office log 
book. When someone thinks of an item 
to bring up at the next meeting, she 
or he adds it to the agenda list. We 
limit descriptions to short phrases, 
especially for familiar types of issues 
such as requests for workshops* 








Review of last meeting T s minutes 

New telephone rates: do we want 
to start Eonitcring our office 

Update on new members 

Bad news from our funding agency: 
it's tJUne to start worrying 

Who can help clean out the storage 
room and when? 


Bookkeeper 1 s quarterly report 

Follow-up on last month's discus- 
sion about raising our prices 

Inservlce topics for next year: 
Inservice Planning Committee 
wants input 

Setting our next meeting 


10 n 












25 1> 

5 11 




3 ,! 

15 !l 


Carol and Al 









Workers at Nature's, a collective bakery 
we know, write long explanations of each 
subject on their meeting agenda, which 
is posted immediately following the pre- 
vious meeting. They have '"found they 
need to close the agenda to new items 
2k hours before each meeting so there's 
time for read and think about 
the in formation beforehand. In contrastj 
other groups prefer to form the agenda 
at the beginning of each meeting, to 
avoid fixing their expectations too 
rigidly before they start* 

It can be the facilitator's responsi- 
bility, if she or he is chosen in ad- 
vance of the meeting, to begin prepara- 
tion of the agenda. This task involves 
t reviewing old minutes for unfinished 
items or topics that were deferred to 
the next meeting, as well as noting cur- 
rent topics that other members bring up. 
If the group is geographically dis- 
persed and has the funds, mail a tenta- 
tive agenda about a week before the 
meeting so members are prepared for 
tasks they face* 

At the Beginning of the Meeting 

No matter how your agenda is developed, 
r an agenda review should come early in 
the meeting. Read through what you 


have on the agenda already. Add other 
items if necessary. Look over minutes 
of the previous meeting for leftovers, 
if this hasn't been done yet* 

The agenda review is the time for 
editing . First, ask if the suggested 
time limits are realistic. Sometimes 
the presenter of an item thinks it will 
take only five minutes > but someone else 
has additional information or a differ- 
ent perspective which brings it up to 
15 minutes. In other cases ? you may 
find that two ten-minute items are 
really one and the same, just phrased 
differently. Check the length of the 
meeting by adding up each item's time, 
plus time for wrap-up, evaluation, and 
setting the next meeting, Do you have 
four hours of work to do in two and a 
half? If so, you may have to priori- 
tize Issues and select some to delay 
until a future time. (If this is a 
consistent problem^ see the section 
below in this chapter entitled^ 
"Working Outside of the Meeting. ,r 
This section suggests ways of reduc- 
ing the amount of time spent making 
decisions during meetings. ) 

Once you know what the meeting agenda 
actually consists of, you must order 
it. What comes first, how do you want 
to end, and what about the in-between? 
You can use various approaches to order- 
ing the agenda* By placing crucial 
items first you're sure to get to them 
and can take advantage of fresh, crea- 
tive energy at the beginning of the 
meeting. You might want to T, warm up rt 
with a few quick items first- Try sav- 
ing some big items for later on to 
maintain interest, especially if mem- 
bers' interest tends to fade after the 
"hot" items have been dealt with. You 
can vary the pace by alternating long 
items with several short items throughout 
the meeting. Related issues can be 
placed close together for continuity and 
to save the time of constantly re-orient- 
ing to new topics. On the other hand, 
a lot of variety might keep you alert. 



You might want to start with difficult, 
divisive items and finish with more, uni- 
fying and agreeable ones, or build trust 
first by tackling them the other way 
around , Whichever way you order the 
agenda, if the whole group participates 
in the ordering, the power and control 
will be distributed among the group. 
Participating in forming the agenda can 
inspire greater commitment to the meet- 
ing's process * 


Groups may need to develop procedures 
for editing or streamlining the kinds 
of decisions they undertake in meetings* 
A group may find decisions coming up 
that are complex, amorphous, and hard 
to approach in a short meeting period. 
At other times, a meeting's agenda may 
be full of picky little issues that 
swamp the group with detail work. 
Either way, you should consider whether 
some issues can be addressed outside a 
meeting of the whole group . 

Set a special meeting , perhaps a brown 
bag lunch, when interested people can 
hash over an important issue . CCR has 
held special meetings to discuss the 
political/ideological issues that are 
basic to all our work, but that we 
rarely manage to get to in regular 
business meetings. 

Form a subgroup to do preliminary or 
major work in a big area, to frame 
issues, to list alternatives, to make 
recommendations, or to make and act on 
decisions in a certain realm , 

Example: When CCR was considering 
changing our relationship to a fund 
raising coalition we had participated 
in for several years, a subgroup 
mapped out a number of possible de- 
cisions that could be made and brain- 
stormed advantages and problems for 
each decision. The subgroup's pre- 
liminary outline was presented to the 
larger group as a framework for mak- 
ing the final decision. 

Establish policies that outline the 
boundaries of repeatedly- encountered 
decisions. Policies serve as a memory 
for the group and build fairness and 
consistency into decision making. They 
A save the tremendous time and energy it 
would take to re-make the same basic 
decision every time a similar issue 
arises. Sometimes policies evolve or- 
ganically through a summary of past 
decisions about the issues. Record the 
policies for easy reference, 

Example: CCR is frequently asked to 
provide free services for other 
groups. Our organization developed 
criteria based on our values and 
priorities that groups must meet to 
qualify for free services. Evalu- 
ating each request according to these 
priorities automatically eliminates 
some requests and minimises the fre- 
quency and detail with which requests 
are discussed at meetings. 

Remember, a policy is a tool to help 
f your group work better. Ho policy 
should be so inflexible that the group 
feels hobbled by it. 

Delegate individuals to make certain 
decisions. This can be done even if 
your group operates by consensus. For 
instance, if the group can't reach 
agreement because members need more 
information, a person might be dele- 
gated to get the information and then 
act on it, keeping in mind the thoughts 
and feelings expressed by the rest of 
the group. For minor details and areas 
in which the group has set policies and 
guidelines, individuals should be mak- 
ing day-to-day decisions rather than 
taking the whole group's time with 
clearly routine matters. 

If you know in advance that an impor- 
tant issue will be coming up for discus- 
sion, members can engage in a written 
u dialogue . CCR has used a special note- 
book we call our "Dialogues Log," One 
or two individuals generate a list of 
questions relevant to an issue and 
write them in the log. Then other mem- 



bers of the collective answer with their 
thoughts and feelings about the ques- 
tions and respond to other peopled 
comments. By the time the subject 
comes up in a meeting, groundwork has 
been laid. Different arguments and 
perspectives about the issue have been 
identified and members T feelings have 
been expressed. 


The actual body of your meeting is talk* 
Transforming rambling, unfocused, shape- 
less talk into directed, purposeful, 
cooperative and creative discussion is 
a matter of good intentions , structure 
and skills. Your good intentions we 
trust; the structure has been discussed 
above; and the skills are described 
below. (Also see Chapter 4, YOUR 



Simple information sharing is imperative 
if all members are to participate in de- 
cision making. A discussion can start 
with a review of why the particular 
issue is important. Maybe a sister group 
or associated organisation needs staffing 
or financial help, A brief history of 
the relationship between your groups 
might be important background informa- 
tion for newer members. If time is a 
factor, members need to know that a 
decision must be made quickly or not 
at all. 

Personal statements of concerns, thoughts 
or feelings might be the appropriate way 
to start a discussion. "I've narrowly 
avoided three accidents this month be- 
cause the truck 1 s steering is so 
screwy. The brakes need major work and 
it's eating gas like prices haven't gone 
up since 1973* I want to consider in- 
vesting in a new vehicle. " 

A written proposal may be considered by 
a meeting. You can start with general 
reactions, then ask for clarification on 

"specific points, and then deal with 
members ' concerns , Keep in mind that 
discussion will be more productive if 
you seek positive suggestions to improve 
the proposal, instead of just shooting 
down its weaknesses. 

The facilitator or other participants 
should periodically advise the group of 
the discussion's progress. "We've 
been looking at alternatives to Paul's 
suggestion for about 10 minutes now. 
How much more time do we want to spend 
on this? Are most of our ideas out at 
this point?" This kind of reminder can 
gently nudge a group along while still 
being sensitive to members 1 feelings 
and encouraging them to speak. 

Eoual iziuE Participation 

^ — ^ 

Meeting structures to equalize partic- 
ipation are many and varied. Brain- 
storming encourages creativity and 
* detachment from one's own ideas by 
stressing Quantity rather than quality 
of ideas.' "in a brainstorm, group mem- 
bers come up with as many responses to 
a quest icn or problem as they can think 
of. Members are free to take risks, to 
toss out spontaneous (even absurd) 
thoughts. Safety from criticism is 
ensured because no evaluation of any- 
one's ideas is allowed while the brain- 
storm is in progress. In this judgment- 
free atmosphere, creative thought is 
nurtured, the full range of possibili- 
ties is explored, and the likelihood of 
discovering a new solution to a problem 
is increased* 

Another way to equalise participation 
is silence . Taking a minute or two for 
silence gives everyone a chance to think 
about the issues and slows down interac- 
' tion so that naturally quick thinkers 
and talkers don't dominate the discus- 
sion. Silence can be followed by a 
round robin in which each person in 
turn offers one idea or possible solu- 
tion to a problem. The process contin- 
ues, going around the group repeatedly, 
until all ideas are stated and recorded. 


Members who don T t have suggestions can 
pass on one turn and still be included 
if they think of something new for the 
next round. 

■ ■'.*.:■:'>;. 

* ■■ * r ■*■»■.* - 

^ The travelling chair can be used in 
conjunction with a regular facilitator. 
In this method, the person who has been 
talking is responsible for calling on 
the next participant. She or he speaks 
and then calls on someone else who has 
indicated a desire to contribute. This 
process shares the responsibility and 
power of recognizing speakers, distri- 
butes the awareness of recognising 
members who don T t usually talk much, 
and generally increases participation, 
commitment and involvement. The 
facilitator can always step in, if 
necessary ? to guide the process* 

(A more in-depth discussion about equal- 
izing participation can he found in the 
section entitled "Share Responsibility " 


The Problem-Solving Approach 

Most discussions can be seen in terms 
of a problem that needs to be solved. 
Principles of good problem solving can 
help any decision-making effort. These 
principles include: 

1. Begin with a clear agreement in 
the group about what needs the decision 
is supposed to meet, and with a fully 
shared understanding of the issues and 
facts relevant to the subject* 

2. Select criteria for an acceptable 
course of action. ("It'll have to be 
cheap and quick/' or "It'll bring in at 
least $5,000 in three months and be re- 
peatable for at least two more years,") 

3. Generate a wide variety of pro- 
posals — don T t stop at just two or three* 
Delay in-depth discussion of any one 
solution until you have an understanding 
of what the range of possible actions 

k. Evaluate and select a decision 
according to the criteria developed 

Of course no group decision evolves as 
methodically as this model suggests, 
but keeping these principles in mind 
can help you think clearly as your dis- 
cussion progresses. If your group be- 
comes bogged down in complexities, or 
if discussion meanders far and wide, 
you may want to use these steps to 
organise your efforts. (See the 
"Creative Problem Solving " section in 
INGj for a more thorough explanation 
of this technique, ) 

Techniques for Creative Thinking 

A seminar on creativity led by Mike Heus 
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 
developed the following four guidelines 
for encouraging creative thinking in 
groups. Try using these techniques to 
reinforce the problem solving model and 
the communication skills you already use 
in your group discussions, 

1. Spectrum listening : Instead of 
listening to find fault, listen for 
those aspects of an idea that you find 
attractive. In responding, acknowledge 
the positive to let the previous speaker 
know that you appreciate her or his 


— I 


■ L 







— Note decision© made. 

—Note cod teat of major discus sion 


—List ideas from brainstorms, round 
robins, etc, ■ 

— Note issues to return to at future 


— Record who took responsibility to 
do what by when. 

~~ If your style is to put more than 
this into the notes , mark decisions, 
responsibilities, and leftover items 
for easy Identification at the next 
useetlng. Underline in red, star In the 
margin, or use other symbols. 


—During discussion, read back de- 
cisions after they are Bade to check for 
accuracy in the notes and to mark clo- 
sure on the Item. 

— During discussion, read from per- 
tinent parts of the notes as a device to 
slaw down a runaway discussion or to 
return the group's focus to a task* 


— After the meeting, place minutes in 
their proper (accessible, known) place> 
or type, copy and distribute them* 

■ —At the next meeting, read major 
points as a review: decisions made, 
issues deferred to the present meeting, 
and reminders of assignments and respon- 
sible ies, ^___ 


2. Hitchhiking : Identify the parts 
of what you have heard that seem to 
have potential and add your ideas to 
it. Pick up on others 1 contributions, 

3. Use associative or "linking", 
thinking . Combine what others say with 
your ideas (hitchhiking) and blend your 
own and others' suggestions in new ways. 
Put ideas together to develop "recipes" 
of action. 

If. Don T t quit after the first good 
idea . Keep it in mind and continue the 
search for more, Don't try to kill off 
one idea so you can initiate your own- 
instead acknowledge the first idea as 
helpful and suggest putting it "on hold 11 
while exploring even more ways to use 
the resources at hand. 


It's a shame to spend your good time 
and energy making decisions that are 
never implemented, or even remembered. 
Write down and verify your decisions as 
they are made. Assign individuals spe- 
cific responsibilities for carrying out 
the plans. Remind yourselves of your 
decisions at the following meeting when 
you review the previous session's min- 
utes. And figure out implementation 
plans that have built-in checks if you 
need help in actually getting things 

Example: The Wisconsin Drug Clear- 
inghouse staff decided on a set of 
techniques to help cut down on time 
spent in staff meetings. To check 
on how well their techniques were 
being implemented, they chose to 
assign one person the responsibility 
of bringing the matter up for review 
in one month. 

Nature r s Bakeiy, in Madison, Wisconsin, 
has developed a system they call "Man- 
agement by Commitment, " They keep an 
office log in which are written all the 
commitments that workers make to do dif- 
ferent tasks. The log provides a quick 
check for accountability* 


A calendar can be used to keep track of 
regular review periods for projects, 
employees, or trial procedures. Post 
new policies on bulletin boards or on 
big sheets of paper in your office, and 
then look at them occasionally. You 
probably have other routines that your 
group uses and that you can tie to in- 
ternal accountability needs . 

Be as specific as possible in your de- 
cisions to make sure they will be car- 
ried out as intended. 

Example: If a group of three people 
is assigned to research the options 
of repairing an old vehicle versus 
buying a new one, the group's assign- 
ment should be clear: How much in- 
formation should be gathered? How 
should this material be presented to 
the group (charts and columns for 
easy comparison)? What date should 
the report be ready? What other 
factors should be .taken into account 
(e.g., certain dealers might be out 
of the question for practical or 
political reasons, or someone might 
have a reason to give another option 
special attention)? 

(See the nearby boxed section entitled^ 
,r The Recorder's Responsibilities* ") 

The devil's advocate 
represents the 
unrepre sented 


In addition to the roles of facilitator 
and recorder, which most groups use in 
some form, there are other roles that 
some groups have formalized. Some or 
these roles are subsets of the facili- 
tator^ role, a way of breaking down the 
responsibility and distributing it among 
more people* Some are independent 
roles. Like any formalized responsi- 
bility in meetings, they should be ro- 
tated so all members practice the skills 
involved as well els sharing the respon- 

— The Time Keeper keeps an eye on a 
clock or watch and reminds the group 
when they are getting close to the time 
limit on an agenda item, 

-- The Pr ocess Watcher observes the 

-^ — - - 

group process and brings problems to the 
attention of the group, 

— The Vibes Watcher pays attention to 
the emotional climate of the meeting and 
communicates her or his observations to 
the group when it seems necessary. 
"Hidden agendas" and unsurfaced con- 
flicts can often be spotted early when 
someone is watching for them. 

— The Devil's Advocate is designated 
to represent the unrepresented position 
in a discussion* If everyone agrees 
that the store should be closed for two 
weeks in August, for example, the dev- 
il's advocate will try to think of rea- 
sons why this might be a bad decision 
and bring those reasons to the group's 


The ancient Persians used to make their 
decisions twice: once when thgy were 
sober and once when they were roaring 
drunk* If the two decisions matched, 
they assumed they were on the right 




The evaluation is usually the final step 
in a well-conducted meeting- It is the 
time when the group takes a look at how 
well the meeting went and how future 
meetings can he improved* It may be 
tempting to bypass or hurry through the 
evaluation, especially if it has been a 
long, hard meeting. But this can be a 
serious mistake. Evaluations often 
provide insight and understanding that 
throw the business aspect of the meet- 
ing into a new light. 

Example: At a recent planning meet- 
ing for a coalition of safe energy 
groups, the group process was poor 
but the meeting progressed and deci- 
sions were made. As the meeting- 
ended and members began to leave, 
someone requested an evaluation * 
Suddenly members began expressing 
their frustration' with the meeting. 
It became apparent that some people 
had been so dissatisfied that they 
had no intention of carrying out 
the decisions the group had made: 
they had stopped participating in 
the decision making and just waited 
for the meeting to end- Without an 
evaluation, members would have left 
with mistaken expectations of each 
other, and without addressing and 
trying to solve the coalition's 

An evaluation can provide a needed out- 
let for frustrations and criticisms 
about how the group or indiviudal mem- 
bers acted, and for concerns which 
might have seemed out of place in the 
more task-oriented parts of the agenda. 
The evaluation is also an opportunity to 
express positive thoughts, praise and 
support for the group and individuals. 
The group needs to think about what went 
right as well as what should be improved. 

Evaluations need not come only at the 
end of a meeting. They can also occur 
+-■ at any appropriate stopping place— before 
a break, perhaps, or whenever the frus- ■ 
tration level is high. 


An evaluation can be either formal or 
informal, depending on the length and 
nature of the meeting. A typical in- 
formal evaluation might take 5 to 15 
minutes, even more If important issues 
arise, and it might consist of spontane- 
ous comments on general feelings about 
how the meeting went, members 1 reac- 
tions to the facilitator t s performance, 
why the time passed quickly or slowly, 
and so forth. The more specific the 
comments, the better, since they will 
help suggest courses for the future. 
Beware of re-opening agenda items, 
though. This is the time to discuss 
process, not business. 

lHY ton^E^i 


Evaluations can often correct 
mistaken expectations. 

Formal evaluations may be either verbal 
or written, consisting of specific 
questions to which everyone responds. 
Some common evaluation questions are: 
What went well and why? What could have 
been improved and how? What specific 
things do you think you gained out of 
this session? In what ways was the 
facilitator T s role helpful or inhibit- 


Some groups write the comments on a 
large piece of paper posted on the 
wall, using three categories: posi- 
tives , negatives, and suggested changes , 
An alternative set of categories is: 
content, process and facilitation. The 
structured approach is especially well 
suited for long or complex meetings and 
may provide useful feedback to the 
facilitator or other persons who were 
responsible for the meeting's agenda or 

Xh© Leiota (Hatlv* Americans } make no Im- 
portant decision* unlMS old anas, vomer* , 
aesi and children are present* Tradition- 
ally! an old wossn would admonlah the 
decision makers to take into acootmt the 
effects of their actions for seven 
generations into the future. 

Examples of the kinds of comments that 
might be made during an evaluation in- 
clude: "Mary, I appreciated it when you 
kept reminding us to get back on the 
topic. We were really drifting onto 
tangents and we needed your reminder 
that it was important to make that deci- 
sion today, » — "This is the first time 
we have met around a table, I liked it. 
I think it helped us stay focused," -.- 
u We sure were lethargic tonight. I 
think we were exhausted after a full 
day's work. Maybe we shouldn't meet at 
this time of day again." — "I was very 
jittery and edgy tonight. I just want 
you all to know that it was because I'm 
very tired. It wasn't because of the 
meeting or anybody here*" 

Evaluations are a good way of bringing 

significant problems to the surface , 
p giving the group a sense of control over 
£ what is happening, and providing the 

positive reinforcement that builds group 


"Regarding the issue of closure, you 
might want to emphasize the Importance 
of a good system of record keeping as a 
aethod of checks and balances within 
groups using consensus* Accurate rec- 
ords are essential if a group is to 
effectively clarify misunderstandings, 
respond to challenges* and/or revise 
decisions previously consented to by 
the group. Consensus does not iJEply 
sloppy records-- in fact, it requires 
very precise records if the process is 
to function smoothly, ff 

— Jia Struve 


(especially Part II, "Working in 
Groups") by Virginia Coover, et al. 



^^ ^^***^^**A* A J 

^^*^ w^ M >^ V 






Intro- -3 
. , , .,.., ,___i*3&# ideas, values, experience and kno'>t£dgs* orCl conti^arflil. 

■Aii pI I g-JiJ L^i t u*>.\ j! m flV^-ta^p^*n^ tn ratify tha fffrciffpii OU*y^'. ' U ,!) J ) p i nrTr h " * 'y*'^^ ^ 

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not- know t he i-casofling b eh\id the de c isio n. o^+W^r^-J ^ps&ti. n\ U*j ^^^^JJ^ 

2) Autocratic with Foiling : A single person umakes the decision after asking 
for the opinions of others involved. T - Ms ff elh u y alluw^ lOh l i J ^ U^pp O KyflUy =Sg~ 
^ includes the ideas of more peopled/id Lj^V^iyes jthe decision makerA feeling of 
what people want^ t But the fe is stiM ncuopportunity for Interaction, for people to 
think together, learn each other's needs */and perhaps develop new ideas out of the 
ixcJiange* OvJ~&c^Mcx.4o tAJrw* J-bv^^ &y\<Lui^rr^ >Jl^j^;~ hk- A 



3} Minority Rule ; The decision/is ma^ie by a few people. They might be the 
Board of Directors, a Steering Committee, oh other s-^ t the t o p pf th e hi e i a t diy * gg~S~ 
■fifa ' ^'y "j" h fl a committee representing a variety of positions In the^ group, teir 
method fl^usually>^g*3g ^MlU^ii than deeisionsXbtf larger groups, since only a , 


few Individuals are involved A There is some opportunity for interaction herei 
w*5^x The quality of the jfecision and its acceptaoll ity to the group may depend 
on how well the viewpoints of different group .Tiember\ were represented by the 
decision makers. 

4) tiajorlty Rule/ The decision Is made by choosing a solution which is 
acceptable to more brtan half of the entire group with eaoh person having equal 

power (one person ,/one vote}. Variations may require a majority of two-thirds, 

Z / three-fourths, etc. ft£^w(\decis1on-making methods describe^ so farcin thiL luuLI^ , 

4 tis*5=tfTTe- 1s the most "derrocratic" since/^t- r e quires th q suppoVt of t^-wo ai people . 

T^phs decision /is more likely to be satisfactory to the group &s\a whole^ Hew- 

c reative ar/i - apyr fr prlote the decision +S-WH1 depend 4* fg g fo on\the amount of inter 

/ fJl K...^r^^toy^ -. ■Ab- 

action the group had before vot1ngfW\C\f course the more discussion, the longer the 

decisioii will take. Parliamentary Procedure or Roberts 1 Eules of Order are often 

used to ^tfoviHg structure-** majority rule decision making. 


Chapter 7 

The Role of the Group Facilitator 


To facilitate means "to make easy, " 
The group facilitator's job is to make 
it easier for the grpup to -do its work. 
By providing non-directive leadership, 
the facilitator helps the group arrive 
at the understandings and decisions 
that are its task. In a consensus group 
the facilitator's focus is on the group 
and its work. The role is one of assis- 
tance and guidance, not of control. 

A group needs facilitation in both the 
content and the process of its work* 
Content facilitation includes clarify^ 
ing confusing statements , identifying 
themes or common threads in a discussion, 
summarising and organizing the ideas 
put forth, and "testing for consensus" 
by expressing the decisions that appear 
to emerge from the group process. These 
functions focus on what the group is 
talking about. Process functions , on 
the other hand, relate to how the group 
is working. They include making sure 
everyone gets a chance to participate, 
pointing out feelings that are inter- 
fering with the group's work, and help- 
ing members to express and deal with 
their conflicts. Content and process 
are both vital and basic elements to 
achieving the group ! s purpose. 


To guide a group well calls for careful 
observation and attention. In addition 
to listening closely to what people are 
saying, the facilitator should watch 
participants 1 faces and posture for non- 
verbal cues on how the process is work- 
ing. Eye contact can be used to ac- 
knowledge people f s wishes to speak and 
to let them know their ideas are being 
heard. When facilitating, you must pay 
full attention throughout the meeting in 
an attempt to understand what is going 

The group facilitator should abstain 
from participation in partisan discus- 
sions. Good facilitation is hard work 
and it is difficult, if not impossible, 
to attend to the group's dynamics and 
needs as well as to your personal wish 
to urge a particular point. A little 
distance is important for keeping the 
whole picture in view and to guide the 
group toward its goals. 


The facilitator's job is to be sure 
that all the facilitation functions are 
filled—but not necessarily to do it all 
him or herself. All group members share 
the responsibility and skills for 
achieving the meeting 1 s purpose- When 


the process becomes particularly diffi- 
cult, you might say, 1r I T m having a hard 
time now, I want help finding a common 
thread, 11 or "Can someone summarize where 
we are now? We've been all over the map 
on this issue and I'm confused about how 
to proceed. " 


Another way to share facilitation is to 
step out of the role for part of the 
meeting when you want to be actively 
involved in the topic being discussed. 
It is the responsibility of both the 
facilitator and the group to notice 
when a different person should be 
facilitating- "I have some strong 
feelings about this subject and it's 
hard to be objective, plus I want to 
be able to participate * Will someone 
else facilitate for now?" -- "Henry, 
you're getting involved in this and no 
one is really facilitating now. Is 
there someone else who's not so con- 
nected to this issue who can step in 
and facilitate for awhile?" 


