What if we cannot agree?
In all but a very few cases the above model will achieve consensus within the group providing there is commitment to coming to a decision. However there are times when one or more people disagree more or less strongly with the rest of the group and no solution is in sight. Listed below are some ways of dealing with this. The first two, non-support and standing aside, allow the group to proceed with the decision, whilst allowing reservations to be expressed. See also “When not to use consensus” below.
Non-support: “I don’t see the need for this, but I’ll go along with it.”
Standing aside: “I personally can’t do this, but I won’t stop others from doing it.” The person standing aside is not responsible for the consequences. This should be recorded in the minutes.
Veto/major objection: A single veto/major objection blocks the proposal from passing. If you have a major objection it means that you cannot live with the proposal if it passes. It is so objectionable to you/those you are representing that you will stop the proposal. A major objection isn’t an “I don’t really like it ” or “I liked the other idea better.” It is an “I cannot live with this proposal if it passes, and here is why…!” The group can either accept the veto or discuss the issue further and draw up new proposals. The veto is a powerful tool and should be used with caution.
Agree to disagree: the group decides that no agreement can be reached on this issue. What can be done when we genuinely need to reach agreement and we are poles apart? Here are some suggestions:
Allow the person most concerned to make the decision.
Leave the decision for later or take a break. Have an energising activity or a cup of tea.
Ask everyone to argue convincingly the point of view they like the least.
Break down the decision into smaller areas. See which ones you can agree on and see what points of disagreement are left.
Get to the heart of the matter. Identify the assumptions and beliefs underlying the issue.
How important is the decision now? Imagine what will happen in six months, a year, five year’s time if you don’t agree.
Put all the possibilities into a hat and pull one out. Agree in advance on this solution.
Bring in a facilitator. If your group is unable to work through conflicts or if similar issues keep coming up, think about bringing in a professional facilitator or mediator who is trained in conflict-resolution techniques.
Some groups also have majority voting as a backup, often requiring an overwhelming vote such as 80 or 90% to make a decision valid.
Leaving the group: If one person continually finds him/herself at odds with the rest of the group, it may be time to think about the reasons for this. Is this really the right group to be in? A group may also ask a member to leave.