SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO REACH CONSENSUS
Consensus is the process of arriving at a decision, after a time of prayer and study. It is characterized by general agreement rather than by voting. It results in a recommendation that all the members of the council agree to accept and support.
Using the consensus process to reach substantial, through not necessarily unanimous, agreement on issues helps the Council model the kind of unity and harmonious relationships it strives to develop in the parish at large.
The consensus process is based on:
1. honest dialogue and trust among members;
2. The sharing of all pertinent data with all Council members;
3. each Council member being prepared for the discussion;
4. devoting enough time to the discussion so that each member; clearly understands (though not necessarily agrees with) the issues and feelings shared at the table;
5. each Council member voicing his/her opinion/judgment on the issues using “I” statements;
6. each Council member open to the possibility of changing or modifying his/her opinions, feelings and position.
The consensus process allows for entirely new ideas or recommendations to emerge from dialogue or the sharing of wisdom at the Council table. The process helps to guard against a win/lose competitive atmosphere that develops when parliamentary or voting procedures are used. No one person or small group can solely take credit for the agreement reached in consensus. Everyone shares in the discussion, everyone shares in the commitment to the direction recommended.
STEPS IN THE CONSENSUS PROCESS
- Issue for consideration is presented.
- Background information is given.
- Opportunity for clarification is provided.
- An individual introduces an idea/opinion as to how the topic/issue might be approached. A second speaker responds to that statementand adds ideas or reactions of his/her own A third speaker develops ideas further, etc.
- The chairperson/facilitator keeps discussion on the topic If there is need, he or she rephrases complicated or confusing comments and summarizes points of agreement and points of difference; and ensures that all viewpoints are heard and understood by the group.
- When most of the viewpoints have been expressed, all necessary information has been given and/or parts of the discussion begin to be repeated, the chairperson/facilitator states the direction in which the group appears to be moving and tests for consensus by asking if there is anything else of importance to be offered that has not been said.
The chairperson/facilitator asks the group to silently reflect on these questions:
- What was said that truly supports the Gospel message?
- What seemed to be the consensus within the group?
- Where do I stand on this issue.?
- What do I believe, in light of our mission statement, will be good for the entire parish?
- The chairperson/facilitator states the recommendation and ask the members if they can agree to accept and support it. If all agree then consensus has been reached.
- If consensus has not been reached, the discussion continues until the areas of disagreement are reduced or eliminated. If the group cannot reach a consensus because more information is needed, a person(s) is delegated to gather the information within a certain time frame (e.g., next meeting). In some instances the issue will need to be tabled for further prayer and reflection.
- The time needed for each of these steps varies according to the issue and the group. It may take more than one meeting to complete all the steps in the consensus process, especially for significant issues.
Take time to identify problems.
Be open to various solutions.
Combine detachment with action.
Separate issues from people.
Combine emotion with reason.
Take differences personally.
Feed on power plays.
Remember too long.
Blocking occurs when one or two members still oppose an otherwise agreed upon direction that has been developed through full group participation and adherence to the consensus process. This is a serious situation in the life of the Council. The Council needs to have the person(s) restate their reason(s) for objecting. They need to state whether they feel they have been listened to (not agreed with, but that members have understood the objection) and considered the objection carefully.
The chairperson must ask whether the person can live with and not impede in any way the direction being recommended. If the answer is in the affirmative, then the Council can move on to the next item.
Note: Occasionally, members of the Council will find themselves outside the circle of agreement. This can happen in every group and should not be viewed as a problem but as an opportunity to develop creative alternatives. However, if the same person is consistently at odds with the direction after consensus has been correctly entered into, then that person should reflect on these five questions:
1. Are you considering what is best for the group?
2. Are you objecting because of some personal need or
3. Do you need more assurance that the group really understands
4. Do you understand all the data that has bee given?