Many groups use team facilitation as a 
way to ease the responsibility on one 
person and to allow beginners to gradu- 
ally gain experience and confidence* 
Effective team facilitation takes prac- 
tice and good feedback from other mem- 
bers. (Ideas about sharing the facili- 
tator's functions are suggested in 

in a box entitled , "Other Roles in 
Group Meetings." Also see the section 
"Formalized Process" in Chapter 12* 


The rest of this chapter describes spe- 
cific functions and techniques a facili- 
tator and all group members can use, 
presented in a roughly chronological 
order. Although some points relate 
directly to content and others address 
explicitly process aspects of a meet- 
ing, we have not attempted to separate 
content from process functions since 
in practice there is often some overlap 
between the two. Similarly, we have 
not completely eliminated the overlap 
among the functions themselves. Illus- 
trations of one technique may also apply 
to another. 

There is no single "right 11 way to per- 
form these functions in a meeting, and 
no one person is ever so accomplished in 
all of these skills that he or she can 
perform them all at once. Different 
people develop their own unique styles 
of meeting facilitation and make differ- 
ent kinds of contributions in the role. 
By recognizing and appreciating this 
fact, groups can encourage and help 
their members to improve their facili- 
tation skills while calling on the 
special abilities that individuals have 
when they are needed in special situa- 

Example: Thea and Pete may be asked 
to co-facilitate a difficult meeting 
because Thea is veiy good at keeping 
the group focused and moving towards 
its goal, while Pete's best ability 
is to sharpen conflict and help 
people express their feelings. As a 
team, they complement each other and 
can learn from each other. 

Whether you are acting in the role of 
facilitator or not, the skills described 
below can help you improve your contri- 
bution in a meeting, * 


Guiding the Agenda 

The facilitator or another member may 
begin the meeting, If the group cus- 
tomarily begins with a short check- in 
period j introductions to new attenders^ 
or some way of greeting each other 
personally, that should be done first, 
"Does anyone feel like starting the 
check- in? ir 

The first order of business is to intro- 
duce the agenda , whether it is posted on 
the wall, copied for everyone, or in the 
facilitator's hands. The facilitator 
should read the agenda items aloud, ask 
for time assignments if they are not 
already clear, and add, eliminate, and 
set priorities among the items. The 
agenda review orients the group to the 
tasks at hand. 

The facilitator should conduct the 
agenda review quickly but thoroughly, 
A clear summary may be appropriate. 


Example: "We've got several short 
items under five minutes each, plus 
three fifteen-minute ones, plus the 
big membership discussion that we 
need at least an hour for, I sug- 
gest that we get to as many of the 
* shorties as we can in half an hour, 
then do the membership thing, and 
then do the three other items after 
a break. Is that all right with 
n everybody? OK, are there any short 
ones that we absolutely have to get 
to tonight, that we should start 
off with?" 

The facilitator in this case offers 
direction, but the suggestions must be 
affirmed or altered by the group. 

As the meeting progresses, the facili- 
tator keeps track of where the group is 
on the planned agenda, monitors the 
time, and gives this information to the 
group periodically. (See "Using Agendas" 

Keeping the Discussi on on Topic 

Since most issues have many facets and 
ramifications, and bring related topics 
to participants 1 inquisitive minds, it 
is common to get sidetracked or to go 
into unnecessary, detail on an issue. 
The facilitator should be aware of this 
tendency and be ready to help the dis- 
cussion get back on track. The impor- 
tance of this function is a major reason 
that the facilitator should remain 
neutral and not participate in hot de- 

The facilitator (or anyone) who notices 
that the group discussion has shifted 
from the original intent can interrupt 
with comments like T1 I think we We 
t wandered away from our focus," — 
"How does what we're talking about here 
relate to the logo design question we 
started on?" — "These are good ideas 
for a silks creen technique, but we 1 re 
not ready for that until we decide on 
the logo. Let's get back to that," 
At such times, the facilitator has the 
responsibility to interrupt the dis- 


cuss ion and even an individual. Be gen- 
tle but finn, and use eye contact to 
make a friendly connection with the 
person you cut off. 

Sometimes members get so involved in 
an issue that they lose sight of the 
group's goal for the discussion. For 
example, Tina may want to share her 
knowledge and excitement about com- 
puter systems while the group only 
needs information about one specific 
concept. To avoid lost time and 
frustration, it helps to have clearly 
i defined goals for all discussions (to 
explore, to decide s to design) and to 
remind the group of these goals. Mem- 
bers can often correct themselves if 
given a gentle reminder. 

Clarifying and Rephrasing 

The facilitator may act as a translator 
if members are not being well understood 
This skill may be, called 'for if members 
are talking past each other and not 
* understanding each other's points* and 
if feelings are rising as the miscom- 
munication continues. One tool in such 
situations is to rephrase the difficult 

Example: "I think Luan's point is 
that the city funding simply may not 
be available next year, aside from 
other problems with that funding. 
Have I understood you right, Luan?" 

Be sure to check your interpretation 
with the speaker for accuracy. 

When things get muddled or confused, 
1 re-define (or have someone else re- 
define) the topic clearly. 

Example: "It seems that we're talk- 
ing about why we really want group 
T-shirts and who'll pay for them, 
and we have to consider these things 
before we can get into the question 
of who will do the art work." 

Always get group acceptance of the 


Clarification can be helpful throughout 
the course of group discussion. It can 
improve group members 1 understanding 
of individual opinions as well as of 
the issues at hand, and it can save time 
that might otherwise be lost to confused 
and unnecessary interaction that Is 
based on misunderstanding. 

Equalizing Participation 


The facilitator should be aware of who 
is speaking repeatedly and who is not 
speaking at all, in order to help equal- 
ize members* participation. Some mem- 
bers may speak more or less than others 
for a variety of reasons: their inter- 
est and involvement in the subject, 
their knowledge of the issues, their 
confidence in speaking in groups, their 
self concept as affected by age, sex, 
social class background, and so forth. 
Try to be sensitive to the impact of 
* members 1 personal histories on their 
p art i cip at ion . 

A variety of techniques are available 
for facilitators to use in equalising 
participation and encouraging full 
involvement of all members in discus- 
sions. The most direct approach is 



Find and use more examples with less tban opl tmal /perfect /pre in the sky 
outcomes, (P„26/a-c is "in the clouds 11 ) 

Do the examples skew things about men's roles Tn groups? Joe thinks 
perhaps men come across as "bad guys 11 more often than women, maybe more 
often than is realistic. 


to simply ask silent members if they 
have anything to say and request over- 
participating, dominating members to 
refrain from speaking at times. 

Example: "Excuse me, Jim, but 
we've heard several of your thoughts 
on this already, Carol hasn't spoken 
yet and it looks like she's got 
something to add, Carol?" 

Or: "We've heard from many of the 
men in the group. Let's hear from 
the women , too." 

Other techniques for equalizing partic- 
ipation include structural procedures 
such as round robins, brainstorms, etc. 
(See the "Share Responsibility" section 


A subtle but important function of the 
facilitator is to pace the meeting. A 
,f good group discussion moves at a com- 
fortable tempo, neither too slowly so 
the meeting drags and people get bored 
and listless, nor too fast, leaving mem- 
bers feeling anxious, confused or left 
out. Pacing requires maintaining the 
delicate balance between allowing enough 
time for the group to discuss and under- 
stand an issue adequately, and letting 
the group get bogged down in too much 

You can slow down the pace of a heated 

* meeting by asking for a moment of si- 
lence, or by suggesting, "This is moving 
too fast for me. Let's slow it down a 
bit," If a speedy discussion appears to 
be ending too soon, you can say, "I 
think we need to spend a little more 

I time on this. Did some of the others 
here have any comments or questions to 
add? ,r 

You can speed up the pace by advising 

* the group of the time or requesting that 
people move along, "We've spent fifteen 
minutes on this now. How much time do 
we want to give it?" Even sitting up 
straighter and showing more energy in 

■ J your body can have an effect. 

Consensus takes time 
and patience 


One of the most important functions a 
- facilitator can perform is called re- 
formulating. This function goes a 
step further than clarifying, and is 
useful when many issues or points of 
conflict evolve out of a discussion 
on a single topic. The first step in 
reformulation is to separate the 
areas of agreement from the areas of 
disagreement. Ask the group for ac- 
A ceptance of what you perceive to be 
an area of agreement. If it is accepted 
and is part of the decision to be made, 
.record it and set it aside* Then go on 
to discuss the area of disagreement, and 
do the same until consensus is reached. 

Example: Susan requested that CCR 
allow her to spend about $50 to pur- 
chase layout materials for our news- 
letter production. After a fairly 
detailed discussion we found, by 
separating the issues, that we were 
in agreement about everything except 
one item. Roger thought we could 
build a layout board ourselves easily 
and more cheaply. But by excluding 
this item from the discussion, we 
were able to reach agreement that 
Susan could purchase the other ma- 



In the course of seemingly endless 
debate, the process of pointing out 
areas of agreement can remind members 
of their common ideas and can bring 
people together even in the face of 
intense disagreement on other matters. 
Clarifying the areas of disagreement 
sharpens the focus of group discussion. 
It helps members know what the real 
issues are and what particular problems 
have to be solved. 

Another function of reformulation is to 
identify new issues as they arise and 
bring them to the group's attention. 
Whenever a new issue is raised, the 
group should consider what to do with 
it- If it is more important and funda- 
mental than the issue being discussed 
originally, perhaps it should take 
precedence and be addressed first. It 
may belong further down on the present 
agenda, or it could just be dropped, 
if unimportant. The facilitator might 
ask, "Can we put this on the agenda for 
the next meeting?" Or you might sug- 
gest, "It r s clear to me that we must 
address our basic goals before continu- 
ing with the original discussion, 1T 
Or, "I think we should come back to 
this later, 0K? ,! 

Example: During an agency staff 
meeting, Sara requested a two-week 
vacation during the next month, The 
tense and difficult discussion in 
response to her request brought out 
a separate problem, Vacation time 
policy was unclear, other staff did 
not request as much time away as 
Sara, and there were strong feelings 
of resentment, The issue of Sara's 
vacation request was reformulated as 
a problem of vague and uncertain ex- 
pectations among the staff. The 
group decided to give Sara her vaca- 
tion, but to address the need to 
develop a policy about vacation 
time- They also decided to begin a 
policy book to help standardise work- 
related expectations among the staff 


A few years ago at CCR we found our- 
selves with 17 members, after being 
accustomed to a size of nine to id* m 
decided to address the problem o sue. 
Soon we vere expressing many feelings p 
about the group, our access to one 
another, the way work was being done, 
and our roles and goala for the group. 
Eventually ve reformulated our problem 
as one of structure, not of size. Are 
ue agreed that although we want to keep 
our present membership, we 1 re not satis- 
fied with how the group is working and 
therefore we need to change parts of 
our structure to fit the larger group 
Size?" Size was where ve started, but 
we found the solution to our problem 
alon^ a different dimension. 

Identifying Interpersonal Communication 
Problems , p 

Be avare of the quality of communication 
between members. If you perceive, for 
example, that one member is not listen- 
ing to another member's opinion, which 
in turn is contributing to difficulty 
in achieving consensus, point this out. 
"Jan, please listen to Elaine. I don't 
think you're getting her point," You 
may also help by rephrasing a thought, 
or asking a person to rephrase their 
previous statements. Then ask whether 
others understood the restatement, or 
have any questions. "Kay, I think that 
#is an important issue. Can you say that 
again, in another way, to make sure 
everyone is clear on the point?" Having 
speakers rephrase each other's positions 
is another quick way to check for under- 
standing* "Jon, can you say what you 
^understand Lou to be saying - - * Lou, 
'"can you say back what you hear?" If you 
recognise that a problem exists, but do 
not have immediate solutions, ask the 
group for help. "Can someone help Jon 
and Lou see what the other is saying?" 
for more suggestions*) 




— "v 

The direction and pace of a meeting are 
helped by the occasional interjection of 
summarizing statements from the facili- 
tator or other group members. Summaries 
help bring issues into perspective; they 
allow the group to see a direction to 
the discussion, to re focus the discus- 
sion on the topic, or to test how close 
to decision they really are. A summary 
might be: "So, I hear us saying that we 
support the idea of staying open till 
9:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, and we still 
have to deal with Jeff and Karla's con- 
cerns about phone coverage." 

Summarising also helps to pace or move 
a meeting along. Good summaries can 
often help members realize they have 
* actually reached agreement in a discus- 
sion that seemed complicated and un- 
re solvable. Of course, any summary 
might be incorrect or misplaced in 
emphasis, in which case the group should 
object and correct the summary statement. 

Aiding the Group's Emotional Climate 

The facilitator should be conscious of 
the emotional atmosphere of the group. 
Do members seem listless and depressed? 
Is excitement high but unfocused , per- 
haps spilling over into unproductive 
highjinks? Just keeping track of the 
group's mood is important, but you can 
also use the facilitation role to make 
positive and constructive changes in the 
atmosphere. Good pacing is one way of 

maintaining a positive group atmosphere. 
Other possibilities include a break 
when members are restless, a quick 
energizing activity when they can't 
concentrate anymore, or a moment of si- 
lence when an argument is so heated that 
participants aren't listening to one 
another, (See Chapter 9> WORKING WITH 
EMOTIONS j for more general discussion 
on this topic. Also see the section^ 
"Encourage Social Interaction^ " in 

In difficult situations, it can be help- 
ful to remind members of what the con- 
sensus process requires — qualities such 
as active listening, being open to in- 
fluence by others, or focusing on the 
problem instead of on personalities. 
Such a comment can provide guidance and 
perspective and can re-orient the mem- 
bers to the group's goals. 

Example: "People, this discussion 
is hard, but I think we're doing 
pretty well at listening to one 
another. Let's remain clear that 
the problem is what to do about the 
law suit, not whether Johnny or 
Claire has a better approach*" 

A reminder of just what needs to be ac- 
complished and what the group has in 
common may pull people out of their 
negative feelings or their attachment 
to their own ideas and back to con- 
structive work* 

vw w^v w ww y ww v y w ^^^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^^ ^^^^^^^ 

Identifying Individual Emotions as They 

When individual emotions interfere with 
the group's dec is ion -making process, 
it's often useful to take time to iden- 

i tify and respond to them. If she looks 
like she is about to cry, you could say, 
"Debby, you look upset about what Dan 
said. Do you want to talk about it?" 
Use your judgment and intuition in 

\ choosing who, when, and how much to 
delve into individual's emotions. Is 
this feeling an important one to con- 
cern the group with? Does it greatly 
affect the group's dynamics or the 
' group's understanding of an issue, or 
the reaching of consensus? Does the 
member probably need recognition and 
a response, or would he or she dislike 
being made the center of attention? 
(Refer to Chapter 9, WORKING WITH 
EMOTIONS 3 for further discussion of 
the role of emotions in group process. ) 


Conflict Manage ment 

Conflict and disagreement are a natural, 
necessary, and potentially creative 
part of group interaction. Disagree- 
ment and criticism, though, should al- 
ways be focused on ideas, issues and 
behaviors, not on members 1 personhood. 
No one should ever be personally at- 
* tacked. In new groups, the facilitator 
should state this as a guideline from 
the start. When it happens, the facili- 
tator should Interrupt the attack and 
help the people re- focus on the issues. 


Sometimes the absence of visible con- 
flict among group members can be an 
even greater problem, especially if 
this is a pattern of interaction within 
the group. Many groups perceive lack 
of conflict as an indication of agree- 
ment or good meeting process. "Nice- 
ness," though, can prevent real disa- 
greement from being expressed, leaving 
it to fester under the surface. If 
you think that conflict is being sup- 
pressed, try to bring it out, "I 
sense that we're not addressing all 
the issues," — "In my experience, 
„.it is unusual to find total agreement 
on a subject as important as this, I 
suspect there's more here than people 
are saying so far," 

Identify what you perceive to be disa- 
- greement, or ask questions to find out 
whether people do agree. Raise or delve 
into points which may bring out the 
disagreement, If the tension is high 
but people aren't talking, a simple, 
"What's going on here?" might open 
things up, Try these tactics when you 
suspect the group is suppressing an 
important issue, but don't chase con- 
flict for its own sake. 

Once conflict is out in the open, try 
u to help members see all the perspec- 
tives on the issue. Using a "round 
robin" gives everyone a chance to 
speak without fearing argumentative 
response. To help people see dif- 
ferent perspectives, you might ask 
someone to play devil's advocate, or 
suggest that individuals reverse roles 
r and argue the opinions opposite to 
their own. (See Chapter 10, CONFLICT 
AND PROBLEM SOLVING^ for more about 
structural approaches to conflict. 
for more about improving communication 
when the risks of misunderstanding are 
high, ) 

Testing for Agreement 

A function that is closely related to 
summarising j but more specific and 
focused, is testing for agreement, 
When you think that agreement may be 
close, clearly ask the group if they 
do, in fact, agree. Ask, "Does every- 
one agree that ...?"-- "My sense 
is that we have agreement in . , , T1 
— "Are there any objections to the 
proposal that . . - ? w When you test 
for agreement, do so in a tentative 
way that leaves room for input, cor- 
rection and disagreement as well as 
for affirmation. And be sure to fully 
■ state the proposal that you are test- 
ing. Don't assume that everyone knows 
what it is because Jack explained it 
three minutes ago. 

Soliciting Feedback 

Getting feedback is fundamental to 
everything the facilitator does. Al- 
though you are responsible for keeping 
the direction and focus of the discus- 
sion in perspective, and are active in 
guiding that direction and focus, the 
direction itself is always received 
from the group , As facilitator, you 
speak for the group and need endorse- 
ment for doing so. 

As facilitator, you should regularly 
ask for acceptance x feedback, agreement 

* or disagreement on your rephrasing, 
clarification, redefinition, summary 
and reformulation statements, and 
finally on your reflection of the "sense 
of the meeting." We T re all human and 
there's no such thing as true objec- 
tivity. Despite the best efforts, you 
could subtly bend things in the direc- 
tion of your own opinions, or you might 
simply misjudge the sense of the group. 
It f s important for the group to reject 
such statements if they're incorrect. 

It is extremely valuable to set a tone 

* in the group of openness, with the ex- 
pectation that the group monitors the 
facilitator. Let people know that it 

* is their responsibility to disagree with 


you, "I'm going to call * em as I see 
'em, so if you see things differently, 
please say so right away. My interpre- 
tation isn't necessarily right-" This 
tone setting is ideal, if the group can 
follow through with it, because it can 
be deadly boring for the facilitator 
to be constantly asking for group 
approval for his or her interpretations, 
Find a balance between an overly confi- 
dent, cavalier approach and an uncer- 
tain, wimpy one. 

Decision Identification and Implement a - 

■ — i i * 


Once a decision is made, the facilitator 
should make sure that everyone under- 
stands what it is and what it is not. 
Make sure it gets recorded. If there is 
'any possibility of doubt, have the note 
taker read it back to the group to en- 
sure clarity. Also make sure the group 
decides how the decision will be car- 
ried out. Who will take responsibility 
to see that it is done? By when will it 
be done? What are the criteria for 
knowing it has been done? What kind of 
review or follow-up is necessary and 
when will this happen? (See the section 
entitled, "Recording and Implementing 
Decisions, " in Chapter 6, STRUCTURING 




—What exactly is the decision? 

— Kho is going to do it? 

— *fa & t information and/or materi- 
als do they need to do it? 

—By when will it be done? 

— How will the group know it has 
been done? 



Auvine, et al. 

"Leadership for Change" by Bruce Kokopeli 
and George Lakey 

"Meeting Facilitation: The No-Magic 
Method" by Berit Lakey 



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viLi^r?::::: Here it uiittiizvii 

Da^in typurlter! Cven the celebrationary boot is screwed n^-fj irorklnf on 
the edit in* was cost therapeutic— ^ept *e fro-n really crashing out her*, Wish 
I cauM be there for the layout too (I'd bo^ed to hitch a ride o«t vdth t*ie guy 
next door irbose wife is no^ in :!adiaon— but she's coming HFR3 in Feb insceas ^^) * 
I am nost excited to think it nay soon be over (I know, 1 sound like all the 
nostra announcements^)--) Aiyhow, L* theee's any additional work to do, I 
/unfortuiiatelvykiea have the tiae to do it, 

!!ope all is ftoins veil with all of you. I miss you all terribly. 






Chapter 8 




Communication Skills 




i 1 






Communication skills are vital in any 
group that uses consensus decision making 
To use consensus 7 participants must not 
only be able to impart information ef- 
fectively, but must also be able to un- 
der stand each othe r when their opinions, 
values, '^or feelings differ. Communica- 
tion skills are necessary for meetings 
to work veil and for facilitation to be 
effective* These skills are also im- 
portant during the day-to-day operation 
of the group, as members develop the re- 
lationships that help them use consen- 
sus at meetings* (See Chapter ll A 
about the importance of oormmmication 
in this respect^ and for some sample 
conmurvi cation exercises*) 

The goal of communication is to increase 
understanding between people for a vari- 
ety of purposes, You may want to ex- 
change information needed for a decision, 
express feelings so others will know why 
an issue is important to you, ask for 
something you need, or increase under- 
standing for its own sake — because it 
feels good. In this chapter we present 
some techniques that can make communica- 
tion more effect ive. Many of the skills 
we describe are actually tools for pre- 
venting or clearing up misunderstanding. 
Since misunderstanding is most trouble- 
some when it involves feelings or criti- 
cism, we will emphasise these personal 


areas . But we want to stress that the 
principles and skills described here are 
useful in ail kinds of communication, 
including group discussions where ideas 
and opinions are exchanged, 



Communication involves more than just 
accurately transmitting information: 
it also requires that people know they 
are being understood. Speakers need 
^esgonse^ that let them know the other 
person hears and cares about what they 
are expressing. They also need to know 
what the listener thinks or feels in 
respons e . tojfii^Q32m^ica^tion . is a 
cooperative_acti5tity_ in which people 
shareTresponsibility, help and support 
each other. {Sounds like consensus 
decision t making, doesn't it? It is,) 

Listen Actively 

n Mm m 

People tend to think of the listener 1 s 
role as a passive one* The listener 
receives from and is acted upon by the 
speaker, A good listener, though, 
shares the responsibility for increas- 
ing understanding by paying close at- 
tention and trying to understand. Good 
listening means usin g yo ur own co mmuni- 
cat ion s kills to^eip-jjoa^jspeaker ^get 
thejmes sage__acro s s . 



There are several specific things you 
can do as a listener: 

— Make an effort to really hear what 
the speaker is saying. Try to put your- 
self in the speaker f s shoes and see 
things from her or his perspective. 
Refrain from making any judgments for 
the time being. Withholding: . j udgment 
will help you be more open to what is 
said and will help create a non- 
threatening climate in which feelings, 
beliefs and values can be expressed, 

— Let the speaker know that you are 
listening, that you care. All those 

ile_signals (eye contact, head nods, 
"Yeah, I know") can reassure the speaker 
that you are involved and that you are 
making an effort to understand. 

— When you don [ t understand, seek 
more information* Ask questions or 
paraphrase. {The use of .questions and 
paraphrasing is discussed below, ) 

Examine Your Assumptions 

People make generalisations all the 
time—there is no avoiding it. They take 
specific bits of information and draw 
conclusions from them. {Barb is reading 
The Women's Room^ so Barb must be a 
feminist.) This kind of logical reason- 
ing is the way the human mind works. 
But in a quest for understanding , assump- 
tions about other people, or what they 

* mean, may be wrong , or incomplete, or may 
close your mind to the true significance 
of new information from that person. To 
reduce the misunderstanding that assump- 
tions can cause, try to be aware of the 
conclusions you draw about others. Be 
conscious that they are just speculation, 
Think about what information has led you 

\ to make those assumptions and recognize 
that there are other conclusions you 
might make from that same information. 
When an assumption about another person 
affects the way you communicate with 
her or him, you might want to share the 
assumption with the person and find out 

f if it is valid, explaining why you are 
doing so, 


Try to put yourself in the speaker's shoe 
and see things from her or his perspective 


Example: YoU might say, "Last week 
when I asked you about your medical 
problems, you didn r t want to talk 
about them. So I T m assuming you 
would rather I didn't ever bring up 
that subject. Am I right? rT 

By explaining why you have made partic- 
ular assumptions, you offer others the 
opportunity to give you new informa- 
tion or explanations. At the same time, 
you increase their understanding by 
letting them know what you think and 


Paraphrasing is a useful tool for clari- 
fying communication during a conversa- 
tion. It allows the speaker to know how 
well she or he is being understood and 
provides a second chance if a message 
was misperceived the first time. Para- 
phrasing consists of summarizing or re- 
stating what you have heard, Jnjrour 
own words, and asking the spe aker if 
th at is- what wa - s Teally meanly ~~~ 


Example: In response to repeated 
complaints on the theme of "I T m 
sick of all this extra work, " you 
might say, TT T fr-Mltfe laforfe JT hear 
you saying is that you haveTiad to 
pick up a lot more work since John 
left, and yon don r t think that's 
fair* You want the rest of the 
staff to pitch in more. Is that 
what you mean?" 

A tool related to paraphrasing is ex- 
pressing the unstated, message, you think 
you hear u betw_een_the„ .liags^ and seeing 
whether your perceptions are accurate, 
( ir I get the Impression that you would 
like me to offer to take over one of 
your projects. Is that what you want?") 
Itls impor tant not to jdo jbhis kind^qf 
"reading-between .±haJLin&s--4a--aii . 
accusing way. Use this tentative para- 
phrasing gently and sensitively. 


