Nothing is more obstinate than a consensus
In any relationship and partnership decisions have to be made. Mundane ones are seldom questioned and have marginal consequences and thus will not be the center of our discussion here. Our focus will be on the manner in which decisions are made where the outcomes will be questioned and the consequences of those decisions will be felt not only in the context of problem solving, but the ripples felt through the relationship because of them and the process taken to get there.
Decisions are journeys
Too often the experiences going through decisions and processes of getting there far outweigh the actual decisions themselves. Question that presumption? How did you feel when your parents said “because I said so!” to any protest to an authoritarian and dominate decision they made? How effective were they in getting your buy-in, cooperation and commitment to those decisions? How did that shape your relationship with them; strengthen it or weaken it? Has your apple fallen far or close to the family tree in that regard? Family tree should branch out, not only genetically, but also with variation, adaptation and selection of skill sets and abilities of its members. What’s yours look like; a straight line? If it does, you’re responsible for changing that. Learning the finer arts of diplomacy, as well as developing team work through collaboration, can be essential skills to have in any relationship.
A agreement by another other name
Consensus building is simply collaborative problem solving. Collaboration is where you work together to explore and determine the nature of a problem and possible solutions, but developing a consensus is the process of creating an agreement and the act of making a decision collaboratively.
Participant identification and recruitment
The first step to developing any consensus is identifying the appropriate participants. The key step here is to identify who should be involved in the process and to recruit them into it. You better have a firm grasp of when your partner expects to be taken into account with a decision or not. If you don’t know or not sure, do the smart thing and ask. Better yet, have a discussion with your partner to help determine those boundary areas and issues when it comes to decision-making authority, both yours and hers.
Determine the stakeholders
Developing a consensus is about finding the stakeholders, not developing a data bank of wisdom dispensers. Aunt Edna may be wickedly wise, but just because she could be involved (and likely would LOVE to be) doesn’t mean she should be involved. Developing a consensus is about finding the critical stakeholders needed to develop a sound and accountable decision. There is a massive difference between seeking advice and developing a consensus. Just because you’re seeking someone’s advice doesn’t mean you’re seeking them as a stakeholder. If you don’t have that as a boundary, and are able to monitor and maintain that, you should. Think in-law problems and this is the gap in boundaries in which those problems are breached.
Design the process to be used
Not all problems need to be resolved in the same manner or to the same degree, but having a methodology and rationalization to decision-making sure helps. Every couple who have found themselves in the endless cycle of “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” has no methodology or rationalization for decision-making. Flipping a coin, taking turns, rock-paper-scissors are basic examples that can quickly and effectively cut to the chase in many areas, but often we need more elaborate and caring methods to determine and develop an agreed upon decision to truly more important issues.
Reframing and brainstorming
Reframing and brainstorming are alternative approaches to problem solving. Often disputants get situated in a position which leaves little room to negotiate let alone to come to agreement upon. Reframing the issues in terms of interests, which tend to be negotiable will prevent this natural stalemate. Another approach is brainstorming alternative approaches to the problem. The key point here is to develop new, and mutually advantageous approaches rather than going over the same win-lose approaches that have been tried before with no success. The emphasis in both of these approaches is to develop a better level of understanding and trust necessary to develop any agreement upon, active listening skills and emotional needs communication will typically figure prominently here.
Identification and evaluation of alternative solutions
In developing a consensus it is important to evaluate carefully the alternative solutions, not only for the cost-benefit analysis of that proposed solution, but to the nature of the your relationship with the proposer, as often they are highly invested in their proposition and fail to separate the value of the proposal from their perceived value in themselves. Care, handling and consideration of the stakeholders are as important, as the decision itself. A decision that cost you the trust and respect of a stakeholder isn’t a good one, even if the solution is the best one. If you have to, go back and regain that trust and respect before making any decision. How different would your life be if your parents had done the same thing with you?
Most decisions are difficult to make not because the cost-benefits cannot be determined, analyzed or weighed, but that the barriers to implementation have been overlooked. We simply spend no time in understanding and removing impediments to taking action. Spending time to determine what these may be, how they may be removed or lessened can be instrumental in getting the decision implemented, which was the sole purpose of developing a consensus to begin with; determining a course of action and implementing it.
Finalization and approval
The last step before actually taking action and implementing any decision or solution is to finalize it and seek the approval of all participants and stakeholders. This is important not only in clarifying the proposed solution, but to give each stakeholder time to ponder any last harboring doubts or concerns before being committed to a decision. Often this determines whether or not there will be buy-in from each of the parties. Too often people will go through a process, but no provide buy-in required to make and keep a given decision, claiming a misunderstanding or miscommunication in the process. This last step is designed to limit and prevent those counter-productive behaviors.
If you don’t have your partner’s buy-in, you don’t have a consensus and you’re operating without a net of mutual agreement. Any decision being made will be yours and yours alone. As such you’ll face all the blame and accountability for any failure to deliver upon any expected solution, as well as, built-in hostility and animosity associated with going it alone. Risks like these should be few and far between in any healthy relationship, rather than the norm of masculine assertiveness and boldness in decision-making or misguided displays of leadership.