Consensus Through Conversation

How to Achieve High-Commitment Decisions

Larry Dressler (Author)

Publication date: 11/01/2006

Consensus Through Conversation
Facilitation expert Larry Dressler's Consensus Through Conversation is a guide for the effective facilitation and practice of one of business's most popular but most widely misunderstood decision-making models: consensus.Whether you facilitate meetings for a living or simply as part of your job, you've surely found yourself “standing in the fire”—at the center of a group that is polarized, angry, fearful, and confused. Veteran facilitator Larry Dressler has found that what makes the crucial difference in these situations is the leader's presence. You have to master a way of being that allows you to remain effective no matter how hot things get.
Dressler shows how to cultivate six “stances”—mental, emotional, and physical— that will keep you steady, impartial, purposeful, compassionate, and good-humored,. Drawing on his own experiences and the insights of thirty-five distinguished practitioners, he helps you keep your cool and make the kind of inventive, split-second decisions these pressure-cooker situations demand.

• A concise, comprehensive guide to consensus and a powerful technique for building shared commitment around critical decisions
• Filled with practical tips, tools, and examples

Read more and meet author below

Read An Excerpt


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Overview

Facilitation expert Larry Dressler's Consensus Through Conversation is a guide for the effective facilitation and practice of one of business's most popular but most widely misunderstood decision-making models: consensus.Whether you facilitate meetings for a living or simply as part of your job, you've surely found yourself “standing in the fire”—at the center of a group that is polarized, angry, fearful, and confused. Veteran facilitator Larry Dressler has found that what makes the crucial difference in these situations is the leader's presence. You have to master a way of being that allows you to remain effective no matter how hot things get.
Dressler shows how to cultivate six “stances”—mental, emotional, and physical— that will keep you steady, impartial, purposeful, compassionate, and good-humored,. Drawing on his own experiences and the insights of thirty-five distinguished practitioners, he helps you keep your cool and make the kind of inventive, split-second decisions these pressure-cooker situations demand.

• A concise, comprehensive guide to consensus and a powerful technique for building shared commitment around critical decisions
• Filled with practical tips, tools, and examples

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Larry Dressler

Larry Dressler is president of Blue Wing Consulting. He has designed and facilitated high-stakes meetings in large corporations like Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Starbucks since the early 1990s. He has also assisted in important community deliberations involving diverse stakeholders: farm workers in Washington State, homeless artisans on Skid Row in Los Angeles, and indigenous leaders in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

To learn more about Larry and his work, visit his website.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Pierre Gagnon
Preface
INTRODUCTION: THE NEW RULES OF DECISION-MAKING
CHAPTER 1: WHAT IS CONSENSUS?
Consensus Defined
Beliefs That Guide Consensus
Choosing the Right Decision-Making Approach
Alternatives to Consensus
Common Misconceptions
Consensus in Action
CHAPTER 2: HOW DO I PREPARE?
Determine Whether Consensus Is a Good Fit
Decide Who to Involve in the Decision
Enlist a Skilled Facilitator
Clarify the Group's Scope and Authority
Educate Group Members
Develop an Agenda
Gather the Relevant Information
Start the Meeting Off Right
CHAPTER 3: WHAT ARE THE BASIC STEPS?
Step One: Define the Issue
Step Two: Establish Decision Criteria
Step Three: Craft the Proposal
Step Four: Test for Consensus
Step Five: Reach Agreement
CHAPTER 4: HOW DO I WORK WITH DISAGREEMENT?
Using Consensus Cards
Expressing and Resolving Legitimate Concerns
Dealing with Opposition or “Blocks”
CHAPTER 5: SIX TRAPS THAT UNDERMINE CONSENSUS
Member Absence from Critical Meetings
Grandstanding Members
Obstructive Blocking
Pressuring Members to Conform (Coercive Tactics)
Group Fatigue and/or Frustration
Silent Members
CHAPTER 6: TEN TIPS FOR BETTER CONSENSUS MEETINGS
Set Clear Ground Rules
Use a “Group Memory”
Distinguish “Must” from “Want” Criteria
Use Silence and Pauses
Assign Questions and Tasks to Breakout Groups
Put Discussion in a Fishbowl
Stack Participants
Take a Break
Use Technology Wisely
Evaluate the Meeting
CHAPTER 7: TOWARD HIGH-COMMITMENT DECISIONS
Return to the Roots of Consensus
Remember the Words of My Teachers
Reconnect with My Purpose and Values
Resource Guide
Index
About the Author

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Excerpt

The New Rules of Decision-Making

You think that because you understand ONE, you understand TWO because one and one make two. But you must understand AND.

—Sufi Proverb

For today's leaders, understanding AND means discovering the power of putting the right people in the same room at the right moment for the right conversation. Understanding AND means recognizing that there are times when you gain influence, credibility and commitment by including others in critical decisions. Understanding AND means embracing the idea that multiple, often conflicting perspectives can be creatively combined into breakthrough solutions.

2

AND is about inclusive leadership—the art of bringing diverse voices to the table and seeing what can be learned and accomplished. In the past, a more inclusive way of leading and making decisions was a philosophical choice. Today, it is a business imperative. In every corner of organizational life, collective decision-making has become the rule rather than the exception. Let's look at some of the reasons why this is becoming truer each day.

Hierarchical organizations are giving way to flat networks. The “leader as brain, employees as body” model of organizations is obsolete. Leaders recognize that in today's complex and changing environment, one person rarely has a corner on the knowledge and judgment market.
Technology has put information in the hands of the people who need it most—particularly those on the front lines. Well-informed decisions must include the perspective of those with first-hand experience.
The issues organizations and communities face are increasingly complex. The only way to navigate complexity is to test the implications and impacts of our solutions by drawing on a wide range of resources and perspectives. When we fail to involve the right stakeholders, we often create problems that are more significant than the original problem we were trying to address.
A new generation of knowledge workers are voting with their feet. They want to be included. They want to influence decisions that impact their work. If they can't, they take their skills and knowledge and go elsewhere.
The ability to implement a decision quickly is as important as agility in making the decision. Fast implementation is determined by the extent to which people understand and support the decision. Participation accelerates execution.
Given the foregoing trends, consensus has become a more and more common approach to decision-making in organizations. As you move toward more inclusive leadership, consensus is one of those strategic tools that you will want to have in your repertoire.

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Endorsements

“In this wise and stimulating book, Dressler draws on his rich experience to show us how to bring our personal best to facilitating polarized group situations.”
—William Ury, coauthor of Getting to Yes and author of The Power of a Positive No

“An invaluable companion for all those who train, facilitate, run, or design high-stakes meeings…Dressler's well of wisdom is awe-inspiring.”
—Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership

“A book for anyone who feels called to stand in hard places and help people find life-giving ways to proceed.”
—Parker Palmer, author of A Hidden Wholeness, Let Your Life Speak, and The Courage to Teach

“Practical, insightful, and filled with entertaining stories. I recommend this book for anyone working in the arena of public engagement and deliberation.”
—Sandy Heierbacher, Director, National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

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