Ask Supportive Questions 

Questions are an obvious technique for 
getting information needed to understand 
the speaker's message better. Often it 
is up to the listener to ask questions 
because the speaker does not know what 

parts of the message are u nclea r, or that 
she or r 'he' w Kas^wrongly assumed a common 
background of information, a shared in- 
terpretation, or an insight that the 
listener does not have. 

Questions can also be supportive. They 
tell the speaker that you are interested 
and care about understanding. Sometimes 
asking questions lets the speaker know 
that it's OK with you to discuss a 
subject that she or he finds difficult 
to talk about. On the other hand, some- 
times questions can put pressure on a 
speaker and make her or him feel chal- 
lenged or rl on the spot." A person can 
be embarrassed by a question she or he 
cannot or doesn ! t want to answer. So 
be sensitive to the effects of your 
questions, A period of silence after a 
question may signal discomfort, or it 
may mean that the speaker is taking a 
question seriously and is thinking about 
the answer* Don't assume too quickly 
that it means one or the other. Do, 
however, be willing to withdraw a ques- 
i tion if it is causing the speaker unnec- 
essary discomfort. 

Sometimes questions can put pressure 
on a speaker and make her or him 
feel "on the spot," 


There are two basic kinds of questions. 
An o pen-ended question allows an unlim- 
ited choice of responses . A closed- ended 
question has only two, or a small number, 
of possible responses, "How are you 
feeling right now? 11 is open ended. "Are 
you mad at me?" is closed, since the only 
possible answers are "yes" and "no," 
Usually open-ended questions are prefer- 
able since they don't lead the speaker, 
but allow her or him to respond in the 
way she or he wants* Use closed-ended 
questions when you need specific, de- 
fined information. Another tip is that 
positively phrased questions are usually 
more supportive than negative ones. 
"How could we have managed this meeting 
better?" is more hopeful, encouraging, 
and perhaps more productive than "What 
did we do wrong?" 

Levels of Responses 


Most of the things people say can be 
taken on three levels: 

— Content : The facts or information 
of the message, 

— Sentiment : How the speaker feels 
about what she or he is saying. 

— Intent : The 

reason fpr making the 


* '/, r£& 

J ol 


You can respond to anotfner person 4 s ^ lf * 
statement on any one of these levels- <ffl ^ 
For example, Jane might say, "I sent my 
article about our new energy saving 
system to the community newspaper. Do 
you think they T 11 print it?" A content 
response to the question might be, "Well, % 
I know they only print about half the 
articles they receive, but it's been 
awhile since they had anything on that * 
topic, so the chances are better than 
50-50." A response at the level of 
sentiment might be, "Don't be nervous. 
I think you did a great job and if they 
don't print it, it won't be your fault." 
An intent response is one that considers 
the question, ''Why did Jane say what she 
just said to me?" In this case, such a 
response might be, "Are you asking my 
opinion because of my own newspaper ex- 


perience? I'd be glad to review the 
article and give you my opinion, if 
that's what you want." 

Since each of these responses is poten- 
tially an accurate reply to the message, 
it can be hard to know when a response 
is "off," not at the speaker's intended 
level. Sometimes even the speaker can- 
not identify why she or he feels a vague 
discomfort about a conversation, think- 
ing, "We are talking about the subject 
I brought up* Why am I not getting 
what I want out of the conversation?" 

Example: Al might say, "My truck 
needs new tires," and Lis might re- 
spond on the sentiment level t "Gee, 
you must be frustrated. Everything 
goes wrong with your truck, and now 
this, I know how you must feel*" 
Chances are that Al might continue 
speaking on Liz's level. "Yes, I'm 
sick and tired of dealing with that 
old truck," Or, "No, I'm not upset. 
I've known the tires were wearing 
out for a long time and I've been 
saving for new ones," It is easy 
for Al to accept Liz ' s response at 
face value because it is accurate 
or reasonable, without realizing 
that he is uncomfortable with the 
conversation because he r d hoped to 
communicate on the content level. 
Liz might have said, "I know some- 
thing about tires. What brand are 
you planning to buy?" and Al would 
have been satisfied by an accurate 
response at his intended level. 

Different people are more comfortable 
communicating at different levels and 
may automatically reply at the same 
level most of the time. Try to be alert 
to all three levels and develop your 
ability to respond at each of them. 
When something about a conversation 
seems "off," use your awareness of the 
different levels to diagnose if respond- 
ing at the wrong level is the problem. 
If you have doubts, ask about the other 
person's intent* 










Example: "Are you telling me about 
all your bad experiences because you 
want emotional support? Or were you 
telling me your problems so I won't 
repeat your mistakes? Or is it some 
other reason?" 


Feedback and criticism are potentially 
frightening activities. Sometimes it is 
very threatening to hear what another 
person thinks about you. It is equally 
risky to talk to someone about observa- 
tions or problems you have with them. 
Yet often when people avoid giving feed- 
back or criticism for too long, the 
situation gets worse and worse, or the 
feelings become increasingly intense, 
and an originally minor problem becomes 

, a major crisis. It is easier to give 
needed feedback and criticism if you 

/ know specific communication techniques 
that promote clear communication and 
minimise threat. The techniques de- 
scribed below work best when they are 
used in a supportive atmosphere among 
people who trust each other. Some 
people find it easier to give aiid re- 
ceive criticism in a group , when they 
are surrounded by friends who provide 
emotional support, and who can add their 
own insights or perceptions to the 
discussion. Others prefer the privacy 
of one- on-one interaction where they 
can focus exclusively on the person 
they are talking to, and where they 
feel less vulnerable. 




Feedback is telling another person how 
you perceive what she or he did or said. 
Usually your perceptions are closely 
tied to some kind of judgment you have 
made about that behavior, an interpre- 
tation or evaluation. When you give 
feedback to someone, it is important 
to separate the specific behavior from 
your judgment about it. If you tell 
Bill he is lazy, he will probably not 
know why you think that. If you speci- 
fy that he is behind on his work load, 
or that he doesn't put the lids back on 
jars, he will know what you are talking 
about, (And what is going to be more 
productive to talk about? An abstract 
concept like laziness, or specific be- 
haviors like keeping up with a work 
load?) The most useful feedback 
describes rather than evaluates. It 
is specific rather than general. And 
if it does include some kind of inter- 
pretation on your part, it should be 
stated in tentative rather than absolute 
terms. ( tr You seem like you have a lot 
of enthusiasm for this project, TT rather 
than, "You're really in a hurry to dive 
into this. 11 ) 


Criticism is a complex process that in- 
cludes feedback. Criticism is appro- 
priate when another person's behavior, 
as you have observed it, has caused a 
problem and when you are dissatisfied and 
want change. The process of criticism 
includes telling the other person your 
observations, explaining how you feel 
about their behaviors, and stating what 
you want to be different and why. 

ConrmunJcation Skills Section and scope: 

The sections on Conmun, stalls, emotions* etc* are good, but they 
[ stray far fiuc^x from consensus per se. There's too much here. Says Joe; 
> it strays too far from what he'd expect a consensus manual to include; 
[He suggests cutting back on the common, section, editing back to the 
skills directly related to Facilitating the reaching of consensus, for 
instance, talking about eye contact as an important tool for the facili- 
tator to use In assessing if someone is finished speaking, or wants to 

speak, etc. 

Joe is alpo making an aesthetic judgment about the scope of the 
book as it no^ stands. He thinks It lacks unity, is kinB of unwetldy. 

He suggests using Appendices for the less-central material. 






Although it often has negative connota- 
tions in this culture, criticism can be 
used in a positive, growth-oriented way. 
It can help groups to see new and better 
ways of working together, A construc- 
tively critical process can enhance group 
unity by correcting misunderstandings 
and relieving fears that keep group mem- 
bers from working together effectively. 
These positive effects are most likely 
to happen when criticism is separated 
from blame and approached as a shared f 
cooperative process. 

Before you criticise someone, ask your- 

—Is it an appropriate time to dis- 
cuss this topic? 

— Is the person in a good emotional 
state to receive criticism? 

— Am I in a good frame of mind myself? 
(Or do I just want to strike out some- 
where because of other frustrations I am 

— Is the behavior or problem something 
that the other person has the power to 

— Am I willing to take responsibility 
for helping to make that change? (This 
might include being specific about what 
you want, maintaining the relationship 
long enough to provide necessary emo- 
tional support j being open to compro- 
mise or change yourself, ) 


— Has the person indicated a willing- 
ness to hear the criticism? Is it about 
something she or he has been told before 
and chosen not to act on? 

Steps for giving criticism: 

A ■■■■■— i , . tT ■ ■ 

1. If the criticism is potentially 
upsetting for the other person, or if it 
will require a long discussion, then ask 
first whether this is a good time for 
the person to talk about something im- 

2, Begin by giving feedback about 
the specific behavior you are responding 
to. Behavioral feedback requires a de- 
scription of what was done and includes 
statements prefaced with, ir When I saw 
you do , , ," — "You said a few minutes 
ago that , , . " It is an observation 
without evaluating what you saw. 

3- The next step is to identify how 
you feel about the behavior. Verbalising 
feel ings independently of the stated ob- 
servation has several advantages: a) it 
reduces the chance that the criticism 
will be misinterpreted; b) it allows oth- 
ers to understand your feelings and to 
correct you if they think your interpre- 
tation is wrong; and c) it expresses 
mutual responsibility by assuming that 
your feelings and the other person f s 
behavior combine to make a shared problem* 

=<■*. i 

^VoV. - 


J*- -y* ^-^-^^v^t^ 4*«~U?^ 


*-^jy-*3 yp*-<LJU.'t 

C43*+*- -fa U**&LJk~ 

(— "KaeJk 

HCkU. ct+k- /ks.^ '+ ^ 


^fi^\ <atuxaWft<Arf_p 


V%\* ^ ^ A^ ^V»^^WNN* ^^ N^^ V N 


N**rt* * *^ V * A iS*S^ ^^ WM W»i 

*^ ^ V 

._!. AS 


r ?7y/ 


*3 1 - - 

» &4jl>v &-U^V^ _£L&~&& 

Example: A feeling statement after 
a description of the behavior might 
be, "When you take time off to chat 
with your friends during working 
hours , I have to cover for you and 
then I think I am being taken advan^ 
tage of and I get angry," 

V, You also have to state what you 
want the other person to do differentl y. 
H ake clear what you want thgm^ t o doj fnot 
fagl^thiak or be). Say what you want, 

not what youdon't want, ( tr I want you 
to tell me when you think I am being rude 
to you/* rather than, t! I don r t want you 
to hide your feelings from me/ 1 ) 

If there is any question about who you 
arejaddres&ing, make that clear- If ~y5u 
say to^a group, "Some of us need to be 
more careful about cleaning up after 
ourselves," everyone will wonder who you 
mean, and if it could be themselves. 
( T1 I think I left a dirty coffee cup out 
last week. I wonder if he's mad at me.") 
It ' s better to be direct, about who you 
are talking to, 

5* The final step is to say why you 
want the change . Explaining "why" might 
require a statement about your own values 
("I really like to work in a clean of- 
fice") or it may clarify how the change 
in behavior will help you ("If I'm not 
distracted, I can get my work done more 
quickly" ) . Openly expressing your own 
yajjieg, and ja^e^e^ helps to make criticism 
a cooperative process. The other person 
can better understand the reasons for 

your criticism and has an opportunity to 
object if your reasons seem wrong or 
unfair. Sharing information also in- 
creases the likelihood of a mutually 
agreeable change. 

Receiving criticism : When you are being 
criticized, try to listen well, using the 
techniques described above under "Listen- 
ing. " The following rules are helpful to 

1- Listen carefully to what the per- 
son is saying. Refrain initially from 
expressing your agreement or disagree- 
ment. Simply show that you have under- 
stood. Paraphrasing is helpful here. 
You might say, "The problem, then, as 
you see it, is • , . " — "If I understand 
you correctly, you feel we should + . . " 
After you have summarised what you heard , 
give the person a chance to agree or dis- 
agree with your perceptions. Continue to 
liste n actively and ga^aphrase until all 
misunderstanding seems to be resolved and 
you believe that you understand what the 
person thinks, feels, and would like to 
see happen to change things. 

2- Wait quietly through pauses in the 
conversation to encourage the other per- 
son to say all that may be on her or his 
mind. Don't rush to fill silences. 

3- Use open-ended questions to en- 
courage the person to continue talking* 
"How did you feel about that?" — "Is 
there anything else that's bothering 
you?" — "Where do you think we disagree?" 


4. Don f t take the focus of the con- 
vers at ion away from the person who is 
criticizing you by disagreeing or by 
talking about yourself, your thoughts, 
or your perceptions* Delay your re- 
V sponse until you have heard what she or 
A he has to say and you have used para- 
phrasing or other techniques to check 
your understanding of the criticism. 
Only when you understand, and the other 
person agrees that you understand, is 
it time to respond with your own per- 
ceptions and feelings • 



JOINING TOGETHER by Frank and David 


"Face Saving j Criticism and Defensive^ 
ness n by Celeste Rice 




The techniques described above are tools 
for communicating more effectively. If 
used judiciously, you can communicate 
better yourself and can help others to 
do so as well. Please do not treat these 
tools as dogma or use them to gain an 
unfair advantage over people who have 
not learned the skills- An unsympa- 
thetic use of verbal proficiency by one 
person can intimidate others who are 
less skilled, and can cause resentment. 
Communication in consensus groups should 
be used to increase understanding among 
people, and the tools described in this 
chapter should be used toward that end. 


I r 



er 9 


Working With Emotions 


Attention to emotions in a group is a 
practical and sometimes a necessary part 
of getting the group's wbrk done, 

— A constructive and sensitive look 
at members 1 feelings may not only point 
out problems that might otherwise be 
overlooked, but can also be the spark of 
energy by which creative solutions are 

--Working directly with feelings can 
avert serious problems those feelings 
could cause if left unattended. A "hid- 
den ag enda , TT for example, is an unex- 
pressed motivation that leads a group 
member to behave a certain way, or to 
promote a certain decision. 

Example: Dan may urge the group to 
act quickly on a certain proposal 
for a number of reasons which he ex- 
plains to the group. But his hidden 
agenda may be the fact that he Is in 
a bad mood and wants the meeting to 
end quickly so he can go home* 

A group can work together better when 
members try to be aware of their hidden 
agendas and address them when they cause 

— At times the whole group will ex- 
perience feelings that disrupt their 
work* In such cases, it's better to 
respond to those feelings and do some- 
thing about them than to limp along with 
an ineffective process. 

— You may want to try to affect the 
emotional climate in a way that will help 
the group, to increase members 1 happi- 
ness and satisfaction so they will con- 
tinue to be active members. To do this, 
you must address members' feelings and 
the things that affect those feelings, 

Peelings are an important part of the 
experience of working with a group. 

Most people value being in a group for 
emotional reasons: it feels good to be 
with people they like, to share with 
others, and to get emotional support 
for the work they are doing. But since 
feelings can be hard to understand, to 
control, or to predict, groups often 
ignore their emotional experience and 
focus on the "t hin king work" at hand. 
Since most people aren T t as skilled or 
confident in working with emotions as 
they are at functioning rationally, 
they often just hope that the feelings 
will take care of themselves. 


Most of the time you can get away with 
neglecting emotions because the norm in 
this culture is not to show strong feel- 
ings except to a few, intimate friends. 
Yet those emotions are there and they 
affect the group and its individual mem- 
bers* People may be experiencing any 
of a wide range of pleasant or unpleas- 
ant feelings or attitudes toward other 
group members, toward the whole group, 
or toward the world at large. These 
feelings are an important part of the 
groups experience and members need to 
be able to respond to those feelings 
when it becomes necessary. 


Sometimes it doesn't matter where feel- 
ings come from — the important question 
is what to do about them. At times , 
though, identifying the source of cer- 
tain emotions can help you handle their 
effects. Below are some places to 
look for sour ces o f feelings. 

One obvious source of feelings is the 
immediate situation in the group r For 
instance, you may feel a sense of ur- 
gency that a proposed measure be adopt- 
ed; you may feel angry or hurt about a 
comment that ignores or belittles your 
perspective; you may feel pleased about 
how well your group works together and 
feel a secure, happy sense of belonging. 
These kinds of feelings arise from a 
specific, imffi§4iate situation. 

Another source of feelings in a group is 
jpast inisraetj^ns . You may hold a grudge 
""from a time in the past when you didn't 
get what you thought you should* Resent- 
ments remaining from past struggles over 
power issues might bring anger, guilt, 
fear, and other feelings into play. 
Whatever their source, emotions rooted 
in past experiences are usually less 
clear and understandable than feelings 
arising from current events, 

A third source of feelings is a group's 
natural emotional cycles. There are two 
types of cycles. The first, the work - 
emotion cycle, involves the feelings that 



arise out of the group's normal work pro- 
cess. For example, working in a meeting 
is often frustrating. The frustration 
builds up until the group needs to blow 
off steam by joking, arguing, gossiping, 
stretching, generally relaxing and re- 
focusing- This type of cycle is natural 
and should be expected. {See the "Meet- 
ing Phases " section of Chapter 6^ 

A group's emotional life cycle also af- 
fects members 1 feelings. There are cer- 
tain points in a group's history when 
members have more specific emotional 
needs than at other times: when the 
group is first forming, when it adds new 
members, when it changes its goals and 
direction, when individuals in the group 
give up something familiar, such as an 
accustomed role or control over a task 
they've handled for awhile. These t lines 
are emotionally difficult because mem- 
bers are uncertain of how to act in the 
group and because they are re-negotiating 
power and influence relations in the 
group. Such periods are often marked 
with open conflict; almost always members 
will feel Some tension. 




While you're thinking about the sources 
of feelings in a group, look to your in~ 

ioris^ Often you'll know that emo- 
tions are affecting group process, with- 
out being sure what the feelings are or 
how they're working. If you sense that 
the feelings are important, don't be 
afraid to ask the affected members 
what's going on. 

It's useful to remember that this ^cjiI^ 
tnre-^ ggneral]y d isnQyirftg»p.q pgnp]_g_Jr^Tn — - 
express ing feelings , so even a wrought- 
up group may not be showing much emotion 
outwardly* A group that has not built 
up a base of mutual trust will be less 
open in showing feelings than will a 
relaxed and trusting group. An indi- 
vidual who doesn't yet trust the group 
also tends to be less open. As you 
look at the group, keep in minct-the 
dggpee^CJini^ and be 

sensitive to $ubtle_ej^res s ion (or sup- 
' — ^oression) of emotions* 

Tension and boredom in a group may be 
signs that emotions are influencing the 
group's process or progress. Some indi- 
cations of tension are: long uncomfort- 
'^Nble silences (as opposed to comfortable 
periods of quiet), lack of eye contact, 
people withdrawing into themselves, out- 
bursts of anger, one person dominating 

the discussion while others hold back, 
a general lack of sharpness or focus in 
the group, noticeably more or less jok- 
W ing and noisiness or quietness than 

usual, or people talking more quietly 
1/ or loudly than usual. Common signs of 
'\boredom include wandering eyes, coughing, 
slow responses to questions, and of 
course, snoring* 

Remember, though, that all these behav- 
iors are also ordinary and normal to 
some degree. Please do not over-analyze 
your group. No group is always smooth 
and ideally "together," Li fact, groups 
often value tension as a prerequisite to 
creativity, and awkwardness as a sign of 
humanness. Look for these signs only in 



conjunction with your own intuitive sense 
about feelings in your group. They may 
help you see concretely what you only 
vaguely sensed before. 



There are two kinds of strategies you 
can follow when you see feelings are 
having an undesirable effect on a group. 
You can either do nothing, or you can 
intervene- -take action to change the 

The first option, non-intervention, is 
often ignored. People usually try to 
smooth away anger, hurt feelings or sor- 
row because they fear such unpleasant 
emotions. Rarely do members take ad- 
vantage of the constructive role that 
emotional struggles can play in moving 
a group along to creative changes and 
growth. Even if the feelings are not 
likely to have a long-range positive 
effect, it still may do more harm than 
good to bring the emotional state of the 
group out into the open. The feelings 
may be caused by something you have no 
power to change (a crisis in the private 
life of a group member, the candidate 
you worked so hard for lost the elec- 
tion) and talking about it right now 
might just make people feel worse. 
Perhaps it's just one of those things 
that will blow over. Perhaps it's 
something that needs to be dealt with, 



but this isn't the right time. Keep in 
mind that often the best action is noth- 
* ing other than flowing with the current 
of events. 

If you decide to intervene , there are two 
ways of doing so; you can diagnose the 
need and try to fill it without talking 
I about it; or you can talk with the group 
about what you see, and suggest action or 
get the group to decide what to do. 

As an example of the former case, you 
might notice that the group is restless 
and suggest a break. You don't have to 
tell the group that it is restless. Your 
intervention can move the group to a 
state where it can get work done, but it 
doesn't require that everyone re-direct 
their attention to the group's process. 
It is especially helpful if many members 

of the group are alert to signs of feel- 
ings in the group and can share the role 
of intervening or facilitating on the 
emotional level. 

The other option is to openly intervene 
by telling the group what feelings you 
sense. The group as a whole may then 
choose to discuss the feelings and act 
on them. This is the most straight- 
forward approach, and working together 
on feelings can strengthen and unify a 
group. Some potential problems with 
this approach are that it can increase 
tension in the group and distract it 
from the task at hand. If the group 
fails to respond well, the effect can be 

Most groups find some kind of balance 
between the amount of energy they put 


A group of demonstrators had been block- 
ading a nuclear pover plant. Unexpected- 
ly, a large number of guards rushed from 
inside the plant grounds, picked the 
demonstrators up bodily, and hurled them 
aside in order to allow a new shift of 
workers- to be rushed through the gate. 
The demonstrators, physically and psy- 
chically bruised, met to decide what to 
do next. Frustration and anger were 
causing much tension, and people were 
close to flying off the handle. They 
were not thinking clearly and were more 
concerned about revenge than about the 
original purpose of the demonstration. 
Finally, one man said, "I don't like the 
way we are feeling and acting right now* 
Can we sing a song to calm ourselves 
down? 1 * The group spent about five min- 
utes singing a peaceful song. People 
relaxed* began thinking clearly again, 
and were able to get a better perspec- 
tive on the situation. They went home 
feeling good about themselves and each 
other, ready to plan for the next step 
in a long campaign. A violent reaction 
was averted and positive energy was re- 
ignited for working towards the group f s 


CCR met to have a potluck in one member's 
home. It was intended to precede another 
long, difficult meeting in a series of 
tense meetings with overloaded agendas. 
One member came to the meeting grieving 
over a personal tragedy that had occurred 
recently, and he described his feelings 
to the group during the check- in time 
that normally begins our meetings. Other 
members, feeling this person's sadness, 

and also knowing that the group as a 
whole needed to nourish each other inore 
than we needed to address our work for 
the night, dropped the meeting's agenda 
in an unspoken agreement. The evening 
was spent sitting quietly around the 
table, reminiscing about memories > and 
learning about each other's past experi- 
ences. Sharing these things quietly 
with each other allowed us to go home 
feeling re- connected as a group. We got 
a little further behind on our tasks, 
but in the long run group unity and com- 
mitment towards those tasks was im- 
proved . The meeting is still remembered 
as a special time that reminded each of 
ue why we have chosen to work together* 




- into working on feelings and the amount 
they focus on their tasks. Too much 
time spent on feelings can be exhaust- 
ing and can keep the group from getting 
work done. Too little time on feelings 
may result in members feeling unsupport- 
ed and becoming alienated, or may hurt 
group cohesion because members don't 
have a chance to feel personally in- 
volved with each other. 

When you are deciding what approach to 
use for responding to emotions in your 
* group, consider the group, the problem 
or situation, what your goals are, and 
what you yourself are comfortable with. 

Specific Intervention Techniques for 
Responding to Feelings 

If you opt for some kind of intervention, 
there are several techniques you can use. 
Some are better suited to working with 
"positive" feelings and some are better 
for "negative" ones,.- Some'are applicable 
to both kinds of situations, 

— Energy and excitement can be chan- 
neled productively into a brainstorming 
session that will bring out lots of 
good ideas, Round robin excitement 
sharing can bring out the good feelings 
more explicitly. Or the group can ap- 
plaud or celebrate itself in some other 
way, such as a dance or song. 

^ r 

— A session spent working with anger, 
fear, or other unpleasant feelings can 
start with a minute of silence. Each 
person can use this time to identify 
and clarify his or her own feelings, and 
to become composed enough to prevent a 
destructive interchange later on, S j- 
la nce is an opportunity for members to 

think for a moment without distraction, 
but it has benefits that go beyond the 
rational thought that occurs during this 
period. Silence is often soothing, .al- 
lows members to become "centered l T ir and 
breaks the flow of competitive, over- 
excited interchange. Often during si- 
lence, a member will realise that a 
point he or she was arguing for so 
urgently isn't really that important 
after all. 

• — "Fears in the hat" is a useful de- 
vice for dealing with peopled worries 
and developing empathy and solidarity 
in the group. Have each person write 
down a fear they have about a problem 
(or another feeling about a stated topic), 
Put the unsigned slips of paper into a 
hat. Then pass the hat around and have 
each person draw a paper , read it, and 
say how he or she feels about it. Can 
he or she empathize, give encourage- 
ment, or identify with the feelings ex- 
pressed? This exercise can help members 
see the common lines of feelings in the 
group. They may feel relieved to hear 
their own fears stated by others, or 
they might get a new perspective on what 
others are feeling. _ A 


— "Light and Livelies," or quick 
games, help people loosen up and feel 
like full human beings rather than 
thinking machines. These activities 
may also lessen or smooth out bad feel- 
ings that arose in recent discussion. 
Of course, games also take advantage 
of the good energy in a group- (For a 
fuller explanation of this technique ^ 
see the section entitled "Encourage 
Social Interaction** in Chapter XI ^ 

— Finally, at times, emotions are 
best dealt with in an informal way, out- 
side the group meeting , The facilitator 
or another member might take responsi- 
bility for checking on someone's feelings 
during a break or after the meeting. Or. 
if there is a conflict between two people 
the disputants may decide to deal with 
it later, between themselves* 


Long- Range Techniques for Your Group 

There will always be occasional little 
emotional crises that pop up from time 
to time and need to be dealt with on the 
spot, using techniques like the ones 
described above, A lot can be done, 
though, to build your group's ability 
to deal with day-to-day feelings an a 
healthy way* Below are some suggestions 


—Try to foster in your group a habit 
of communicating openly about feelings. 
You, as an individual, can help this 
along by acting as a model, expressing 
your own feelings, and encouraging oth- 
ers to do so by asking supportive ques- 

—End all meetings with an evaluation 
session. By promoting opportunities for 
members to speak personally, be open 
with their feelings, and be specific in 
their comments, your group can avoid 
defensiveness and build trust in its mem- 
bers. (See "Evaluations" in Chapter 5, 

— Hold occasional meetings for the 
purpose of dealing with feelings. Mem- 
bers can be encouraged to talk about 
their feelings about the group, about 
others in the group, about their own 
role, or other pertinent issues. These 
sessions can take the form of a weekend 
retreat, a twice-a-year general evalua- 
tion session, or whatever seems best for 
the group. 

BUILDING^ for more ideas about how to 
develop a group that can deal with 
feelings in a constructive and support- 
ive way. 

Talking About Fears and Resentments 

Outbursts of anger or disgust often 
signal an opening up, like a dam burst- 
ing. Your first tendency might be to 
try to cool things down, but sometimes 
it's a good idea to take advantage of 
this expression of previously-suppressed 
feelings. The problem is that while the 
outburst of hard feelings can be a cata- 
lyst for constructive change and move- 
ment, many people have trouble talking 

about the fears and anger which they may 
have towards other group members. Be- 
cause they want to avoid conflict, be- 
cause they don T t want to hurt others or 
make them angry, because they are afraid 
of being wrong, or because they just 
don't have a good opportunity, members 
often hold these feelings inside. This 

can allow tensions to build up and mis- 
understandings to occur, thus interfering 
with participants' enjoyment of the 
group's work. 

V v 

Groups that practice radical therapy use 

specific technique to get these feel- 
ings out in the open. They plan a cer- 
Ktain time in a meeting when members can 
express "paranoid fantasies 11 and "held 
resentments. rf 

A "paranoid fantasy" is a fear about 
someone else's thoughts, feelings or 
intentions. This is Ron's chance to say, 
"Dina, you kept looking out the window 
while I was talking awhile ago, and I 
was afraid you were disapproving of my 
ideas, but didn't want to say so." Since 
a fear of this kind is always based on 
some kind of experience, Dina should 
answer Ron by searching for whatever 
grain of truth she can find in his fear 
and responding to it. Perhaps he was 
right; if so, Dina should acknowledge 
it. Perhaps Dina didn't disapprove of 
Ron's ideas, but her mind was wandering 
to some personal concerns and it was 
understandable that Ron should take her 
inattention personally. In that case, 
she should explain, 

"Held resentments 11 are private angers or 
irritations with the behavior of others 
in the group. Perhaps these angers seem 
petty, or unjustified, or perhaps they 
signify a greater underlying conflict. 
Whatever the case, the feelings are real. 
Expressing them in an honest, respectful 
way to the person involved brings the 
problems out in the light where they can 
be taken care of, or simply acknowledged. 
(A good way of expressing tr held resent- 
ments'* is described under "Feedback and 
Criticism" in Chapter 5 4 COMMUNICATION 

You may not want to set aside time for 
these feelings at all your meetings, but 
it is useful to do so occasionally. 
** Besides giving group members an oppor- 
tunity to express hidden feelings, it 
will give them a chance to learn how to 
work with the feelings. It also helps 


the group acknowledge the importance of 
paying attention to feelings, which may 
encourage members to express fears and 
angers more constructively at all times. 


We want to remind you that all those 
good-feeling emotions are important and 
require attention, too! Shared excite- 
ment, love for each other, satisfaction 
with the group's work, and good humor 
are all part of the rewards of being in 
a good group , These feelings should be 
valued and nurtured. The group may want 
to analyze: "Where does this feeling 
come from? What can we do to make it 
happen in the future?" The suggestions 
above for analysing the sources of feel- 
ings and responding to them are appli- 
cable here. 

Occasionally, exuberant high spirits 
will get in the way of doing an impor- 
tant task. In such an instance, you 
may choose to give into those feelings, 
deciding that the good group experience 
is worth a loss of time at work. If the 
work has to be done, though,' you can 
intervene by using a group activity that 
burns excess energy and allows expres- 
sion of all those happy feelings that 
are trying to burst out—perhaps a group 
song — before digging back into work* 


Sometimes unpleasant emotions are good 
for the group , too, and should be 
temporarily encouraged. Open expression 
of conflict can clear the air and make 
the group aware of problems that need 
to be solved. At times anger at social 
wrongs is valuable because it gives 
people energy to work for change • A 
strong expression of anger or pain by 
one group member can make everyone aware 
of how important it is to change a bad 





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* w«w*wN**««W V 

Chapter 10 

Conflict and Problem Solving 

Conflict is a natural * healthy part of 
any group's process. In fact, If there 
is little or no conflict in your group, 
you should be suspicious. Members may 
be holding back some of their real 
thoughts and feelings because they are 
afraid that expressing disagreement 
might be destructive to the group or 
the people in it. This is dangerous. 
Conflict that is suppressed and stored 
up can lead to smoldering resentments 
that might erupt in the future* It's 
true that conflict can be destructive. 
If the group handles it properly, how- 
ever, conflict can also be constructive , 
leading to greater clarity, creativity 
and growth. 


If you have been reading this handbook 
straight through up to this point, most 
of the concepts described below will al- 
ready be familiar to you* The same 
group skills and principles that are 
useful in consensus decision making are 
also useful for responding to conflict. 
You might want to treat this chapter as 
a quick review of some of the most im- 
portant points expressed earlier, as 
well as a good framework to fall back 
on when there is a conflict in your 
group and you need to know what to do. 

1, Accept conflict as natural. Don f t 
be afraid of it. When conflict occurs in 
your group, treat it as an opportunity to 
examine the issues involved in depth and 
to learn more about the underlying values 
and assumptions you hold. Accept the S 
challenge to find imaginative and crea- 
tive responses to conflicting ideas. 

2* Bring hidden conflicts out in the 
open. If you think there is a conflict 
hidden under the surface that is causing 
problems in the group, call it out at an 
appropriate time. If you see signs of 
unexpressed disagreement, ask those in- 
volved what they are feeling. 


3. Disagree with ideas, not with 
people. Don't accuse or blame group 
members who are in conflict with you* 
Try to put yourself in their shoes: 
what are their needs, values, assump- 
tions and previous experiences? Remem- 
ber that your goal is to work together 

* to find a mutually acceptable solution. 
This task may be difficult when you're 
in the heat of an argument, but do it to 
the degree that you can. No matter how 
intense a conflict is, never turn a dis- 
agreement over ideas, beliefs, proce- 

y dures or plans into a personal attack 
against another person, 

k m When defining an issue or problem, 
1 always define it as shared. Responsi- 
bility for a conflict never lies with 
just one person or faction. Say, ,r We do 
not agree about distribution of office 
space, " not "Jack refuses to share his 
desk, tr Say, "Mary and Tom have a prob- 
lem coordinating their work schedules," 
not "Tom is never around when Mary needs 
to consult with him*" 

5* Identify and focus on the most 
^ important, central issues to the conflict. 
Sometimes a group will flounder in gener- 
al disagreement or confusion about a 
decision until someone "sharpens" the 
conflict by pointing out where the most 
basic point of contention seems to be* 
Focusing on this issue may have the 
short-range effect of escalating conflict, 

* but it is a necessary step to understand- 
ing and dealing with disagreement. 

Example: Your group is trying to de- 
cide whether to donate some money to 
the strike fund of a local union that 
needs support. The discussion touches 
on political issues, how long the 
strike is likely to last, how much 
the group can affort, expected ex- 
penses coming up, how responsible your 
group is to contributors who have 
given it money to spend on its own 
projects. Then someone says, "It 
seems to me that the real issue here 
is whether or not we need to keep some 
money in reserve for emergencies. I 
think Susan and Rich are saying that 
it's important to do that, while Pat 


is saying that we need to use our 
funds, not hoard them up." This state- 
ment turns out to be right on target 
and leads to a heated debate. But now 
the group is focused on working out 
the central issue, rather than dis- 
1 cussing peripheral topics on which 
there is little basic disagreement. 

To identify what is the central issue for 
you, don f t argue just for the sake of ar- 
; guing. Instead of dwelling on what is 
i wrong with a statement you disagree with, 
try looking for what is right. There may 
y be areas where you just can't find right- 
% ness, ideas which you cannot bring your- 
self to accept; these are the important 
issues in the conflict, JTour^i^a^on^may 
be based in logical principlejS ^^or j 

Both are 

Once you feel you understand 
the important issues in a conflict, don't 
get sidetracked into tangential subjects, 

6. Don't polarize the conflicting 

' J positions. It is easy to start looking 
at a conflict in terms of mutually ex- 
clusive positions, ("You are either with 
me or against me.") This attitude may 
blind participants to the wide range of 
direct ions j viewpoints, and decisions 
that will be available if they keep their 
minds open. 

7. Don't compromise too quickly. By 
; "compromise," we mean a solution that is 

halfway between the opposing viewpoints, 
in which each side gets part, but not all 
of what it wanted. Compromise often 
seems to be the fairest response, or at 
least an easy way to end a conflict 
quickly. And sometimes after consider- 
ing a problem in depth, a group may de- 
cide that a compromise is a necessary, 
or even the best, solution. By compromis- 
ing too quickly, however, you may not 
% adequately explore the problem and its 
potential solutions. The ideal solution 
to a conflict is a creative one which 
finds a way to give everyone what they 
most need. 

Example: A few members of a collec- 
tive store argue that the store should 
be open on Saturdays, Many of the 
clientele they are trying to serve do 
their shopping on Saturday, and fre- 
quently express disappointment that 
the store isn't open then* Other 
staff members are against this pro- 
posal because they value having the 
whole weekend free* An obvious com- 
promise would be to have the store 
open on alternate Saturdays, or to 
have it open Saturday mornings only. 
As the argument progresses, however, 
a solution is found that answers both 
sides 1 needs* The store will be open 
every Saturday, and the collective 
will hire someone part-time from the 
community to staff the store on those 
days* Anticipated increased business 
on Saturdays will provide the revenue 
to pay the additional salary. 

^ 8. If you aren f t centrally involved 
Tin a conflict, don't take sides too 
* quickly. The guidelines described above 
are often difficult to follow for per- 
sons who are emotionally embroiled in a 
heated debate. By remaining nonpartisan, 
you can better watch the process of the 
^meeting and help see that the guidelines 
are being followed. This doesn't mean 
that you shouldn't develop and express 
your opinion — you should. But at the 
same time, try to keep an open mind. If 
you del ay committin g yourself to _a L _parr_, 
tlcular]j?CTs± t^ be~~able to * 

c onsider more information Jbiatxcaaea.-out 
JL n lat er dis"cussiojL^and_yQiL will have^ 
more^Time^to think about the issue, 

9. Try to be aware of your own ^e^l—- 
Jngs and opinions during a conflict. 
The more you can cleaj^£_exp£g££_iLhat is 
* most important to you, what you really 
need and want, the better you will be 
able to communicate and negotiate with 

others* Very often people get side- 
tracked into intellectual, practical, or 
y political discussions because they are 
not aware of, or don't express, what they 
really feel. 

Example: Jan. Celeste and Chel were 
planning a workshop agenda* A par- 
ticular activity had been suggested and 
Chel kept coming up with practical 
reasons why the activity wouldn't work* 
Jan and Celeste kept responding to 
Chel's statements by telling her why 
the activity would work. Finally 
Chel said, "Wait a minute. I'm just 
thinking of all these problems be- 
cause I really hate that activity and 
I don ! t want to do it. In this case, 
Jan and Celeste said. "OK* Then let*s 
try to think of a different activity. 1 ' 
They might have said, "Can we go ahead 
and do the activity, but you find a 
role for yourself that you wouldn't 
mind too much? 1T or 1T We understand your 
feelings, but we would like to go 
ahead and do the activity, Will you 
agree to it, even though you don't 
like it? u or "Let's talk about your 
feelings about the activity and see 
if we can identify why you don't like 
it and what we can do about it, IT All 
t of these responses deal with the real 
problem, once it has been identified* 
But until Chel stated her true feel- 
ings, the group was bogged down in a 
pointless discussion of imaginary prob- 

You can also help other group members 
identify their feelings if they are not 
doing so themselves. In the example 
above, Jan or Celeste might have said to 
Chel, n It seems that you don't want to do 
this activity. Is there some reason why, 
other than the ones you are saying?" 
People tend to think that their needs 
and wants should be logically justifi- 

w w mw 



Ailsa says: 1 don't like calling any feelings "negative." 

Joe says: "Objections" is the language of Parliamentary Procedure 
Revise out, substitute with "concerns 11 or "resentments" or etc. 

able, so they often resort to rational 
arguments about subjects that actually 
have to do with their feelings. It is 
legitimate, however, to say, T1 I feel un- 
comfortable about this, even though I T m 
not sure why yet." The group should 
respect and support such a statement and 
should help the individual explore the 
reasons more, (This kind of exploration 
can be a fruitful experience that broad- 
ens the group 1 s awareness , but it can 
also be overdone. Don*t let every single 
second thought trip you up when you have 
thoroughly examined an issue and it is 
time to move ahead. } 

It is also important to know whgtyou 
a^aUyijfcto issue ..■ 

wfien it comes to choosing a final deci- 
sion. Identify which areas you can 
compromise or give up on, and don l t 
get stuck defending them to the death 
for the sake of principle, or because 
you hate to give in. On the other hand, 
don't offer to compromise just to be a 
good sport in areas that are very impor- 
tant to you. If you_^gre_e_to _ajiecisiq» 
unwilli nglx (or allow someone else to do 
"so), youwon T t really be committed to 
the agreement, or you will carry around 
resentment that might cause trouble later 

10. Remember that at times, the best 
tool for constructive conflict is a 
little quiet time. It is important for 
people to express themselves during im- 
portant discussions ; but sometimes the 
atmosphere gets so argumentative that 
people are no longer listening to each 
other. At this point, try calling a 
break, asking for a few minutes 1 silence, 
suggesting that people count to ten be- 
fore responding to a previous speaker, 
or in the case of an apparent deadlock, 
suggesting that the discussion stop and 
be picked up again at another time, 

11. Finally, when normal meeting 
discussion doesn't seem sufficient to 
work out a conflict, you may want to set 
up a sj^eei&l, st^ctur£d_procesj^JE^r 
dealing wit h it . Schedule a special 
meeEIagj or even an all- day retreaTT and 
use a neutral facilitator (either from 


inside or outside the group) to help you 
through a program for dealing with the 
conflict. One such structured process, 
the "Creative Problem Solving Technique," 
is described in the following section. 



Pressure is put on people to withdraw ob- 
jections; people with objections are oade 
to feel separate from the group; people 
are sometimes cross-examined in a hostile 
fashion about their objection; time is 
wasted arguing on whether an objection is 
right, rather than focusing on what can be 
done to EQet it* 

from ISVEST 




The creative problem solving technique 
employs the basic principles useful in any 
good decision making process, Normally 
groups try to apply these methods in an 
\r informal way, But when a group is dead- 
v locked in a conflict, or when_an issue 
, j is so volatile that it is hard to use 
Ngood decision -making techniques, a for- 
malised, step-by- step process can pro- 
vide a framework for approaching the 
situation in a constructive way. 

Step 1: Set up a special meeting- The 
problem- solving process takes plenty of 
time, and it can't be rushed: don r t ex- 
* pect it to be a short meeting. Call in 
someone to facilitate who is not person- 
ally involved in the conflict* 

Step 2 : Clear the air . If there is 
a great deal of hostility between the 
parties, this must be dealt with first. 
The process works most effectively when 
the conflicting parties trust one anoth- 
er; they must at least be committed to 
trying to meet each other T s needs as well 
as their own. You may want to use some 



communication or interpersonal sensitiv- 
ity exercises to build trust and under- 
standing, (Some exercises can be found 
BUILDING y in the section entitled "In- 
crease Involvement and Trust. " Also 
see references mentioned at the end of 
this chapter,) 

Step 3 : Define the problem . Define 
' it as shared s not as the fault of, or 
belonging to, one f1 side ir in the conflict. 
If you define a problem as shared , then 
the definition of a "successful" solution 
will be one that meets everyone's needs, 
rather than one that meets just your own. 

Define the problem in terms of needs , not 
la terms of a solution. Define those 
needs as specifically as possible. 

Example: To say, "We need to get more 
help from volunteers" is defining a 
solution. To say, "We have trouble 
getting everything done that we want 
•~n to do," is defining a need. To say, 
"We have trouble getting the work 
power to do our monthly mailings and 
to clean up the building/ 1 is defining 
needs even more specifically. 

There are several reasons for focusing on 
needs: a) it allows you to check out the 

legitimacy of the need (is it really so 
important? Is it a disguise for a dif- 
ferent need?}; b) it allows you creative 
freedom in searching for a solution, in- 
stead of following just one avenue; and 
c) it ensures that everyone is focusing 
on the same problem. 


Step k : Analyze the problem . Trace 
its hist cry j the involvement of the 
parties concerned, people's feelings. 
Get as clear an understanding as pos- 
sible. During this step you should 
jr still focus on sharing understanding, ■ 
not arguing about who is right or wrong, 
and not pursuing solutions. 

Step 5 : Brainstorm solutions . By 
"brainstorm" we mean that everyone should 
offer every single idea she or he can 
think of for responding to the problem- 
Don 1 t worry about whether ideas are good 


Here is an example of how the probleah- 
solvlag technique might be used in a 
epecific situation. The imaginary prob- 
lem involves a collective restaurant 
staff which is having trouble with their 
bookkeeper s Jerry* Host of the staff 
don f t want to work with Jerry anymore 
and are asking hina to leave. Jerry in- 
sists that they can't do this because 
the decision must be made by consensus 
and he, as a group member, blocks con- 
sensus on his own expulsion. A couple 
of other staff members support his right 
to do this* Feelings of anger, hostility 
and distrust are high* 

Establis hing the 

a special 

Steps 1 and 2: 
setting . The group sets 
meeting to work oil this problem* They 
invite a neutral facilitator skilled 
in group process, to come in and guide 
them through the meeting, The first 
hour is spent expressing the mutual 
respect and trust they have for one 
another . They do some communications 
exerciaes to clarify their understanding 
of their feelings. Each person tries to 
remember one good experience she or he 
has had with Jerry In the last month* 
Jerry tries to think of positive experi- 
ences he has had with other members of 
the staff. 

Step 3: Defining the p roblem. The 
problem is defined thus: Jerry and the 
other members of the staff have con- 
flicting needs in the way they want to 
work. The other staff want to know what 
Jerry is doing, what decisions he is 
making, and how he is representing the 
group to outside people. Jerry wants to 
get his work done efficiently, without 
spending time consulting with people* 
Re wants the rest of the collective to 
trust frim and let hia work independently- 

Step U: Analyzing the problem . Many 
strong feelings date from a particular 
incident where Jerry made an exception to 
the restaurant T s food purchasing policy 
without consulting other staff members/ 



or bad, whether they will work or not. 
At this steD, ideas sho uld not be evalu- 
ated . The purpose of brainstorming is to 
v create a criticism- free atmosphere that 
encourages people to be creative and to 
express all their ideas spontaneously* 
An idea that seems ridiculous may stimu- 
late another one that is workable - 
Shoot for quantity rather than quality. 
Try to cover every possibility. 

Step 6 : Evaluate the solutions of- 
fered during the brainstorm. What needs 
does each one fill or not fill? What 
does implementation of different solu- 
tions involve? What are the outcomes of 
different courses of action? The cri- 
teria for evaluation should cover both 
f logical, concrete considerations and 
also the feelings of the people involved, 
A good decision Is one that is of high 
quality in its own right, but is also 
highly acceptable to those who must live 
with it* 



Try to select, out of all the ideas pro- 
posed, the one that comes closest to 
meeting everyone's needs. Perhaps a 
creative new idea came up during the 
brainstorm that will completely satisfy 
everyone. If a single solution doesn't 
immediately jump out as u the answer," 
however, the group has resources to work 

with: a common understanding of needs, 
a knowledge of what solutions are pos- 
sible, and a list of specific ideas to 
consider. Combine and reformulate these 
ideas and continue working toward find- 
ing a solution you can agree on. If the 
two parties trust each other and are com- 
mitted to each other's needs, they will 
usually accept the solution which comes 
closest to satisfying all concerned. 

Step 7 : Once you reach agreement, 
remember to decide how the solutio n will 
be implemented , and how it will be re- 
viewed and evaluated further down the 
road. Kemember, too, that you need to 
take some time to pat yourselves on the 
backs and share good feelings about 
finally coming to agreement* You will 
deserve congratulations. 

He was not aware of the historical rea- 
son for this policy* When otters found 
out, they were angry - 

Another dynamic that emerged was the 
difference in communication styles be- 
tween Jerry and the rest of the group. 
The present problem was allowed to scol- 
der for a long time because Jerry never 
talked to the others about his needs and 
feelings. Jerry feels un co-nf or table 
talking about feelings and he feels that 
others are prying when they ask ques- 
tions. His reaction to this situation 
is to withdraw, which others interpret 
as rejection and coldness on his part, 


Step 5: Brainstorming . A few of 
the very many ideas generated include: 
Jerry leave the collective; Jerry stay 
and everyone else leave; Jerry try to 
change his style; other staff try to 
adjust to Jerry as he is; a cos-promise 
in which Jerry will agree to check all 
his decisions with one other person — 
Dcmia, with whom he has rapport. She 
will decide if the rest of the staff 
need to be consulted. 

Step 6: Choosing a decision. The 
collective realised that they did not 
really dislike Jerry, but that they and 
Jerry were happier when they communicated 
and worked in different ways. fiAthar 
than rejecting Jerry t the group began to 
understand that he would be more satis- 
fied in a different job situation. 

Jerry recognised this as veil. Rather 
than feeling rejected or discounted, he 
felt supported by the group because they 
were willing to understand and affirm 
the validity of what he needed in a work- 
ing situation. He agreed he should look 
for another job. The group recognised 
that Jerry had valuable skills and they 
will give him good references and try to 
help him make contacts. Until he finds 
a job, he will reniain with the collective 

On the surface, this decision appears to 
be the same as if the group had simply 
expelled Jerry, In accordance with their 



original intention. In fact, there is a 
great deal of difference. Tbe final de- 
cision was not made in anger or mts trust, 
but from a cooperative position in which 
everyone tried to respond to eveiyone 
elae 1 © needs. The collective feels satis* 
fied with this decision and believes it 
is the best one for all concerned. There 
are no cariyover feeilnge of anger, re- " 
sentment, or hostility, 

Step 7: Wrapping up* Gaiy has vol* 
unteered to put Jerry in touch vlth 
several of the restaurant's regular cus- 
tomers who might be in a position to 
hire a good bookkeeper* A special meet- 
ing has been planned where Jerry will 
explain the specific frustrations of 
the bookkeeper's job to a few of the . 
staff members so they can make plans 
that will taake the job easier for future 
bookkeepers. The group plana to have 
a party to celebrate Jerry * e new job as 
soon as he finds one he wants to take. 


A second approach to dealing with con- 
flicts in a structured way is one that 
comes from the Radical Therapy movement, 
and is best for interpersonal conflicts 
between individuals. This process , called 
"mediation, "is fairly structured and can 
take from two to six hours in one or more 
sessions. Mediation uses many of the 
skills and principles discussed above, 
under the guidance of a neutral and 
trained third person. 

We are presenting a brief outline of the 
mediation process because we feel that 
this chapter would be incomplete without 
at least some mention of the technique. 
We are convinced that the process can be 
an extraordinarily useful and powerful 
tool for interpersonal conflict resolu- 
tion and problem solving. Mediation is 
a difficult process, however, and it 
confronts strong feelings. Before using 
it, we believe you should be trained by 
an experienced person. We recommend that 






u n i*^ i ft c*\ m'£-*-> r^ 

1. What is consensus? Why should we use consensus - here's where the Advantages 
should he given. Then follow by explanation of why we have problems- with it in this 
society. Then brief explanation of values on which consensus ia baaed. 

Then, come hack to values later on and intertwine them with how to put those values 
in practice. Values are no good - unless can be Implemented ; make them applicable to 
daily living* 

2. Manual could be divided into two parts to givft it some organization: Theory - 
including Introduction, Values inherent in Consensus, AM Problems with Consensus, 
and advantages of consensus* *.and Practice - which contains the rest. 

3. Do an introduction where we briefly refer to our values or reasons for doing 1- 
the manual* Then go into definition, give background, do the step-by- step, go into 
some of the problems, and then return to an outright discussion of values, It might 
be much more convincing , more clear that one flows from the other. 

A. We may want to omit talking about values separately at all, but to work them in 
as they come up naturally. It would be viable especially in the practlcle section. 

5. One other thought on the theory /practice idea: we could write it so that people 
could skp over the theory section if they wanted to. 

6. Integrate our process *f**6u^ha of developing this into the manual (chel has the 
specifics) . 



you do not try to follow the outline be- 
low in an attempt to do a mediation. 
We do hope that this brief presentation 
will encourage some readers to further 
explore the process, (See the reference 
section at the end of this chapter.) 

A mediation is appropriate when rela- 
tions among two or more people are 
strained to the point that the indi- 
viduals are having trouble working to- 
gether, JThepeoi^ 

jbgjiegotiafcg, toward so me comm on goal ^ bafr- 
~ feel In gB^St^SB^err^arS^_ or. ^frilsSration 
areTntef]^ their ability to do 
their.. _own problem solving* The goal of 
mediation is to "discuss the problem 
openly , air the feelings, and agree to 
specific behavioral changes* The medi- 
ator helps the people in conflict go 
through the following steps. 

1. Agree about the outcomes. Do you 
both want to be here? Is the issue 
really negotiable? ' Are your goals com- 

2. Clear the air* Express all the 
resentments that distort your communi- 
cation with each other. The feelings 
that come out are likely to be intense 
and volatile; the mediator helps make 
it safe to feel, express and hear the 
hurt and angiy feelings. 

3. Check out assumptions. What are 
your expectations and fears? Exchange 
more information and clear more air, 

k. Discuss perceptions of the prob- 
lem. Talk about what you see happening. 
Share insights and Intuitions. 

5. Do a mutual critique of the prob- 
lem. Focus on a critical analysis of 
the problem, not the other person- Each 
person can also look at how her or his 
own actions and behaviors contribute to 
the situation. 

6, Ask for what you want. This step 
incorporates both "wishing for 100JS of 
what you want" and a friendly bargaining 
approach. Explore all the possible op- 

7* Make agreements about changes. 
Make a "contract" to do things differ- 
ently- Promise to work on specific be- 
haviors that you both agree contribute 
to the problem, 

8, Share positive thoughts. Say what 
you appreciate about each other and what 
you like about each other, both in gener- 
al and during this mediation session. 

The mediation process can be extremely 
helpful as a problem-solving tool for 
people who are deadlocked in an inter- 
personal conflict. The mediator can make 
a safe atmosphere in which to speak to 
each other while encouraging the expres- 
sion of strong feelings that have been 
impeding progress in the relationship. 



"Mediations *' by Anita Friedman 

JOINING TOGETHER by David and Frank 

"Ate," Volume VII, No, k, "How to Handle 

Chapter 7, "Creative Conflict Re so- 
lution , " by The Training/Action 
Affinity Group 



Chapter 11 

Techniques for Group Building 

Consensus decision making' works best 
when the participants believe they belong 1 

1 to the group, and the group belongs to 

them* This group solidarity develops out 
^ of mutu al trust^and respect, As trust 
and respect grow wiCHETTKe group, mem- 
bers will feel free to express opinions 
and feelings, and to disagree without 
fear of consequences. Many consensus 
groups find that mu tual _ caring is im- 
portant to their sense oTbeinTa group, 

\ and they set aside time and plan activ- 
ities to build friendships and develop a 
sense of community, 

Members 1 ability and willingness to take 
Responsibility for the group is another 
factor which contributes to the cohe- 
siveness of groups. Taking responsibil- 
ity means that each member contributes 

to the functions of creating procedures 
and rules, supporting each other , de- 
fin jjig goals, evaluating progress, and 
completing tasks. It is important for 
members to know they can influence the 

Group building is the process by which 
group solidarity or cohesiveness devel- 
ops, A group does not instantaneously 
come into being. It develops slowly 
over time, Every _activi ty that is 
shared_Jby_^oug^ members "~ whether it is 
a business meeting,'" an office clean-up 
party, an anniversary picnic, or hours 
spent working together on a project, 
contributes to the group's sense of 
history and identity. In this sense, 
the group grows out of, each member's 
contributions. In consensus groups 
it is particularly important that the 
group f s growth be based on evolving 
norms of open communication, coopera- 
tion, and mutual trust and respect, 
since these norms support the values 
and skills of consensus. This chapter 
will discuss some factors which con- 
tribute to group solidarity and will 
describe some techniques which you can 
use in developing your group* 



Individuals gather together for many 
reasons: sharing concerns, discussing 
philosophy, or working on a project. 
Some of these gatherings may evolve into 
groups, A group will emerge when its 
members think of themselves as a group. 
Two signs that a group has formed are: 
members representing themselves publi- 
cally as a group; and choosing a froup 
name. (For example, people living to- 
gether cooperatively will often name 
their house, ) A group identity helps 
to focus attention on what it means to 
be a part of the group. 

A group is a creation of its members* 
It is important that group members spend 
time considering the nature of the gro up: 
What are the group's- goals? HowToesit 
define member ship ? What are t he rules 
fo r making d jgisigus?, If the rules and 
goals of a~group develop. out of a con- 
scious and cooperative effort, rather 
than just "happening," then the group 
will express the will of its members. 
However, members must take the group 
seriously for this to occur, 

TaJcing the group seriously involves 
more than accepting responsibility for 
' choosing procedures and defining goals. 
It also includes showing care and re- 
spect for the group. Groups need spe- 
cial attention during transitions (when 
adding or losing members, when changing 
procedures or roles) to ensure that the 
changes contribute to the group's growth. 

Say Hello and Good- Bye 

It is important to acknowledge new mem- 
bers when they enter the group as well 
as noting when someone leaves the group. 
A formal procedure for integrating new 
members helps them feel accepted and 
clarifies what is expected of them. 
Such a procedure also helps old members 
develop ties with newcomers- (See the 
section belau entitled "Help New Members 
Become Part of the Group. ") 

When someone leaves the group * he or she 
should be expected to make the depart lire 
explicit rather than just "fading away." 
Explicit leavetakings make it clear that 
belonging to the group is something to be 
taken seriously and that members have a 
responsibility to each other to clarify 
their roles. 

Have Regular Evalua tions 

Set aside time at the end of every meet- 
ing {or on some regular basis) to talk 
about how the meeting went, how members 
feel about the process, and what might 
be done differently in the future. 
Evaluations help foster conscious group 
development since they: 1) give members 
a chance to affirm what they like about 
the group and each other; 2) offer an 
opportunity to clear up misunderstand- 
ings; 3) give members who were dissatis- 
fied with the process a chance to be 
heard; k) provide a time for planning 
improvements in the process to better 
meet the needs of the group; and 5) af- 
firm that the group takes itself seri- 
ously since time is spent on the group l s 
needs } not just projects. 

When CCR held a neettng for an in-depfch 
evaluation of our group process, we 
learned that we all had been working so 
hard on our group* a tasks, and on serving 
other groups, that we were ignoring our- 
selves and getting out of touch with each 
other* We decided to call a temporary ■ 
moratorium on accepting any new work and 
to focus Instead on discussing internal 
Issues and goals* We also used this 
time to emphasize our own "familial 
dimension, ft A committee was formed to 
develop ideas for bringing us all closer 
together* These suggestions included a 
"Resource Exchange" (everyone listed 
skills and resources they could share 
with other members of the group and the 
lists were copied and passed out), and 
small "Dinner Groups* 1 of four people 
selected by drawing naines from a hat- 
( These groups met for dljiner or other 
purely social events over a period of a 
couple months* ) 








It is also helpful to occasionally set 
aside times for more in-depth evalua- 
tions. A group may want to evaluate 
how it worked on a specific project ^ how 
it has worked over the past six months 
or year, or whether politics, goals or 
methods need to be refined. (See the 
"Evaluations" section in Chapter 6^ 
tions about how to conduct an evalua- 
tion, ) 


Members are most committed to a group 
when they feel they are making an impor- 
tant contribution, not just being led, 
It is important to make sure that every 
member has a chance to be active in the 
group and to influence the direction 
that the group takes* Members also need 
to feel that other members are taking 
active responsibility -and can be depend- 
ed upon. 

Balance Participation in Group Tasks 

If a few members carry most of the weight 
in a group while others feel helpless or 
left out, there are specific techniques 
a group can use to equalise participa- 
tion. Usually the members who are assum- 
ing more than their share of responsibil- 
ity are eager to find a way to distribute 
that responsibility more evenly, even if 
they don T t know how to make this change. 
Start by analysing why certain people 
end up doing more. Do they have access 
to more information or do they have more 
experience than other people? Do con- 
tacts from outside the group repeatedly 
turn to certain individuals as repre- 
sentatives of the group? Do members 
automatically look to certain people for 
leadership? Do less active members lack 

These patterns can be broken. Redis- 
tribute tasks or information flow so 

different people can get in the center 
'of what's going on. Send new faces to 

represent the group at the next press 

conference or coalition meeting. Make 



,f In one group we know of , the bookkeeper 
had a disproportionate amount of power at 
meetings because, given her taow ledge of 
the group 1 © financial situation, other 
members had to rely on her opinion dur- 
ing meetings about whether certain deci- 
sions were financially feasible or not. 
The books were not kept in a place where 
Other members could gain access to this 
in formation j so the power isbalance was 
continued. " 





an effort in meetings to get different 
people to talk, and listen to what they 
say. Set up a time for in-services , when 
a member with a special skill or exper- 
tise can teach what he or she knows to 
other group members* 

Bala nce Participation at Meetings 

It T s a rare group in which each member is 
equally involved in each meeting, Dif- 
ferent degrees of interest , information, 
or styles of communication will result 
in different levels of input during meet- 
ings. Ideally, though, every member 
should feel involved and free to contri- 
bute. No one should dominate or monop- 
olise, and no one should be left out. 
Following are some guidelines and tech- 
niques you can use to balance participa- 
tion in meetings, 

— Rotate roles such as notetaker, 
facilitator, or other roles your group 
may have established. This allows dif- 
ferent people to share in leadership and 
encourages everyone to develop a variety 
of skills, 

— Try to sit in a circle whenever pos- 
sible so everyone can have eye contact 
with everyone else. Circles tend to en- 
courage more balanced participation and 
prevent anyone from being at the lf head M 
of the group physically, 

— If some individuals consistently 
tend to dominate discussion, you can 
limit time per speaking turn, or limit 
number of speaking turns per discussion. 
Sometimes groups give each participant a 
pile of mat chs ticks; each speaking turn 
requires "payment" of a matchstick, thus 
limiting each person's number of contri- 
butions. Another technique is to pass a 
token from hand to hand, giving the right 
to speak only to the holder. At CCE we 
have tried passing an egg timer from 
speaker to speaker to encourage concise, 
focused contributions, 

— If some members are less assertive, 
or participate less, you can use a "round 
"robin, fT giving each member a turn to 
state his or her opinion (with option to 


1 pass}. In addition, the techniques of 
brainstorming and the "travelling chair 11 . 
can promote balanced participation. 
(See the section entitled "Doing Discus- 
sion" in Chapter 6* STRUCTURING YOUR MEET- 
INGS \> for a fuller explanation of these 
techniques* ) 

j ~ Even with the above techniques, perfect 
balance in participation is unlikely to 
occur. Some people are simply more ver- 
bal than others. When group members get 
to know who just naturally says a lot 
and who only speaks up when it seems cru- 
cially important, then members can make 

* adjustments for individual differences. 

Example: The group may know that 
Gregg is shy and needs encouragement 
to speak; Laura doesn't say much, but 
can be counted on to get her point 
across when she's ready; Paul usually 
' speaks a lot and his reticence on a 
particular occasion probably has some 
significance which should be investi- 
gated; and Vera needs feedback after 
she presents an idea or she will keep 
talking until Doomsday. 

Since participation in the group will be 
uneven, it is important for the members 
to watch for patterns or consistencies 
in imbalances. Do the women regularly 
say less than the men? Do new members 
participate less than older, established 
members? Do young or middle-aged members 
say less? Do people who have money in- 
vested in the group say more? Such con- 
sistencies, which often reflect societal 
norms, may indicate incipient problems 
for the group* It is easy to assume 
that Karen, Sue and Deborah are quiet in 
meetings because of the particular per- 
sonal styles of these three individuals: 
it might be more difficult, but accurate, 
to recognise that women speak less in 
your group than men. Such patterns can 
be the result of societal conditioning 
which is often so subtle that partici- 
pants aren ! t aware of it. Perhaps women 
speak less in your group because they have 
been taught to be unassertive, or because 
they have unconsciously realised that 
when they do speak, their contributions 
carry less weight than those of male mem- 



bers. Imbalances such as this should be 
brought up at evaluation time so people 
i can share insights and talk about how to 
deal with them. 

One group we've heard or developed a 
technique for slowing down fast-paced 
arguments and for equalising ths imbal- 
ance in ae&ertivenegs between men and 
f women, fchich wa£ a problem in their 
group* After a speaker had finished 
talking, women members had to count to 
five before they could respond, Man had 
to count to ten. 

In consensus, decisions are made by talk- 
ing about an issue until agreement is 
reached. Therefore, verbal skills and 
the confidence to use those skills are 
essential. Lack of skills or confidence 
y can be responsible for both under- 
participation and over-participation at 
meetings. Members may be afraid to take 
the risk of speaking up, or they may 
»- speak incessently because they are afraid 
Icthey are not being heard and understood, 
'In both cases, the members 1 ability to 
contribute to the group is decreased. 
The group as a whole is responsible for 
creating a supportive atmosphere and en- 
suring opportunities for all members to 
learn necessary skills. 

Both under-participating and over- 
participating members can be assisted 
in improving their skills. Make it clear 
what you want them to learn to do and 
^ encourage a group atmosphere that sup- 
ports their learning to change rather 
than being intimidating or critical. 
One way to help under-participating mem- 
bers is to ask specific questions when 
you think their contribution would be of 

Example: You might say, "Dan, when ue 
were having lunch yesterday, you made 
a good observation about our group 
process* Would you mind explaining it 
to the whole group?" — "Valerie, I've 
heard what everyone thinks about my 
proposal except you. I really want to 
know your opinion. " 

Let people know when their comments have 
j been valuable , and give them feedback 
that will help improve their skills. 

Example: "Ann, I realize we all re- 
sponded defensively when you criti- 
cized our newsletter, and that made it 
hard for us to be open to what you 
were saying, I think we would have 
responded better if you had started 
out by saying you had a few ideas 
about how to improve the newsletter, 
rather than saying it was no good as 
it is now, " 

The most helpful feedback describes spe- 
y cific behaviors to change. 

Example: Instead of blaming Clara for 
her long, rambling comments, a member 
could say, "Clara, next time, before 
you speak, try stopping to think pre- 
cisely what point you want to make. 
Then make that clear first thing. 
That way we won T t be confused or frus- 
trated trying to follow your thoughts, 
(See "Feedback and Criticism" in Chap- 

You can also help people during discus- 
sions . 

Example: You can say, "Ben, are you 
saying you are worried about the bad 
press this project might get us? 
v Thank you for bringing that up — it's 
an important point to consider. ,T 
This type of statement can cut through 
meandering comments and help Ben see 
a precise way to make his point. At 
the same time, the importance of Ben T s 
contribution is acknowledged. 

^ Developing better communication skills 
is a shared concern of the group. An 
individual who feels blamed for a prob- 
lem and who is left alone with the re- 
sponsibility for learning to change, 

^will probably not change at all. In- 
dividuals need emotional support- and 

x c onstructive _jree dbac k from the group in 
order to behave differently. It is im- 
portant to remember that the process of 
helping individuals change strengthens 
the group as a whole. 



Build Fm Into Meetings 

During its development, every group must 
go through an initial period of social 
interaction in which members get to know 
each other as individuals apart from the 
task of the group. In addition, every 
meeting usually begins with a period of 
social time where people catch up with 
each other and reaffirm their relation- 
ships. It is wise to recognize the 
necessity of such interaction and build 
it into your group T s life: allow time 
for friendship as well as for work. Be- 
low are some techniques for channeling 
social energy into your group building 

At the Beginning of Meetings 

People need time to talk personally with 
each other before beginning business mat- 
ters. If members arrive at 7 o r clock, 
don't expect business to begin until 
7:10 or even later. It just won't hap- 
pen, and if people are forced to start 
working without any social time, they 
will probably get distracted by social 
interaction during business, 

Some groups actually acknowledge this 
social time by having two m eeting times , 
one for "gathering," perhaps including 
dinner or refreshments, and a second 
time for business to begin. You may also 
want to formalise this interaction time 
within the context of the meeting. If 
the group is meeting for the first time, 
begin with introductions. An ongoing 
group should repeat this process when- 
ever new members attend meetings: it 
makes the new people feel recognized and 
welcomed, and it can serve as a basis 
for getting acquainted later. For on- 
going groups, a check- in procedure is 
often valuable. Each member takes a few 
moments to tell how they are, what they 
have been doing since the last meeting, 
something they are excited about, or 
other anecdotes. This technique has the 
added advantage of uncovering "hidden 
agendas" in advance, (Gary can warn the 
group that he has a headache and may be 
irritable. ) 


Having fun together can bring group mem- 
bers closer together, if fun is struc- 
tured in such a way that it doesn T t com- 
pletely disrupt the business of the meet- 
ing. In addition to ice cream breaks, 
meeting at the swimming pool, or any 
other sources of fun you can come up 
with, you may want to try " Light and 
Liveliest 1 These are quick, playful 
f activities that can wake people up and 
break up tension or monotony* Some 
examples include: 

— Group Stretch : Everyone stands and 
follows the motions of a leader. 

— Magic Blob : An imaginary, protean 
,T blob" is passed around the circle. Each 
person takes it from the previous person 

in one shape, but passes it to the next 
person in a new form* For example, when 
John passes the blob to Cathy, it is a 
piece of stretchy taffy* In Cathy's 

"Somebody in our local Hovement for a New 
Society group here told one meeting 
about another HNS group that had estab- 
lished a 'frivolity committee 1 whose task 
was to make spontaneous light and lively 
Interventions during meetings. While we 
did not establish a formal frivolity 
committee here* several of us quietly 
took on this task for one of our monthly 
meetings- During the middle of one of 
our meetings , we unexpectedly got bogged 
down in a very heavy and time-consuming 
decision-making discussion* Without an- 
nouceaent, three of ue leaped to our 
feet and began to einjj (and act out) the 
first verse of the *Hokey-Pokey. ! Uie 
other participants were startled and 
alao leaped to their feet without think- 
ing about what was happening* Within 
seconds, the entire group was doing the 
1 Hokey-Pokey* * The activity finished, 
we resumed our discussion with our heads 
aore clear and -with a sense of freshness 
in our interactions, 1 * 

— JIjb Strurve 


hands it turns Into a bouncing ball. 
But when Gary catches the ball on a 
dribble j it becomes a very heavy bar- 

— Touch Blue : The group stands to- 
gether. When the game leader shouts, 
"touch blue," everyone must find some- 
thing blue on another person and touch 
it as quickly as possible. Then "touch 
purple/ 1 "touch polka dots," "touch a 
leather belt," "touch curly hair, 11 

— Human Pretzels : The group stands 
in a circle. Each person reaches across 
the circle with both hands (not crossed) 
and grasps hands with two different 
people. Then, without letting go, try 
to untangle. If you are lucky, you may 
find yourselves in a reassembled circle 
with everyone holding hands with the 
person next to them. 

— Role Playing : Agenda items do not 
always have to be presented in a serious , 
factual manner. People can take on 
roles and act out reports to the group, 
problems for discussion, etc. Role play- 
ing provides some comic relief to the 
meeting and puts things back in perspec- 
tive when they have become overly serious 

Get Together Just for Fun 

Picnics, potlucks, volleyball games, etc, 
are a good way to bring together socially 
people who normally meet just to do work. 
Such gatherings help members become 
friends as well as co-workers and in- 
crease their sense of involvement with 
the group. These gatherings are also a 
good time to meet each others 1 friends 
and families and to visit each other's 
homes , 


Throughout this manual, we stress the 
importance of trust among members of a 
w group. Trust is a difficult quality to 

build in its own right. It usually de- 
velops only after group members have 
shared activities together which increase 
their mutual understanding, caring and 
respect. Group members don T t have to 
always be in agreement to trust each 
other. However members do need to know 
that s despite differences, others will 
* respect them, will be fair with them, 
and will care about their feelings. 


The more that communication occurs be- 
tween members , and the better they get 
to Imow each other, the better the chance 
of developing trust. Following are a 
few specific exercises that your group 
can use to increase mutual understanding, 
and to give members an opportunity to 
develop the personal relationships you 
already have with each other. Many 
other activities are described in the 
references at the end of this chapter . 


Divide into pairs. Pairs may work sep- 
arately, or they may work with another 
pair, each pair observing the other to 
Increase members 1 opportunities for 
learning more about each other, 

A facilitator should provide a simple, 
but personal question- (E.g., "What do 
I value about this group?" "What are my 
frustrations with this group?" "Where do 
I want to be five years from now?" "How 
do I feel about changes I see happening 
in this group, this city, the world?") 

Now one member (Paul) should answer the 
question as he thinks his partner 
(Claudia) would answer it, Claudia 
should listen to Paul, then tell him how 
his answer is like or different from what 
her answer really would have been. The 
two participants may want to have an in- 
formal discussion about why Paul drew 
certain conclusions, how Claudia felt 
about hearing them, or how Paul felt 
about guessing right or wrong. 
Then reverse roles and have Claudia tell 
Paul what she thinks his answer to the 
question would be. 

—Variation I: Use the above exercise 
in relation to a difficult issue or 
disagreement in the group. For example, 
In preparation for problem solving about 
a conflict between Claudia and Paul, the 
exercise can help each person understand 
the other's perspective better and iden- 
tify potential misunderstandings. 

—Variation II: This exercise can be 
adapted to practice paraphrasing. 

Claudia gives her own answer to the ques- 
tion, then Paul restates, in his own 
words, what he believes Claudia said. 
This activity develops good listening 
skills and increases members' awareness 
of the communication problems which can 
arise when a speaker's statement is 


Dyadic Ri sk Taking (Adapted from Pfeiffer 
and Jones) / 

Divide into pairs, Paul tells Claudia 
something personal about himself. It can 
be an extremely risky disclosure {some- 
thing that is hard to reveal), or it can 
be very safe (something easy to talk 
about), or somewhere in between. Paul 
might say, "I have a dog named Pepper," 
"I have $700 in the bank," "I am ashamed 
of my voice and I try to avoid situations 
where I would be expected to sing," or 
"Last week I spent a whole evening read- 
ing a Gothic novel . " 

Now Claudia makes a judgment about how 
risky the statement was for Paul to make 
(0 = no risk; 1 = minimal risk; 2 = mild 
risk; and 3 = a pretty big risk). 
Claudia writes down her score and does 
not show it to Paul* 

Then Claudia makes a personal statement 
and Paul records the amount of risk he 
judges that statement to be. 

After each person has made five state- 
ments, they show each other the risk 
scores and discuss their perceptions 
with each other. Why were certain state- 
ments risky and others not? Were there 
any big differences between what the two 
people thought was risky? What are the 
reasons for these differences? Did it 
become more -or less risky to make state- 
ments as the exercise proceeded? Why? 

Hints: It helps to sit side-by-side so 
members can regulate how much they want 
to look at each other during the exercise 
Also, during the exercise, participants 
should not respond to each other's state- 
ments, but merely score them and then 
make a statement of their own. 


Positive Feedback 

Each member receives a slip of paper or 
index card for every other member of the 
group » Participants are instructed to 
write a positive statement or "message 
of happiness" for each group member on 
the separate slips of paper. Some 
guidelines are: 1) write messages that 
begin with ,r I n ( ,r I like , . , " — r! I 
feel . . ,"); 2) be specific ("I like the 
way you smile at everyone," rather than, 
"I like your attitude."); 3) write a 
special message to fit each person rath- 
* er than a comment that could apply to 
several people. Members can sign their 
messages or leave them anonymous. 

Each participant designates a certain 
place as their "mailbox" and people dis- 
tribute their messages to the appropri- 
ate boxes* 

When all messages have been delivered 
^and read, participants are iavited to 
share feedback that was most meaning- 
ful to them, clarify any ambiguous mes- 
sages, and express the feelings they 
have experienced during the process, 

— Variation: Instead of written 
messages , members could be asked to 
bring small, meaningful presents for 
each other to some meeting or special 

Most Precious Possession 

This exercise could begin or end a regu- 
lar meeting, or it might be part of a 
special session for building group com- 
munication. Each member brings their 
"most precious possession" and, with- 
out showing it to the others, places it 
in a box designated for this purpose. 

Later, each item is taken out, one by 
one, and the group tries to guess who 
the object belongs to. After the ob- 
jects have all been taken out and guesses 
made, owners claim their objects and tell 
the group why they are precious- Par- 
ticipants are encouraged to talk about 
their feelings and what they have 
learned about each other and themselves, 


— Variation I: Instead of objects, 
you may want to use drawings that people 
have made, pictures cut out from maga- 
zines that members feel are meaningful 
or expressive of themselves, verses of 
poetry, quotations, names of famous 
people who have been a source of inspi- 
ration, etc, 

— Variation II: Members might instead 
bring some symbolic object that they want 
to get rid of (the blue jeans that are 
too big since you finally lost weight, 
the resume you used -job hunting in an 
area of work you have decided to give up, 
etc). After sharing the objects with 
each other, you might want to build a 
bonfire and burn them* This could be a 
joyful activity celebrating positive 
changes you are making in your lives, 

Trust Walk 

Members pair up. One partner is blind- 
folded and the second partner leads him 
or her on a walk outside. The sighted 
partner makes sure that the blindfolded 
one is safe and does not stumble or bump 
into anything, trying to reassure the 
blindfolded person if he or she is ner- 
vous, Then trade roles. Afterwards, 
members talk with each other about how 
the exercise felt. 

I Mi leal writes 



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p, 9/a 

The intro. fs a bit moralistic for my taste, I would emphasize Cons, 
as a process oriented towards a wbold new cla ss or problems — hisoricalW 
generated — namely, ones demanding solutions for which there is no tradi- 
tional model. Hence creativity demanded. 




Providing a framework for new people to 
become fully integrated members is an 
important concern for any group* It is 
an especially sensitive issue in groups 
which make decisions by consensus be- 
cause in such groups each member has a 
great deal of power to affect the ac- 
tions of the rest of the group. This 
individual power is the reason we think 
consensus is a good process* However 
there can be trouble when a new member 
is inexperienced with consensus and 
doesn't yet know how to use it well. 
Even if a new member is familiar with 
consensus, lack of knowledge about the 
group, its history and its goals, could 
cause problems. For this reason, many 
groups which use consensus are cautious 
about who they allow to join or how they 
integrate new members. Your group should 
seriously consider; Who can be a member 
and how will new- members be integrated 
into the group? What will we do to give 
new members the skills and the knowledge 
they need to participate well? 

■ ■ 

It is important to consider how new mem- 
bers develop a sense of belonging and 
acceptance in the group. New members 
need to feel wanted and welcomed* They 
need to be given access to information 
they will need to participate in the 
group so they can feel like "insiders, u 
(Where are materials kept in the office? 
Why do we always meet on the East Side 
of town? What is that "in" joke about 
MacDonald's? Who is Howie Drewick and 
why does everyone growl when his name 
is mentioned? Why is a procedure done 
this way instead of that other, obvi- 
ously more efficient way?) 

If older members don't make an effort to 
become acquainted with new members and 
to incorporate them into the group, then 
the experience of being new can be frus- 
trating, lonely and alienating* For 
example, if clear guidelines for appro- 
priate group behavior are not available, 
then new members can only learn by making 
mistakes, by violating group norms and 

procedures- This can lead to a steady 
stream of negative comments from older 
to newer members — a situation likely to 
convince newcomers they are unwelcome or 
inept. New members can also be bewil- 
dered by being told of a "rule/ and then 
seeing other members break that rule. 
They need to know when, how and why 
certain regulations are sometimes ig- 

Even when new members are welcomed, it 
can be difficult for older members to 
give them the necessary time and support. 
Older members are busy with the group T s 
work and with their friendships with 
each other. It can be difficult to spend 
adequate time with new people. Also, 
it f s hard to know how to relate to an 
unknown quantity. 

Without realizing it, older members might 
perceive new members as a threat to group 
stability, A new member might bring 
change to a group which older members 
love, or understand, just the way it 
is, A complaint we heard from a new mem- 
ber at CCR was, "Every time I suggest 
a new idea, someone says, T 0h, we tried 
that two years ago*" I feel like people 
aren't open to considering what I have 
to offer." It is easy to assume that be- 
cause someone is new, he or she doesn't 
have anything valuable to give the group 
yet. Sometimes, however, a person will 
have a creative idea or a fresh perspec- 
tive just because they have a different 
background of experiences than the one 
shared by the older group members. It is 
a mistake to discount these new ideas 
(or revitalised old ideas) too quickly. 

There are specific things your group can 
do to facilitate the process of bringing 
in new members. These suggestions may 
not make the experience easy for new- 
comers, but they can clarify what is ex- 
pected of new members and what new mem- 
bers can expect of the group. Your 
process may also include a specific pro- 
cedure for phasing out new members if 
they don't work out. Following are a few 


* VVVV V V M VW Si S * * AN***^WS 



I found myself frustrated because I was doing the greater part of the 
clerical work 1n the office* One of the reasons I was getting stuck with this 
work {a process 1n which I also played a part] , was that I knew better than others 
how to do this work: where things were kept, all the little details* etc. To 
get myself out of this role, and to enable others to do 1t, I wrote an "Office 
Procedures Manual" about how to do everything in the office. Son* people never 
used 1t» but a lot of people did and 1t had the effect I'd wanted of freeing me 


from so much of this responsibility. But later a new member to the group told 
me (in a nice way) that she thought this book was an Instrument of oppression. 
Whenever she asked group members where to find something, or how to do something, 
instead of responding to her in a personal way, they would brush her off, saying, 
"Look 1n the Procedures Manual. M J \ t U^O* ^^ U ^^J££^ 

^ ^ M^ * M *** M » 

*^ ^^ * W 



1, Introduce new' members at meetings. 
Let them say why they are interested in 
the group, what they want from it, what 
they can give it. The more old members 
know about the new ones, the more basis 
they will have for trying to get to know 
them- Make a point, also, to introduce 
all the old members to a new member, 

2, Formalize the process of extend- 
ing Information to new people* Have a 
special orientation session for them. 

Or have something written for new people 
which tells about the group and how to 
perform various task functions. 

3, Provide each new member with a 
"buddy" — someone who will take extra 
trouble to help out, someone to go to 
with questions, someone other members 
can go through if they want to give 
feedback to the new member and don't 
Imow him or her well enough yet to do 
it more directly. 

k* Try bringing new members in in 
bunches, or "flocks." Two, three or 
four new people can give each other sup- 
port and work through the period of 

strangeness together. 

5- At CCR, a new member is an "intern" 
for the first three months. An intern has 
the same responsibilities as other group 
members and takes part in decision-making 
discussions. But he or she cannot block 
consensus, After the internship period, 
there is an evaluation for the intern at 
one of the regular staff meetings, (Most 
interns ask for this evaluation: they 
feel a need for feedback from the group, 
want a chance to give their own feedback, 
and this step formalises the group's 
recognition of the new person as an inte- 
grated member. Older members may also 
ask for an evaluation at this time. ) 
After the evaluation, the intern usually 
"flies up" to full membership. Occasion- 
ally someone may be asked to remain an 
intern awhile longer , or to leave. But 
if a new member isn't working out with 
the group, he or she usually loses inter- 
est and leaves during the internship. 

6. You might want to have a "clear- 
i ness meeting" to explore with a new per- 
son why he or she wants to be in the 
group, what mutual expectations are, and 
how to deal with any anticipated prob- 

Such a meeting could be held when 




a person first considers joining a group, 
at the end of an internship period, or 



7. Have scheduled check- ins or up- 
dates with new people. Ask them how 
they are feeling about their role in the 
group. What do they need from other 
members to make things easier? 


"The Agony of Inequality tf by Jane J, 
Mansbridge in CO~OPS 3 COMMUNES AND 
COLLECTIVES by John Case and Rosemary 
Taylor, eds. 


by Virginia Coover, et al. 

"The Bases of Social Power" by J.R.P. 
French and B. Raven in STUDIES IN 
SOCIAL POWER by D. Cartwright, ed, 

THE NEW GAMES BOOR- by Andrew Fluegelman, 

FOR THE FUN OF IT! by Marta Harrison 

JOINING TOGETHER by David and Frank 

Pfeiffer and John Jones, eds. 

CLEARNESS by Peter Woodrow 


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Chapter 12 

Adaptations of the Process for 
Special Situations 


The consensus process described so far 
works best in small, homogeneous groups 
where members share common goals and 
values, have a high level of trust, and 
have plenty of time and patience. Con- 
sensus can sometimes work effectively In 
other situations, however — in large, di- 
verse groups of people and under tight 
time constraints. 

In large groups, the sheer numbers of 
participants may prevent everyone from 
having a say in a meeting of the whole 
group. The use of small groups for part 
of the discussion, and using representa- 
tives, can facilitate decision making 
so that many of the advantages of "pure" 
consensus decision making can be pre- 

Even when the group is small, time pres- 
sures can sometimes make full blown con- 
sensus decision making impossible. In 
such cases, provisions for an "escape 
clause" for voting, or special techniques 
^for speeding the decision along may al- 
low the group to keep some of the im- 
portant elements of consensus. In this 
chapter we will describe some techniques 
for adapting the consensus process in 
special situations. 


When the group is large, when time is 
tight, or when the subject being dis- 
cussed is highly controversial or emo- 
tional, the group may want to use a 
formal structure for the discussion. 
In such cases, the facilitator plays a 
strongly directive role, determines who 
speaks when, and exercises rigid con- 
straints on the discussion, making sure 
that only pertinent issues are discussed 
and that all talk is succinct and to the 
point. Some specific techniques for 
formalized process are described below. 




Members wishing to speak must raise their 
bands and the facilitator acknowledges 
them in order. For instance, if five 
people raise their hands at once, the 
facilitator might say, "Karen first, then 
Don, Anna, Joan, and Steve." As these 
people speak , others wanting turns raise 
their hands and the facilitator puts 
their names on a mental or written list, 
then indicates in order whose turn is 
next. Often two people will want to 
make the same point, so when it comes to 
Steve's turn, he may just say, "I was 
going to say what Anna said," or "I pass. 


An advantage of stacking is that partici- 
pation is well equalised- However the 
issues raised may not get the discussion 
they need when it is appropriate. When 
a discussion is heated, sometimes people 
become so eager to speak or respond to 
each other that it becomes difficult to 
attend to what other people are saying. 
In such situations you might want to use 
a further variation of stacking which 
allows limited back- and- forth discussion 
to proceed after each person in the stack 
speaks. This discussion must be guided 
by directive facilitation (possibly using 
two facilitators) so it doesn ! t get out 
of control. After the limited exchange, 
the facilitator calls on the next person 
in the stack. 

Even during ordinary stacking, it is 
sometimes necessary to interrupt the 
regular flow of turn taking. Such in- 
terruptions are allowed when a member 
has some information unknown to the rest 
of the group that is relevant to what 
another speaker is saying* {The point 
must be strictly informational, not opin- 
ion, and it should be immediately rele- 
vant and necessary to the discussion. } 
The person with the information says to 
the facilitator, "I have a point of in- 
formation," and is allowed to interject 
that information, briefly and concisely, 
before the group returns to the turn- 
taking sequence. 

Similarly, it may sometimes be necessary 
to interrupt the stacking process with a 



"point of process," such as, n I think the 
group should know, we only have ten min- 
utes left," or "This discussion is get- 
ting too personal. We have to get back 
to the issue," 

Using Silence 

It is often helpful for the facilitator to 
call for a moment of silence so group mem- 
bers can slow down a heated exchange. By 
interrupting such an interaction, silence 
can help people remember that it isn T t 
, necessary to respond to every statement 
they disagree with, and it isn't neces- 
sary to repeat points that have been 
stated earlier. It is necessary, though, 
for all important viewpoints to be aired 
in a calm atmosphere where everything 
said will be remembered and considered* 

Time Limits 

Another technique for formalizing and 
speeding up discussion in large groups, 
or when an issue is volatile, is to have 
time limits for how long each person may 
speak. For instance, the facilitator may 
allow everyone who wants to make a state- 
* ment to do so, but with a limitation of 
two minutes. Such limits force speakers 
to be concise, to emphasise only what is 
most important, and not to get drawn into 
long, rhetorical arguments or rebuttals 
of previous speakers. 

Proposals and Amendments 

In a more casual situation, decisions 
will often "evolve" out of discussion. 
In formal situations, or when discussion 
seems to be scattered over a number of 
issues so that areas of agreement aren't 
- clear, a group member may, at some point, 
make a specific proposal. 

Example: "I propose we go ahead and 
hire John for three months and make 
one of the duties of his job to be 
trying to find funding to hire two 
more people after the summer, " 

A proposal of this kind is best made 
only after some discussion of the issue 
has occurred, most viewpoints and rele- 


vf ^ information have been aired, and 
th* cime seems right to organise the 
group's thoughts into a decision* After 
the proposal is made, more discussion 
should occur as the group reacts to it. 
If the reaction seems positive, the 
facilitator may ask, !1 Are there any 
objections to this proposal?" If there 
are not, the decision is final, (Make 
sure the proposal is repeated fully, so 
members are sure about what they are 
agreeing to - ) 

A member may be willing to accept a pro- 
posal with minor alterations and may 
offer a "friendly amendment." 

Example: "I can go along with the 
proposal, but I r d like to add the 
stipulation that after six weeks we 
have a meeting with John to review 
the work he is doing and how things 
are working out. At that time we 
may decide to change the M terms of 
his employment . " ♦ " 




Straw voting is an informal, non-binding 
show of hands to test the number of 
people in a group who support a particu- 
lar decision. The technique is contro- 
versial among those who use consensus. 
Some people feel that any kind of voting 
may become a form of tyranny by numbers 
or may be used to single out dissenters 
and put pressure on them. However there 
are some advantages of straw voting in 
certain situations that may justify its 
use. First, In extremely large groups, 
it is often difficult to tell whether 
long, drawn-out discussion represents 
serious disagreement, or if participants 
are merely raising all the issues and 
expressing opinions. A straw vote may 
be used to estimate how close the group 
is to consensus, and whether it is time 
to start struggling to finalise a deci- 
sion , or whether much more discussion is 
necessary. Secondly, in large groups, 
many people do not have a turn to speak. 
A strajw vote Is a way for silent people 
to til .press their opinions and feel that 
they are being given a chance to have 
input. If this technique is used, the 

facilitator should make it clear that 
the straw vote is not a change to ma- 
jority rule, but merely a way of testing 
the current state of agreement or disa- 
greement in the group, and of identifying 
the most serious objections for further 

Multiple Facilitators 

In the kinds of situations described in 
this chapter, the role of facilitator 
can be highly demanding, requiring close 
attention and vigilance. In such cases, 
it is especially useful to have two 
facilitators. One may act as timekeeper 
while the other plays process observer, 
or one may handle stacking, while the 
other attends to clarifying the subject 
being discussed. If one facilitator 
gets tired or becomes emotionally em- 
broiled, the second can step in and pro- 
vide support. 

A Word on Versatility 

Many groups vacillate between the formal 
process described here and a more easy- 
going, informal process- The facilitator 
of a particular meeting may play an unob- 
trusive, back-seat role when things are 
going smoothly, but may step forward and 
offer more formalized direction when it 
seems needed. It is helpful for groups 
to be skilled in both informal and formal 
process and to have the versatility to 
switch back and forth as the situation 


Sometimes a group of hundreds of people 
can operate by consensus using a repre- 
sentative method. The Clamshell Alliance 
(an anti-nuclear action coalition) uses 
a method that involves dividing a very 
large group into small units known as 
' "affinity groups.' 1 Affinity groups con- 
sist of eight to 15 people who work to- 
gether closely over a period of time. 
They develop the mutual trust and under- 
standing and the common knowledge and 
experiences necessary for good consensus 
decision making. When the larger group 


needs to make a decision, each of the 
affinity groups meets and discusses the 
matter (see diagram). Each affinity 
group sends a representative (known as 
a "spoke") to a "spokes meeting." This 
meeting of representatives discusses 
the issue and comes up with one or more 
proposals. The spokes then return to 
their affinity groups where the proposal 
is discussed. Then spokes go back to 
the spokes meeting with feedback from 
their groups and acceptance or rejection 
of the proposal. 

To finalise a decision^ the spokes must 
reach consensus. Each spoke represents 
a group which in turn must come to con- 
sensus on what decision it wants its 
spoke to support. Therefore, each person 
in the large group has a chance to block 
consensus within the affinity group and 
through the group's spoke. If a proposal 
of the spokes meeting is rejected, the 
matter is discussed again, the reasons 
for rejection are aired,' and a new pro- 

posal is developed. The back- and- for th 
process between meetings of affinity 
groups and spokes meetings continues 
until consensus is reached. This pro- 
cess is long and arduous , but it ensures 
that decisions represent input from 
everyone in the group. Reaching a deci- 
sion sometimes takes many hours, but 
people who have used this method have 
generally found it worth the trouble. 


Many groups which prefer to make most of 
their decisions by consensus have an al- 
ternative process in reserve — a majority 
rule "escape clause" — which can be used 
when consensus fails to produce a deci- 
sion quickly enough for the needs of the 
group. We will describe some of these 
procedures below and then briefly address 
the arguments for and against having such 
an escape clause* 




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The Majority Rule Escape Hatch 

Martha T s Rules of Order 


This method comes from a paper entitled, 
"Suggestions for Harmonious Meeting s, ,r 
affectionately known as "Martha's Rules 
of Order* 11 It was developed by a coop- 
erative household called "Martha 1 s" in 
Madison, Wisconsin. The purpose of the 
process is stated: "We recognize that 
consensus decision making, while it 
takes a lot of time, makes for high 
quality decisions. But some decisions 
are not worth the effort* So we devel- 
oped a way to decide whether or not an 
issue was important enough to warrant 
taking the extra time to reach consen- 



After an issue is discussed, a formal 
proposal is presented, and a preliminary 
show of hands is called for: 

— Who likes the proposal? 

— Who can live with the proposal? 

— Who is uncomfortable with the pro- 

If no one is uncomfortable, the decision 
is implemented. If some members are un- 
comfortable, they are asked to state why 
and there is a discussion. Then a vote 
is taken on the following question: 

"Should we implement this decision 
over the stated objections of the 
minority, when a majority of the 
people in the house feel it is 

A "yes" vote leads to majority rule. A 
"no rf vote means postponing the decision 
until consensus can be reached through 
further discussion* 

The Bailly M ethod 

This method was used by the Bailly Alli- 
ance of Chicago, a former anti-nuclear 
group in the Midwest- When consgnsug 

could not be reached, members would vote 
{, on whether to revert to majority rule. 
A three- fourths majority was necessary 
in order to revert to voting , and a 
three- fourths majority was necessary to 
finalize any decision when this happened- 

Elaine's Alternative 

, ' *- 

A more elaborate process with a similar 
"escape" goes like this: 

1. The group reaches consensus on 
the definition of the problem before dis- 
cussing solutions* 

2, An ample but defined time period 
is set for airing and discussing the 
proposals, including questions and clari- 

3* When major objections arise, the 
group breaks into small groups for the 
purpose of creating amendments, resolu- 
tions or new proposals. Participants 
then return to the larger group to dis- 
cuss, prioritize, and select resolutions. 

It:, If there is still no consensus, 
the objectors are asked if they will 
step aside and allow the decision to be 
adopted if: 

— Their dissenting ideas are 

— It is stipulated that the deci- 
sion does not set a precedent and cannot 
be used as a basis for future decisions. 





--It is implemented for a trial 
period, with a well-defined set of cri- 
teria for evaluation . 

5< If the objectors refuse , a commit- 
tee is formed containing an equal number 
of members representing each opinion* 
The committee's assignment is to develop 
a new proposal within a set period of 
time. Their proposal is brought back 
to the group for a final decision, 

6. If consensus cannot be reached on 
the new proposal, then the group tries 
to reach consensus to go to a three- 
fourths majority vote. 

7. As a very last resort , three- 
fourths of the group may vote to decide 
by a three- fourths majority vote* 

Pros and Cons of the Escape Clause 

■ ■ ' — ■ — ■ ■ 

We conclude these descriptions of the 
majority rule escape clause with the 
following points. On the positive side 
one can say that in most groups the 
"clause rT is rarely used, and that it 
takes off some of the pressure the grou] 
feels by knowing that they must come to 
full consensus. Time pressures are, 
after all, one of the realities that a 
group must deal with* and sometimes the 
escape clause provides the group with a 
legitimate response to time problems. 
Especially when the group is inexperi- 
enced with consensus and is having dif- 
ficulties working with it, an escape 
clause may be the only way of avoiding 
frustrations that would lead them to 
abandon consensus altogether. 

On the other hand, some believe that time 
pressure is often good for a group since 
it forces members to learn to work to- 
gether well enough to use consensus on 
a regular basis* When an escape clause 
exists, those in the majority position 
may be tempted to take the easy way out 
rather than giving serious consideration 
to the opinions of those in the minority. 



The Wisconsin Womyn's Land Cooperative, 
a living and recreational farm for women 
and children, uses consensus* But they 
have also developed a special conflict 
resolution procedure for addressing issues 
of strongly diverse opinions, and for 
formulating difficult policy decisions. 
The procedure includes pre- meeting prepa- 
rations for individuals, in which women 
explore their own perspectives, contra^ 
dictions j and interests. Then the special 
conflict resolution meeting is held, us- 
ing principles of consensus, criticism/ 
self-criticism, and maximum participation. 

The unique feature of the process is the 
"Provision of Last Resource." If, after 
thoroughly discussing and exploring the 
issues, no consensus can be reached, the 
decision is delegated to a smaller group 
of people. The subgroup members must 
represent all the perspectives, and they 
are chosen and agreed to by all. They 
must be ongoing organisation members, 
well versed in consensus and criticism 
skills, and they are expected to be 
flexible and to change in the course of 
their further work together. No later 
substitutions are allowed for those as- 
signed to the small group. These women 

meet until they reach consensus , and 
their decision is binding for the whole 

A potential problem with this method 
is that without very thorough report- 
ing to the large group of both the con- 


tent and process of the small group r s 
work, some members of the larger group 
may not be satisfied by or even under- 
stand the final decision. An advan- 
tage, however, is that it does allow 
a thorough attack on the problem: 
representatives of all positions work 
until opposing views are resolved into 


The procedure below is adapted from a 
process developed by the Federation of 
Ohio River Cooperatives for use in large 
organizational meetings* 

1* A proposal is presented to the 
entire group. 

2- The large group breaks into small 
groups which "buzz," or quickly talk, to 
bring up any questions necessary to clari 
fy the proposal, 

3* A meeting of the large group polls 
representatives of the small groups for 
clarifying questions and answers are pro- 

k.-4 One minute of silence is allowed 
for participants to consider the proposal 

5, The small groups meet to die cuss 
the proposal. Do participants want to 
accept it, offer friendly amendments , 
voice strong disagreements or aajor ob- 

6, In the large group, the small 
groups are polled for their reactions. 
If there Is a major objection, proceed 
to step 7, if not, skip to step 8. 

7, a* Small groups buzz to come up 
with suggestions to resolve objections, 
or vith further creative suggestions. 

b. The large group polls the' sisall 
group for results of 7. a. 

c+ Again, small groups bu&z for 
one minute about their reactions to ideas 
expressed during 7*b. 

d. In the large group, facili- 
tators asfc whether objections have been 
met by the suggestions made above* 

3* Small groups talk again to 
consider members 1 feelings about the 
proposal and added suggestions. Facili- 
tators join groups where objections 

8. In the large group, concerns are 
prioritized and amendments combined to 
produce a new proposal. 

9, Small groups buzz for clarifying 
questions about the proposal developed 
under Step 8, 

10. In the large group a poll is taken 
for clariiyiag questions a and answers are 

11. Small groups discuss whether they 
can support the proposal as revised. 

12* There Is a test for consensus in 
tha small groups* 

13* In the large group M the revised 
proposal is read again. 

lk m A test for consensus is held" in 
the entire group* 



a mutually satisfactory solution with- 
out requiring the entire group to 
spend time on the potentially arduous 


The feminist movement is developing an 
alternative to Robert f s Rules of Order 
for large meetings where parliamentary 
procedure would traditionally be used. 
The "Consensus-Trust" model was first 
tested successfully at the founding con- 
vention of the National Women's Studies 
Association in 1977, which over 700 people 
attended* It was modified and used by a 
smaller group of about 50 at the first 
Wisconsin State Convention of the National 
Lesbian Feminist Organisation in 1978. 

The model is used at meetings whose pur- 
pose is to pass resolutions that will 
stand as policies or platforms for the 
organic at ion ♦ Resolutions or proposals 
are drafted prior -to the session by small 
groups. The goal of the meeting is to 
reach agreement about these proposals 
where possible , rather than to debate 
hot issues. 

In the "Consensus-Trust" model, partici- 
pants attempt to reach consensus up to a 
point, then opt for a two-thirds majority 
1 vote in a way that still takes into ac- 
count the concerns of those who do not 
support the resolution. (See the ac- 
companying diagram. ) 

The model uses many techniques already 
discussed in this chapter, A minute of 
silence after hearing the resolution 
gives everyone an opportunity to think 
about it before speaking* Discussion 
consists of requesting information for 
' clarification and voicing concerns, 
rather than a pro-con debate. Ideas 
emerge in a positive, constructive at- 
mosphere. The group works together to 
make changes consistent with the intent 
of the original resolution, but amending, 
clarifying, or otherwise modifying it to 
meet concerns expressed, 

A vote is taken even when the test for 
consensus is positive, both for the 



ritual value of affirming the agreement 
and because some people really want the 
*-* chance to say "yes" to a proposal, rather 
than just not saying IT no," 

On a lopsided vote, with two-thirds or 
more in favor, a caucus meets trying to 
modify the resolution so it will be more 
acceptable to the whole group. The re- 
vised resolution then either passes with 
consensus or passes with a two-thirds or 
more majority. In the latter case, the 
unmet concerns and the percent of sup- 
port are recorded as part of the passed 
resolution. Thus, the value of all par- 
ticipants 1 opinions is -demonstrated. 

In the cases of close votes, with less 
than two -thirds in favor, a hand vote is 
immediately taken to decide if the group 
wants to spend more time on it now. At 
this writing, this part of the process 
is yet untested, so modifications may 
emerge as it is practiced and devel- 
oped. The emphasis here, though, is to 
use group tljne to productive ends, not 
for endless debate on divisive issues. 
This kind of approach is appropriate for 
convention meetings where time is short* 

The "Consensus-Trust" model uses a team 
of facilitators, each with specialised 
jobs. Two facilitators take turns in the 
active and consulting roles, running the 
meeting and making procedural decisions, 
calling for votes, and so forth, A 
watcher keeps track of items that need to 
be picked up again later and also con- 
sults on procedural decisions* Two note- 
takers share the job of recording reso- 
lutions; a timekeeper clocks and en- 
forces time limits on individual speak- 
ers and on parts of the process; and 
two people on the convention floor pass 
out papers, count votes, and answer par- 
ticipants 1 questions or concerns. 

Experiences in using this model have been 
rewarding, even for people who consider 
themselves jaded as far as meetings go* 
Participants have reported that the 
process engenders a humane, cooperative, 
and creative atmosphere, and that it is 
workable and flexible. The model repre- 
sents one attempt to adapt the values 

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and techniques of consensus decision 
making to the specialised setting of a 
large group with short time and a product 
to complete, 

A final point: as groups try to adapt 
the benefits of consensus decision mak- 
ing to situations like conferences and 
conventions, it is easy to assume that 
they must work within the traditional 
frameworks of such situations. Thus 

i/ people work at changing the decision- 
making procedures rather than trying to 

F change the situation itself. It might 
be valuable to experiment with allocating 
more time for decision making at con- 
ferences, or looking for other struc- 
tural changes that would allow use of 
something closer to a "straight consent 
sus" process* 


making work. Do not try to leap to a 
new contract about how decisions will be 
made halfway through a meeting or diffi- 
cult discussion. Deciding on a process 
is an important, and sometimes difficult, 
decision in its own right. It needs to 
be done separately from group work, 
Members also need to know the "rules" and 
to be able to trust that the process will 
be stable, that it won^ change when the 
going gets hard, and that other members 
won't try to alter the rules to get their 
way. If you do need to change your pro- 
cess, set up a time to discuss the 
changes that is clearly separate from 
other concerns and decisions you must 
deal with, 



The alternatives in this chapter may help 
you adapt the principles of consensus to 
a situation where "pure" consensus would 
not be acceptable or effective. If the 
specific techniques here do not meet your 
needs, they may suggest new procedures 
that your group can develop for its own 
purposes. We want to caution you, how- 
ever, that the time to agree on a pro- 
cedure is before you begin your decision- 


(especially section entitled, "Decision- 
Making Tools s " pp* 80-83) by Virginia 
Coover, et al. 

Andre Delbecq, et al. 

er 13 

Common Problems : What To Do About Them 

Rarely is a meeting perfect. Rarely is 
the process completely smooth > partici- 
pation absolutely equal, all conflicts 
worked through creatively and lovingly, 
and all decisions inspirationally inno- 
vative and entirely satisfactory to every- 
one. The perfect meeting is, to meeting- 
goers, as legendary as the perfect wave 
is to surfers, or the perfect souffle to 

In truth, the best of meetings is usu- 
'ally riddled with small problems; a pri- 
ority set six months ago with full agree- 
ment of the group comes up again as the 
subject of heated controversy; a group 
member is in a bad mood and has something 
negative to say about every proposal* In 
a good meeting, the members are alert to 
these small problems and deal with them 
as they come up, working at the process 
« of the meeting rather than expecting it 
to run itself, 

^ But occasionally some problem will crop 
up again and again and will cause much 
frustration. In order to help your own 
thinking, we will summarise what we have 
said in other chapters by addressing com- 
mon problems that we have encountered in 

"" our own group experience. For each of 
these problems, we will outline the 
symptoms, possible causes of those symp- 
toms, and what you might do about them, 

Our approach will consist mainly of refer- 
encing previous chapters and telling you 
where to seek further information, rather 
than reviewing subjects discussed elsewhere. 
Of course this list cannot be complete. 
Bach group is unique in its own way, and 
these suggestions should be adapted to 
the needs of your particular group. 

The Symptoms 

The members of your group seem to break 
up into two or more small factions that 
repeatedly disagree with one another on 
a variety of issues. This disagreement 
has occurred consistently enough that the 
members of the factions expect to disa- 
gree with each other and are more con- 
scious of their areas of disagreement 
than of any agreement they share. They 
resent each other and this increases 

The Analysis and What To Do 

One or both of the underlying problems 
described below could be causing these 


A, There is a Real, Philosophical 
Split in the Group 

Analysis : For a group to work well, 
members should be aware of commonly held 
agreement on purpose, goals, or expecta- 
tions. During times of stress ^ it helps 
to remind a group of what they share in 
common j despite their differences. Yet 
even when a group does share a common 
goal, individuals may have different be- 
liefs about the best way of achieving 
that goal* Or they may have different 
beliefs about the priorities of their 


What To Do : When differences in un- 
derlying philosophy or perspective cause 
repeated disagreements over similar top- 
ics , it is time to discuss these topics 
in depth. You might hold a priorities- 
setting meeting, a goals-identification 
meeting, or a retreat where members dis- 
cuss why the group is important to them, 
what they value about their experience 
together, what their frustrations are, 
what changes they would like to see. 
Try to balance the discussion of the- 
oretical issues with practical concerns. 
Having a facilitator or consultant from 
outside the group may help since he or 
she will not be personally involved in 
the group's conflicts* See Chapter 10* 

B+ There is A Long-Term Unresolved 

Analysis : This conflict doesn't have 
to be about philosophical issues, as de- 
scribed above, but it may have the same 
effect of splitting the group. 

Example: Several members, at a pre- 
vious meeting, objected to the group's 
policy of allowing John to make inde- 
pendent financial decisions, and a 
subcommittee was formed to make such 
decisions in the future. Now John 
feels angry about the lack of trust 
shown towards him and about his own 
loss of freedom* Several others also 
feel that he was treated unfairly and 
support him when he dissents about 



p Chie of my absolute beliefs is that any 
movement which has been based on freedom 
. * + is Hlce a live cell; there is a bi- 
ology of ideas as there is a biology of 
cells, and each goes through a process of 
evolution. The parent cell splits and 
the new entities in their turn divide 
and divide again + Instead of indicating 
a breakdown J it is a sign of health; 
endless energy is spent trying to keep 
together forces which should be distinct. 
Each cell is fulfilling its Eiseion in 
this separation, which in point of fact 
is no separation at all* Cohesion is 
maintained until in the end the whole is 
a vast mosaic cleaving together in union 
and strength* 

— from Margaret Sanger 

V* W, Norton end Company 
New York, 1938 pp- 396-7 


other matters, The individuals who 
had requested the change in policy 
sense John f s resentment and are on 
the defensive when he disagrees with 
them. As a result, factions develop 
B around issues that are completely un- 
related to the original conflict. 

What To Do : It is important to bring 
such underlying conflicts into the open 
and deal with them. Sometimes members 
will act under the influence of such con- 
flicts without realising it. If you 
suspect an underlying conflict is dis- 
rupting your group ^ bring it up for group 
discussion. Pick a time to ask: "What's 
really going on here?" Initially, mem- 
bers may be unwilling to admit that they 
still hold resentments about something 
that is supposed to be "dead and buried" 
(or that was never openly acknowledged in 
the first place). If the group tries to 
work things out in a supportive atmos- 
phere, rather than laying blame or making 
accusations j individuals can often recog- 
nise and address the problem, or at least 
discharge some of the tension- If the 


- r 


factionalism has been intense, your group 
may need some trust building exercises 
before tilings can be dealt with openly. 
SOLVING , and "Increase Involvement and 
Trust" in Chapter 11, TECHNIQUES FOR 
GROUP BUILDING. You may also want to ■ 
review Chapter 9, WORKING WITH EMOTIONS. 


The Symptoms 

Simple decisions sometimes turn into 
long, heated debates. For more complex 
decisions, discussion can go on and on 
and never seem to get anywhere. 

The Analysis and What To Do 

i i i^ -■ ■* — i 1 — 

The root of this symptom may be one of 
the problems described above uader 
"Polarized Factions. " Read that section 
as well as examining "the thoughts below, 

A. Members Are Competitive, Too 
Strongly Identified With Their 
*> Own Ideas, or Afraid to Trust 

One Another 

^ — ■ — 

Analysis : Consensus requires an at- 
mosphere of cooperation and support . 
Members must feel they can trust each 
other, they must care about each other's 
needs, and they must avoid competitive 
attempts to "win" a decision-making "con- 
test." See Chapter 3, ATTITUDES AND 

Believing in such values, however, is 
much easier than acting on them. Even 
in groups which encourage members to act 
in open, trusting ways, and to express 
their feelings, "false trust" is often a 
problem. Individuals may act trusting 
because they feel pressured to do so in 
order to be accepted, but deep down the 
feeling of trust isn*t there yet. Try to 
recognize in yourself the difference be- 
tween mating an effort to be a little 
more open and trusting and the mere 
mimicry of such attitudes. 

What To Do : Recognise that it is a 
struggle always to feel cooperative, al- 
ways to avoid attachment to your own 
ideas, and always to trust others to 
listen and care. Members can help one 
another when changes in attitude and 
behavior are sought* 

Example: Laura has something argu- 
mentative to say every time someone 
expresses an opinion that is sub- 
stantially different from hers. It 
is right for people to criticise this 
behavior and to gently pressure her 
to act differently. But at the same 
time, the group can help by recognis- 
ing why she is acting this way* Is 
it because the decision is personally 
important to her and she is afraid 
people will forget to consider the 
points she has raised? If so, others 
can assure her that they have heard 
her and will remember to consider her 
points (then they really will make a 
special effort to do so). When Jack 
states a counter argument, he can say: 
"I think the point Laura just raised 
is important to to be kept in mind. 
I think we should also consider the 
other side of the coin, which is . . , " 

Group evaluations are good tools for 
helping members in the never-ending 
struggle to be good contributors. During 
evaluations members can make a special 
effort to recognize participation prob- 
lems, to offer and to ask for help. See 
"Evaluations" in Chapter 6> STRUCTURING 
YOUR MEETINGS* and "Feedback and Criti- 
cism/' in Chapter 8, COMMUNICATION SKILLS. 

The group can also work on building a 
more cohesive and supportive group cli- 
mate where people will feel safer about 
trusting each other. See Chapter 11, 
look at Chapter 9, WORKING WITH EMOTIONS* 
for ideas about what to do "along the 
way. " — We are always along the way. 



B, The Subject Itself Is Too U nwield y 

Analysis : Does everyone know exactly 
what decisions you are trying to make? 
Was the goal of the discussion clear at 
the beginning, but new issues have arisen 
and clouded your purpose? Is the subject 
too vague or complicated? 

What To Do : You need a more struc- 
tured agenda for organising your approach 
to the problem. Perhaps the issue should 
be broken into smaller parts which can be 
discussed separately. Perhaps it can be 
"pre-digested" so part of the thinking is 
done before the meeting. See "Working 
Outside of the Meeting" in Chapter 6^ 
the techniques of clarifying and reformu- 
lating described in "Facilitative Func- 
tions " in Chapter 7 3 THE ROLE OF THE 

C. ' Group Members Hav e "Hidden 

Agendas 11 


Analysis : The issue that is being 
discussed is not the real, or the only, 
issue. under consideration. 

Example: The group is supposedly 
deciding which project to undertake 
next, but an unstated issue, perhaps 
important to many people, perhaps 
just to one or two, is whose project 
will be worked on. In other words, 
a power struggle is happening* 

Example: David is arguing against 
a particular expenditure because he 
wants the money to remain available 
for a different purchase, one he 
hasn f t proposed yet. 

Unrecognised hidden agendas can cause 
discussion to flounder hopelessly. The 
group can't come to agreement since the 

issues being addressed aren T t the only 
ones influencing people. 

What To Do : What the group needs is 
more clarity about the real issues at 
hand* Usually if one person can identi- 
fy the underlying issue, an "aha!" re- 
sponse in the group will be followed by 
relief that the real issue is out in the 
open. Many times participants don't 
realise they are being influenced by a 
hidden agenda. It may take a group ef- 
fort to stop and ask, "What is really go- 
ing on here? Everybody look inward for 
a moment, please," 

— - 


Don't be accusatory in pointing out 
another person's hidden agenda. Act in 
a cooperative effort to achieve clarity. 
If you suddenly realise that you have been 
under the influence of a hidden agenda 
yourself, point it out to the group. 
Doing this will not only explain your 
motivations -to them but might also stimu- 
late a new perspective in others.. Hidden 
agendas are more successfully exposed and 
dealt with when the group's norms en- 
courage discussion of process and feel- 
ings. Review Chapter 4, YOUR PARTICI- 

D, Discussion Meanders Because of 
Poor Facilitation . 

Analysis : Constant attention is re- 
quired to keep a group focused on a single 
topic of discussion and to maintain a 
clear understanding of where the discus- 
sion is moving. One 'person usually takes 
responsibility for this task, but the 
more members skilled in facilitation, the 
better the process will be* 

What To Do : Emphasize learning and 
using facilitation skills by the whole 
group. Discuss facilitation when you 
evaluate your meetings* See "Evaluations" 
and see Chapter 7, THE ROLE OF THE GROUP 

The Sy mptoms 

Your group agrees to a decision, but 
finds out later that many people are ac- 
tually dissatisfied with the decision and 
are not committed to carrying it out. Or 
perhaps a decision originally seemed good, 
but later it becomes apparent that it is 
inadequate: it won't work; it doesn't 
meet some important needs; or everyone 

originally thought they knew what the 
decision was, but now several people 
have different memories of what the agree- 
ment actually meant., 

The Analysis and Wh at To Do 

Poor decisions may result from unwieldly 
discussions or poor facilitation, ad- 
dressed above under Sections II .B. and 
II, D. If neither of these rings a bell, 
the answer may be below, 

A. The Decision Was Made On Insuffi - 
cient Information , 

Analysis : Probably not enough ground- 
work was done in advance of the actual 
decision-making discussion, not enough 
time was spent exchanging the informa- 
tion that was available, or not enough 
questions were asked at the time the 
decision was being made. 

What To Do : If your group realises 
that it doesn't have enough information, 
it is best to delay making a decision 
while more facts and ideas are sought. 
If you are under urgent time pressure, 
you might set a special meeting, dele- 
gate a subgroup representing different 
viewpoints to get the information and 
make a decision, or mandate someone to 
find out the answers and go ahead on the 
basis of those answers (e,g*, if it costs 
more than $*+5 to repair the ditto machine 
then get rid of it. If it costs less, 
borrow a truck and take it to the repair 
shop,} See "Working Outside of Meetings" 

B, Your Decisions Are Incomplete 

Analysis : You aren't rounding deci- 
sions out with details about implementa- 
tion and accountability, or you aren't 
recording your decisions for later refer- 
ence. It seems like a decision gets made, 
but then nothing happens. 

What To Do : Be specific. You need to 
decide how a decision will be carried out, 
when , by whom , and with what kind of 
follow-up. See the box on rf The Recorder r s 
Responsibilities * " and the section titled 
"Recording and Implementing Decisions" in 



C* Decisions Are Passed, Despite 

Underlying Pis agreements, Because 
Members Fear Conflict 

Analysis : Members should not feel they 
have to avoid conflict. Conflict is an 
important part of the consensus process 
and a skilled group should be able to 
survive and grow from the experience • 

What To Do: See Chapter 10* CONFLICT 
AND PROBLEM SOLVING* for guidelines about 
dealing with conflict* and Chapter 8* 
COMMUNICATION SKILLS* for useful skills 
to use during conflict. See Chapter 11* 
the section titled "Increase Involvement 
and Trust " for ways of improving intra- 
group relations and providing the soli- 
darity needed for members to Tmow their 
group can survive conflict. If you want 
still more* some useful techniques for 
coping with potentially frightening 
situations can be found in Chapter 9* 


D« Time Pressure Is Causing You To 
Rush Th rough Decision Making Too 

Quickly , 


Analysis : Occasionally time pressure 
causes real, inescapable problems. Usu- 
ally, though , time pressure can be avoided. 

What To Do , There are two kinds of 
time pressure. General pressure occurs 
when your group just has too much to do 
in too little meeting time. All deci- 
sions get rushed. In this case, con- 
sider whether some decisions could be 
delegated, instead of taking up the time 
of the whole group. With issues that do 
demand the whole group's attention, try 
to organise discussion so its focus is 
clear and members can address issues 
directly and efficiently. See: "Using 
Agendas" and "Working Outside of Meetings" 



1. Assure that all people can feel co 
fortable as part of the group, by going 
slowly to leave room for quieter people, . 
and by showing support for people, 

2* Taking time to make sure we under- 
stand what is going on. 


3* Listening to others carefully; Baying 
when we do not understand what they have 

*t. Building on what others eay; synthe- 
sizing, rather than putting ideas in con- 

5* Thinking creatively —breaking out of 
ruts> looking for new alternatives. 

6. Spending time preparing for meetings — 
arranging thoughts coherently in advance, 

?. Building understanding of, and skills 
in using! the consensus process* 

froa INVERT 

TATOR; and "Formalized Process" in 

When a particular decision must be made 
quickly, a group faces a second kind of 
time pressure. (For example * you must 
decide whether to public ally endorse a 
particular candidate at a rally tomorrow 
night. ) Sometimes these pressures create 
a real crisis and there's not much to do 
except the best you can under the circum- 
stances. On the other hand, groups often 
perceive themselves to be at the mercy of 
* time pressures that actually can be 

Ask yourselves whether such a change is 
possible in this case. If it really is 
not, and if the group is having a hard 
time agreeing, it is probably best not to 
force a decision. Consider what the 




costs of not deciding will be* (Will 
the candidate lose the election without 
your support? Will your support be just 
as useful if it comes two weeks later?) 
Weigh these factors before you rush 
through a decision. 

If you find yourselves repeatedly encoun- 
tering similar urgent deadlines , you may 
want to form a policy or develop a con- 
tingency plan for making certain kinds of 
decisions. Your group may want to review 
REACHED j as well as the references men- 
tioned already for this situation, 

E, Decisions Are Poor Because of 

Incomplete Participation By Group 

Analysis : Your decision does not 
represent the active sharing of ideas by 
all group members, 


What To Do: This problem is addressed 
in the section below on nonparticipation. 

The Symptoms 

Some members sit quietly through meetings 
and don't participate much* More active 
members may fail to notice this lack of 
involvement, or they may be disturbed by 
it* They feel out of touch with the quiet 
members, don't know what they are think- 
ing, or whether they support the group 1 s 
activity or not* 

Group members are^burnlng out * 

Analysis and What To Do 

While perfect equality of participation 
is an ideal that goes hand- in-hand with 
equality of power in a group* a complete 
balance of participation is never 
achieved. Straining too hard for it 
may disrupt the natural balance of inter- 
change in your group. When individuals 
do not express themselves in group dis- 
cussions* however, whether through lack 
of desire, inability* or by being over- 
powered by other group members* the whole 
group suffers. 

A* Low Participation Is a Personal 

Characteristic of These Members 

Analysis : Silent members are shy, lack 
necessary communication skills, or simply 
have a reticent style of participation. 

What To Do : These members may need 
special support from the group, or ac- 
ceptance as they are. The rest of the 
group needs to understand their reasons 
for being silent. These issues are ad- 
dressed in Chapter l$ s TECHNIQUES FOR 
GROUP BUILDING,, under the section "Share 
Responsibility, " 

B* Group Members Are "Burning Out" 

Analysis : The group has spent its quo- 
ta of emotional and physical energy and 
can't continue with efficiency or enthusi- 

s: The group has spent its quota of emotional and physical energy and can t 

farther efficiently or enthusiastically. 

The burn-out may arise out of this particular meeting 

It has lasted 

* ^ SA A A/*VW W *A AA * ' 


What To Do : The "burn-out ir may arise 
out of this particular meeting: it has 
lasted too long, has been too boring, or 
too emotionally intense, or it comes at 
the end of an arduous week. Take a 
break, change the subject, do a "light 
and lively" exercise, or reschedule the 
meeting for another time and go out for 
pissa. See Chapter 9* WORKING WITH 

On the other hand, the bum-out may be 
a long-term problem. At such times it's 
crucial to re-examine the group , the way 
^ it works, and what it is doing to find 
out what the problem is. Are your ac- 
tivities unrewarding? Are your meetings 
too drawn out and tiring? If the group 
is taking energy away from its members, 
and if members aren't being recharged 
4 somehow (by cameraderie with other mem- 
bers, by a dedication to a purpose, by 
feelings of success,, or by a balance 
of rewarding, challenging tasks against 
the tedious ones), then something needs 
to be changed or disaster will occur, 
It T s time to do some concentrated evalu- 
ating and possibly to change goals or 
procedures. See Chapter 6* STRUCTURING 
70UR MEETINGS^ for suggestions about doing 
evaluations and for ideas about stream- 
lining your meeting process* Also see 
the references mentioned in the paragraph 

C, Silent Members Lack Trust In The 
Group or Fear Conflict 

Analysis : Individuals do not- speak 
their minds because they fear speaking 
will bring undesirable consequences. They 
think other members may launch a critical 
attack on the statement, someone's feel- 
ings will be hurt by disagreement, or an 
ugly conflict will ensue. 

What To Do : If your group fosters 
norms of trust and caring, and if conflict 
is accepted as natural, then this fear of 
^ putting oneself on the line (which every- 
one experiences to some degree) shouldn't 
keep members from saying what they feel 
is important. Again* see Chapter 11* 


ing supportive norms in a group. Look at 
and Chapter 9* WORKING WITH EMOTIONS* for 
specific skills that make these norms 
work • 

D + A Member is Reticent Because of 
Lack of Commitm ent 

Analysis : The individual just isn't 
interested, or doesn't care anymore what 
the group does or decides* 

What To Do : The group needs an ex- 
planation of this feeling. Is it because 
the member is no longer very interested 
in the group? Does he or she have needs 
that aren't being met? Are there parti- 
cular frustrations with the role the mem- 
ber plays? Does he or she feel left out, 
ignored, unchallenged? Or is it a natu- 
ral growing away from the group as inter- 
ests change? If these conditions are long 
term, they may signal a need for change. 
The person may need to assume a differ- 
ent role in the group, address problems 
in relationships with group members, or 
possibly. leave the group. This may be a 
private decision, but the group should be 
informed so it knows what to expect and 
understands why the member is choosing to 
alter his or her relationship with the 
group. In other cases, the needed change 
may affect other people, or the member may 
need to share and receive input from the 
group, A special tijme can be set aside 
for discussing these concerns. 

If the lack of commitment or interest ap- 
plies just to the particular project or 
item being dealt with at the moment, the 
group may tolerate a member's not par- 
ticipating in the discussion at hand. Or 
they may believe that the issue is of 
■basic importance to the group and they 
will ask the particular member, as part 
of his or her commitment to the group as 
a whole, to take part in this matter de- 
spite personal lack of interest. 

Finally, a member may fade away from the 
group due to individual burn-out. He or 

she is overextended in activities and 
commitments, or a personal crisis (e.g. , 
illness, a problem at home) is using up 
energy. Burn-out is a special problem 
in consensus groups since they require 
such a high level of involvement from 
all members. Many times members make 
demands on each other's energy just when 
they should instead remind one another 
to take care of themselves and to treat 
their energy as a limited and valued re- 
source* Group members need a balance be- 
tween working together for the good of 
the whole group and nurturing the in- 
dividuals in the group. If they let 
each other pay too high a price for the 
group's sake, more will be lost than 
gained. If a person is truly burned out, 
she or be needs group support. It is OK 
to take a leave of absence, to cut back 
time involvement by doing less, or to cut 

back emotional involvement (perhaps by 
doing only clerical work for a while in- 
stead of stressful planning or negotiat- 
ing activities), If a member doesn't get 
this kind of support from the group when 
he or she is burning out, the final re- 
sult may be the person's giving up and 
withdrawing completely, or leaving in 
anger and bitterness* See Chapter 9, 





The Sjrrnptoms 

One or a few members speak the most at 
meetings. Perhaps this over-participa- 
tion is recognized by the group as a 
problem and is a source of frustration. 
Or perhaps it is generally accepted be- 
cause these people also have dispropor- 
tionate power in the group. Either way, 
it will interfere with the consensus pro- 

Analysis and What To Do 

Over-participation may reflect a power 
imbalance, or it may be the result of 
other factors in an individual's partic- 
ipation style* 

A, There Is a Power Imbalance 

Analysis : The members who speak most 
have the most control over what the group 
does. Other members, whether they like 
the situation or not, find themselves de- 
ferring to these people. 

What To Do : Sometimes members get 
satisfaction out of having excessive pow- 
er in a group. Often, though, they would 
like to get out of that role and have 
other members share the burden of respon- 
sibility. (In workshops we have done, 
there are usually as many people asking 
"How do I give up the power I have? 11 as 
there are ones who want to know, "How 
do I get more power? 1 '} Whichever the 
situation in your group, the best ap- 
proach is to openly acknowledge the prob- 
lem and work together to change it. This 
change will be most effective if it is 
attempted cooperatively rather than as a 
coup against the "establishment." Remem- 
ber the scope for defensiveness that ex- 
ists when someone's power is challenged. 
Even when a person would like to hand over 
some responsibility j it is often diffi- 
cult to see a less experienced person do 
something differently than you would your- 
self, and perhaps make mistakes. It is 
also scarey to take on new responsibil- 
ities. Often power imbalances continue 


to exist, with resentments on both sides, 
because members are afraid, or don't know 
how, to Instigate change. If treated as 
a mutual struggle, without laying blame 
on individuals for their mistakes or their 
roles, the move towards more equal par- 
ticipation can be a rewarding learning 
experience for everyone. See "Share 
Responsibility" in Chapter 11, TECHNIQUES 
FOR GROUP BUILDING, for specific hints 
about equalizing involvement. See 
"Feedback and Criticism" in Chapter 8, 
can be used in talking about the situa- 
tion. Finally, see Chapter 9, WORKING 
AW PROBLEM SOLVING, for guidelines about 
working with the feelings and conflicts 

B . Individuals Just Talk Too M uch 
At Meetings 

Analysis: This volubility reflects 
some characteristic, in the member T s style 
other than power in the group. 

What To Do : Try to find out why the 
person talks so much. Maybe he or she 
likes being in the limelight. More likely 
he or she lacks confidence. Sometimes 
people drone on about a subject because 
they are afraid that others won't hear 
and understand what they have to say, or 
that if they don't have a comeback for 
every objection, others will forget the 
important points they have raised. Using 
the communications skills (described under 
"Feedback and Criticism" in Chapter 8, 
person how he or she is causing a prob- 
lem in the group and what specific changes 
you would like to see. If the group 
climate is supportive, and if the person 
can recognize the validity of the need 
for a change in speaking style, then the 
whole group can support this change. 
During meetings, members can: a} assure 
the over-participating person that he or 
she is being heard; and b) point out when 
the person slips back into the problem 
behavior ("Paula, can you get to the 
point more quickly please?" — "Are you 
going to say something different that 

you haven't already said before?"). This 
is a good time for humor (or at least 
good humor) that lets the individual 
; know he or she is accepted by the group, 
"despite the fact that the group isn't 
tolerating a specific behavior* The more 
that blame and accusation can be avoided, 
the better. But do be direct. 

Good facilitation skills can help a mem- 
ber be aware of the need for equalising 
participation, for staying on the topic 
and being relevant in all remarks, and 
for being aware of the progress of a 
discussion and the whole group's needs. 
You might have the monopoliser share 
facilitation with another, skilled facili- 
■ tator. This can increase the person's 
sensitivity to his or her own speaking 
style. (See Chapter 7, THE ROLE OF THE 
GROUP FACILITATOR: also see Section II. A. 
above under "Endless Discussion* ") 



The Symptom 

A group member seems to be totally unco- 
operative despite considerable effort on 
improving skills and sharing responsi- 
bility. Such a member may be disrupting 
the whole group's ability to work effec- 

Anal ysis and What To Do 

When such situations occur they are pain- 
ful, bewildering and frustrating for all 
concerned. We don't have any smooth 
solutions to fall back on, (For an Hdeal" 
resolution to such a problem, see the 
boxed example, tf A Case Study of Problem 
Solving, " in Chapter 10, CONFLICT AND 
PROBLEM SOLVING. ) However, you should be 
sure that the group is justified in con- 
sidering that a true case of non-coopera- 
tion exists, and that the group is not 
merely scapegoat ing someone who has a 
legitimate but different perspective on 
important issues. 


The "Hon- Cooperation" of a Member 

May Be Resolved Into a Set of 
Strong Disagreements Which Can 
Be Solved or at Least Mutually 

Analysis : Sometimes a member who is 
causing considerable disruption in a 
group is labeled as "uncooperative 1 * be- 
cause the status quo is being shaken or 
because cherished assumptions are being 
questioned. Often the person may have 
good intentions but poor communication 

What To Do: 

— a) Deal with problems caused by a 
member's behavior as early as possible* 

j* When people are committed to "cooperat- 
ing" and to "accepting differences ," it 
is often very hard to express anger to- 
ward another person whose views or behav- 

~* iors are different. . Oft en each member 
will sit back waiting for someone else 
to be the first to complain. This only 
allows time for anger to grow and for 
everyone to build a more solid "case" 
against the problem member. When stored 
anger finally erupt s, the member can be 

k> scapegoated by the rest of the group . and 
the situation is almost always made worse. 
The problem member feels alone and alien- 
ated, whether he or she recognises the 
source of this feeling or not; and other 
members begin reinforcing each other's 
anger and blame- It is hard to think 
rationally when this happens. So speak 
up soon, even about little things, while 
*' you're still willing and able to do it 
in a supportive, give-and-take manner. 
(See "Guidelines for Responding to Con- 
flict" in Chapter 10, CONFLICT AND 
PROBLEM SOLVING. See "Feedback and 
Criticism" in Chapter 8, COMMUNICATION 

— b) Assume for as long as you can 
_ that the person wants to cooperate and 
offer whatever help you can to make this 

A new, probationary, member of a primari- 
ly Tolunteex group had asked for employ- 
ment in the group's office during the 
suEmer* It was decided that he should 
have an evaluation session, to see if the 
group wanted to accept bita as a full mem- 
ber, before his employment was considered. 
During the evaluation session many mem- 
bers expressed great anger and frustra- 
tion at his behavior in the group. Serious 
problems were pointed out about his par- 
ticipation in meetings. However, after 
the anger was vented, the group decided to 
delay the decision about whether he could 
be a full Ete&berof the group, but to go 
ahead and give him the summer job. During 
the period of his employment, he had a 
better chance to learn about the group and 
its members, and people were able to get 
to know him better. He began to fit in. 
In the fall, the group was happy to accept 
Miu as a regular isember. 

— c) Listen to the problem member. 
What are his or her perceptions of the 
situation? Try to identify with that 
perspective. (See "Listening" in 

— d) Question your own analysis, Is 
it a case of absolute non-cooperation, 
or is it just easier for you to dismiss 
a person who works and thinks differently 
from the rest of the group? 

— e) Consider third pary mediation. 
In cases of protracted and strong disa- 
greement, a person outside the group may 
see the issue more clearly than anyone 
in the group can hope to. (See "Problem 
Solving" in Chapter 10, CONFLICT AND 

— f) As a last resort, you might want 
to try changing the person^ role in the 
group or asking the person to take a 
leave of absence while everyone cools off 



B. The Member Is Truly Non- Cooperative 

^ — 

Analysis : If every effort toward pin- 
pointing and resolving- differences between 
a member and the group have failed, then 
you may be justified in thinking of a 
member as non-cooperative. It is crucial 
to realise that such a label has little 
to say about the true causes of the situ- 
ation* People are, after all, not un- 
cooperative out of sheer diabolical intent. 
They have reasons which, however con- 
voluted to others, make sense to them. 
A person may be acting out of personal 
needs (e.g. for more attention or greater 
influence) , or perhaps he or she wishes 
to make the group over in an image which 
no one in the group can comprehend, let 
alone agree to or act on. Or perhaps 
mutual antagonism has reached a destruc- 
tive phase that cannot be controlled. 

What To Do : There is little point in 
trying to completely uncover the reasons 
for uncooperativeness. But it is still 
important to recognise that such an ex- 
planation does exist, even when the only 
solution is to ask the problem member to 
leave the group. This awareness makes it 
possible to offer the person sympathetic 
respect for his or her feelings during 
the process of separation and it lessens 
the sense of failure and the desire for 
recriminations on both sides. Use the 
occasion to do some serious evaluating 
of your groups process (perhaps with in- 
put from the problem member), to think 
about things you can change for the 
better, and to do some group building 
activities to help you feel good about 
yourselves again. (See "Evaluations" 


This section on non-cooperating members 
was added as an afterthought near the end 
of our writing process. We realised we 
had avoided addressing this thorny prob- 
lem by a neat trick of reasoning: con- 
sensus presupposes cooperation, so If 
someone Is not cooperating, it is not 
consensus; ergo, we don f t have to talk 
about it* 

If only. 

Finally we forced ourselves to face facts 
and admitted that this is one of the 
situations that consensus groups some- 
times face, Fortunately it happens only 
rarely. But once in a lifetime ie enough* 

So we put ourselves on the line and said 
the best ve could on the subject* We 
don't mean to imply by our step-by-etep 
"recipe" that you can face such a prob- 
lem easily, methodically and painlessly. 
It is alJBaoet always messy and confusing 
and unpleasant. 

Go forth bravely, friflnde. Mistakes vill 
be ttade, but you can only do your beet 
and leam from the process. If there is 
a silver lining here, it's the fact that 
surviving such times almost always re* 
suits In groups and individuals learning 
better skills and gaining understanding 
that can help in the future. 

— Chel 



Below are some publications that we have 
found useful for understanding consensus 
groups and how they work. We have tried 
to be selective, rather than comprehen- 
sive, in the materials we included here, 
and to let you know why we chose each 
title. Some come with wholehearted rec- 
ommendations, some with qualified recom- 
mendations: our annotations will make 
the differentiation for you* 

Some of these materials are produced by 
small or private presses and must be 
mail ordered* We have given you all the 
information we have about how to acquire 
such publications, including the last 
known price. Since printing and postage 
rates vary rapidly, you may want to 
double check with a source before making 
an order. 

Auvine, Brian, Betsy Densmore, Mary 

Extrom, Scott Poole and Michel Shanklin, 


The Center for Conflict Resolution 
(731 State Street, Madison, HI 53703, 
$^50 + $1.10 postage). The values, 
assumptions and techniques of group 
facilitation. Especially useful to 
people planning workshops. Includes 
sections on communication, conflict, 
problem solving, what can go wrong 
and what to do about it, and many 
other relevant topics, 


Progressive Publisher (§01 % 32nd, 
No, 1002, Chicago, IL 606l6, $!)♦ 
Condensed from a 1952 thesis describe 
ing consensus as practiced by the 57th 
St. Friends Meeting of Chicago, De- 
scribes how consensus operates and what 
makes it work. 

Becker, Norma, "Beyond the Abdication of 
Power," in WIN* Dec. 7, 1978. (326 
Livingston, Brooklyn, N,Y* 11217, 
212/62^-8337, ) Presents an argument 
against the views expressed by 
Kokopeli and Lakey in LEADERSHIP FOR 
CHANGE. We include it for the thought- 
provoking issues it raises and because 
it demonstrates situations and assump- 
tions under which consensus is not ap- 

Bookchin, Murray. POST SCARCITY ANARCH- 
ISM, 1971- Ramparts Press, San 
Francisco . A collection of essays 
presenting an alternate vision of 
power through analysis of the ways 
people work together and the goals 
people choose. 

Case, John and Rosemary Talor, eds,, 
2960 T S AND 1970 % 1979. Pantheon 
Books, N.Y. Contains case studies of 
alternative organisations and articles 
addressing Issues relevant to how such 
organizations function. Particularly 
good is Jane J, Mansbiridge's paper, 

"The Agony of Inequality. " Also recom- 
mended: "Conditions for Democracy: 
Making Participatory Organizations 
Work" by Joyce Rothschild-Whitt, 

Coover, Virginia, Ellen Deacon, Charles 
Esser and Christopher Moore, RESOURCE 
Movement for a New Society (^722 Bal- 
timore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 191^3, 
$5)- An excellent presentation of 
the personal, interpersonal and group 
skills necessary for nonviolent social 
change, as well as the theory and argu- 
ments for social change activity. 


The sections on working in groups and 
developing communities of support 
provide a wealth of valuable informa- 
tion and ideas. 

Craig, James H. and Marge, SYNERGIC 

SIVENESS* 1973. Proactive Press (Box 
296, Berkeley, CA 9**701). Suggests 
tools for generating creative coopera- 
tion in personal relations and on a 
social- scale. Analyses human nature, 
human potential and power dynamics, 
then offers a model for developing a 
cooperative, "synergic society. 1 ' 

Delbecq, Andre, Andrew H, Van de Van, and 
David H. Gustafson, GROUP TECHNIQUES 
Scott, Foresman and Co* Presents two 
highly adaptable methods for high- 
involvement decision making in large 
groups. Some of the more "progressive" 
work coming out, ^of business schools in 
the 1970' s. 

RESOLUTION* 1975* Scott, Foresman 
and Co. (Glenview, IL, $5,95), Exam- 
ines conflict dynamics, strategies of 
resolution 3 and personal styles of 
responding to conflict. The coopera- 
tive model for "Integrative Decision 
Making" is the basis for the Creative 
Problem Solving technique presented 
in Chapter 10 of this book* Recom- 
mended for anyone who wants a more 
in-depth understanding of this ap- 
proach. Written from a business man- 
agement perspective. 


Fluegelman, Andrew, ed. , THE NEW GAMES 
BOOK* 1976* Dolphin Books /Doubleday 
and Co., Inc., Garden City, N»Y. 
A collection of noncompetitive, "play 
hard" games from the New Games Founda- 
tion. Emphasis is on fun and coopera- 
tion. Highly recommended, 

French, J.R.P. and B. Raven, "The Bases 
of Social Power* " in D. Cartwright, 
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 
A classic, scholarly article analys- 


ing the different ways in which people 
come to exert power or influence over 
others. Written with formal, hierar- 
chical organisations in mind, but 
highly adaptable for understanding 
small group dynamics. 

Freundlich, Paul, Chris Collins and 
ALTERNATIVES* 1979* Community Publi- 
cations Cooperative (P.0, Box k2&, 
Louisa, VA 23093, $5,95)* Edited 
by "Communities * Journal of Coopera- 
tive Living* " this book is a resource 
guide of ideas, resources, references 
and contacts for people interested in 
living and working cooperatively. 
Includes well- annotated sections on 
politics, decision making, education, 
community organising and much more. 

Friedman, Anita, "Mediations*" 1973- 
Issues in Radical Therapy Collective 
(Box 235^^, Oakland, CA 9^623, 50tfh 
A step-by- step approach to solving 
interpersonal conflicts using radical 
therapy principles and a third-party 
facilitator* (Also available as a 
chapter In H. Wyckoff r s LOVE* THERAPY 

Geeting, Baxter and Corlnne, HOW TO LISTEN 
ASSERTIVELY* 1976. Monarch, N.Y. A 
whole book about listening! (Actually, 
the concepts here could be presented, 
less cutely, in one, concise chapter.) 
Emphasises the importance of attentive, 
open-minded listening using plenty of 
metaphors and examples to drive the 
principles home, Worth reading. 


TRAINING* 1970. Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 
N.Y. Describes communication skills 
that are useful in conflict situations 
(e.g., ,r I messages" and "active listen- 
ing 1 '). Written about conflicts with 
children, but universally applicable- 

Guthrie, Eileen and Sam Miller, MAKING 
CHANGE* 1977. Consultants for Com- 
munity Development (2535 Columbus Ave., 
South, Minneapolis, MN, $6). How to 
effect community change as an indi- 
vidual or as a member of a support 

J ■ 



group * a neighborhood organisation, 
a board of directors, or other poli- 
tical group. Organizing skills, con- 
flict diagnosis and resolution, 
communication skills, and running 
meetings are a few of the skills de- 
scribed in the context of neighbor- 
hood/community change, 

Harrison, Marta, FOR THE FUN OF IT! 

DREN AND ADULTS, 1975- Nonviolence and 
Children (Friends Peace Committee, 
1515 Cherry St,, Philadelphia, PA 
19102, $1.25 * ^0* postage). Activi- 
ties that groups of adults, kids, or 
a mixture can use to develop coopera- 
tion and to have fun. 

Hopkins, Robert, "Consensus Decision 
Making: An Analysis of the Litera- 
ture," 1977. Can order from The 
Center for Conflict He solution 
(731 State St., Madison, WI 53703, 
$3 for copying and 1 postage). In- 
cludes a look at historical interest 
in consensus, an overview of research 
with critiques, and recommendations 
for future research. Brings together 
most of the current empirical findings 
in research about consensus. 

Hopkins, Robert, "Multivariate Analysis 
of Tb)o * Competing* Theories of Con- 
sensus Decision Making, " 1978. Can 
order from The Center for Conflict 
Resolution (731 State St., Madison, 
WI 53703, $3 for copying and postage). 
Builds on current theories (by J. 
Hall) to propose steps necessary to 
ensure maximum quality and acceptance 
of a consensus decision, 

INVERT (Institute for Nonviolence Educa- 
tion, Research and Training, EFD 1, 
Newport, ME 0^953). This organisation 
has developed several inexpensive 
publications (including "Consensus 
Education Packet** and "Sharing Con- 
sensus: A Handbook for Consensus 
Workshops") which describe how con- 
sensus works, how to participate 
effectively, and how to teach con- 
sensus skills. They seem to be con- 
tinually developing their materials 

and replacing them with new and better 
ones. We encourage you to write them, 
especially if your group is just begin- 
ning to use consensus, and inquire 
about their latest publications, 

Johnson, David and Frank, JOINING TO- 
1975. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood 
Cliffs, NJ* A practical learning 
guide that includes both theory and 
activities to improve understanding 
and skills in subjects such as group 
dynamics, leadership, conflict, com- 
munication and group decision making. 

Joreen, "The Tyranny of Structureless- 
ness, " originally printed in "Second 
Wave," Vol. II, No, 1* Available 
from KNOW, Inc + (P.O. Box 86031* 
Pittsburgh, PA 15221). A sharp analy- 
sis and critique of problems in "lead- 
erless" groups in the women's movement. 
Advocates explicit, agreed-upon norms 
to regulate power dynamics* A "clas- 
sic" in the literature of democratic 
group process* 

Kokopeli, Bruce and George Lakey^ "Lead- 
ership for Change, " 1978. Movement 
for a New Society, (^722 Baltimore 
Ave,, Philadelphia, PA 191^3, $1*25). 
Traditional, "patriarchal" leadership 
is compared to " feminist n or shared 
leadership in groups* Tactics for 
changing leadership style are described, 

Lakey, Berit, "Meeting Facilitation: The 
No-Magic Method," 1975. Movement for 
a New Society (^722 Baltimore Ave, , 
Philadelphia, PA 191^3, 60*). Short, 
straight- forward, how-to instructions 
explain what facilitation is, how to 
use an agenda, and tips for helping 
the group along* (Also appears as a 
COMMUNITIES by The Training/Action 
Affinity Group. ) 

A HANDBOOK,, 1976. Issues in Radical 
Therapy (P.O. Box 5039> Berkeley, CA 
9^705, $3). The need for, logic 
behind, and techniques of construc- 
tive criticism in groups. Includes 


detailed description of specific 
skills. Written for Marxist activ- 
ists, but useful for anyone, 

Machiavelli, Giavonni, THE PRINCE, 1952. 
Mentor Classics, The New American : 
Library, The classic analysis of 
; power and politics (originally pub- 
" lished during the Italian Renaissance). 
It is rare to find such a clear and 
explicit representation of the tradi- 
tional approach to political and - 
social control* 

"Ms. Magazine*" Vol* VII, No. % $ October, 
1978. "Coping with Conflict*" by 
Judith Thurman, "How to Avoid Conflict 
When You Can* " by Kathryn Lee Girard, 
and "How to Confront When You Have To" 
by Kathryn Lee Girard. (370 Lexing- 
ton Ave., N.Y., NY 10017, $1,50 for 
back issue.) Discusses women's so- 
cialisation regarding conflict behav- 
ior, fear of conflict, .and methods 
for coping with- conflict ■ 

Pfeiffer, J. William and John Jones, eds., 



series, 1972 to present, University 

' Associates Publishers, Inc. (7596 

- Eads Ave., La Jolla, CA 92037). A 
wide variety of exercises for use in 
groups and training situations. Ac- 
tivities range in diversity from 
problem-solving situations, to non- 
verbal communication , to male/female 
role plays. Most of the exercises 
are fairly complex or tightly struc- 
tured. Thorough instructions are 
given . 

Pfeiffer, J. William and John Jones, eds., 
1972 to present* University Associates 
Publishers, Inc. (7596 Eads Ave., 
La Jolla, CA 92037). A wealth of how- 
to information coming out each year on 
how to work with groups. Include 
structured experiences, lecturettes, 
resources, research, theory, practice, 
and more* 

"Psychology Today* " Vol. V, No. 6, 

November, 1971. "Groupthink" by Irving 
Janis, "Selective Inattention 1 ' by 
Ralph White, and "Decisions* Decisions* 
Decisions 1 ' by Jay Hall. Three articles 
concerned with group conformity in mak- 
ing decisions. The first two demon- 
strate how the conformity resulting 
from group dynamics at the top of hier- 
archies has led to disastrous decisions, 
including war* Hall T s article defends 
group decision making's capacity for 
creativity. The series offers a view 
of what can happen when preconditions 
necessary for consensus are not met. 

"Quest: A Feminist Quarterly* " Vol. IV, 
No. **, Pall, 1978. "The Process /Product 
Split" by Ginny Crow, "Integrating 
Process and Product" by Dorothy Rid- 
dle, and "Process /Product Split: A 
Misnomer" by Caroline Sparks. (P.O. 
Box 88^3, Washington, B.C., 2O003-) 
These three articles discuss the 
"process/product debate" from three 
different perspectives- Addresses 
the problem: how do groups ex- 
perience and value the tension between 
productive work and attention to pro- 
cess and human needs? The writers 
emphasise women's groups , but the - is- 
sues raised are Important to all. 


Rice, Celeste, "Face Saving, Criticism 
and Defensiveness, " 1981. Center for 
Conflict Resolution (731 State St,, 
Madison, WI 53703, $2)- A well- 
researched article that integrates 
scholarly and experiential sources. 
Discusses the principles and skills 
for giving criticism in a way that 
can reduce defensiveness in both the 

sender and receiver of feedback. 


Rosenberg, Marshall B. FROM NOW ON: 
( Author r s address: 3229 Bordeaux, 
Sherman, TX 75090, 21*1/893-3886, 
$3.50.) A personal approach to the 
skills of giving feedback and criti- 
cism in a way that promotes coopera- 
tion rather than conflict. Makes a 
persuasive statement about applying 
these techniques in all relationships. 

Simon, Sidney B. NEGATIVE CRITICISM , . - 
Argus Communications, We disagree with 
this book's cleverly-depicted premise 
that criticism is almost always a bad 
thing. But it does make a number of 
good suggestions about how not to mis- 
use criticism and offers good ideas 
about interpersonal validation. 

Strongforce, Inc. , DEMOCRACY IN THE 

1977. (2121 Decatur Place NW, 
. Washington, D.C*, $5.) A how-to for 
groups beginning a participatory busi- 
ness. Covers structural, organisation- 
al , legal and financial matters, A 
brief section on decision making. 

Training/ Act ion Affinity Group, BUILDING 
Movement for a New Society (^722 Bal- 
timore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 191^3, 
$2,80 + 70* postage.) Skills for 
creating and maintaining a collective 
or cooperative group, especially liv- 
ing communities. Excellent, concise 
chapters on consensus decision making, 
facilitation and conflict resolution. 

Vocations for Social Change, NO BOSSES 

1976, (353 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 
02139, $3.) An overview of how to or- 
ganize and operate a working collec- 
tive. Includes discussions of decision 
making, meetings, common interpersonal 
problems as well as practical concerns 
such as finances and bookkeeping. 
Written in a personal, friendly style 
and draws on the experience of many 
collective members* 

Walton, Richard, INTERPERSONAL PEACE- . 
PARTY CONSULTATION, 1969 . Addison- 
Wesley Publishing Company, Provides 
a model for diagnosing recurring con- 
flict between two parties and shows 
how a third-party facilitator can 
help interrupt and resolve the con- 
flict. The theory is demonstrated 
with three in-depth case studies drawn 
from standard work situations, 

IN DECISION MAKING, 1976. Movement 
for a New Society (^722 Baltimore Ave., 
Philadelphia, PA 191^3* $1-75). This 
booklet describes a process groups can 
use to think through an issue carefully 
or to help a member do so. It is com- 
monly used when deciding whether to 
accept a new member into a group and 
to help individuals make difficult 
personal decisions. CLEARNESS gives 
practical suggestions and sample 
agendas for having a clearness meet- 

Wyckoff, Hogie, ed,, LOVE, THERAPY AND 
POLITICS, 1976, Grove Press, Inc., 
(196 W. Houston St*, New York, NY 
1001*0. This is a collection of 
articles compiled from the first year 
of "Issues in Radical Therapy. - r It 
includes political perspectives on 
therapy, group dynamics, male/female 
sex roles, and other concerns rele- 
vant to the practice of radical 






Wyckoff, Bogie, SOLVING WOMEN f S PROB- 
CONTACT) * 1977* ' Grove Press, Inc. 
(196 W. Houston St*, New York, NY 
1001*0. The lovdown on radical thera- 
py principles and practice, positive 
personal change that empowers indi- 
viduals to work effectively for social 
change. Describes the philosophy, 
theory , and practical application of 
problem- solving- groups, 

Yoast, Richard, WHAT YOU CAN DO: A CITI- 
TliB Wisconsin Clearinghouse (195^ E, 
Washington, Madison, WI 53704). A work- 
book for people organizing to work co- 
operatively for social change in a 
commiaity. Good information on leader- 
ship, group process, and especially on 
defining goals and planning as a group. 

"I do not go to a cozsittee jneeting mere- 
ly to give my own ideas. If that were 
all, I might write ssy fellow ©embers a 
letter. But neither do I go to learn 
other people's ideas. If that were all, 
I might ask each to write me a letter. 
I go to a committee meeting in order that 
all together we may create a group idea, 
an idea which will be better than any of 
our ideas alone, moreover which will be 
better than ail of our ideas added to- 
gether. For this group idea will not be 
produced by any process of addition ? but 
by the interpret rat ign of us all* 11 

—Maiy Parker Follett, THE NEW STATE 
as quoted by EJVERT 

»^^^^^ ^ W^ ^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^ ^ N» ^^^ ^^ * ** 

(Possible box to fit on page 92—contrlbutlcn of new members.) 


A living coop was trying to decide whether to ask a particular member, whose 
emotional disturbances were making life difficult for all, to move out of the house 
Although the group normally operated by majority rule, they decided to strive for 
consensus since the issue was so sensitive. Host members felt that the situation 
had deteriorated to such a point that it was necessary to ask the problem member 
to leave. Everyone agreed except one person* the newest member of the group. 


She insisted that the group should try to pull together and give the problem member 
help and support. She came under considerable pressure from older group members 
who Insisted that her newness meant that she didn't really know the full extent 
of the problem. Despite the pressure, however^ the new member blocked consensus 
and did not permit the group to expel 1 the problem member. Forced to make one 
last effort to work things out* the older members of the coop readjusted their 
viewpoints and found that they could sympathize with the problem member after all. 

The situation Improved. 

* A**W V^ A * Nf« ^^