Decision Making by Consensus
(as practiced by Friends)

In Friendsí practice, consensus is a way of arriving at a group decision without the necessity of taking a vote. So no one ever "wins" and no one "loses" or is overruled. It tries to avoid the tyranny of the majority over the minority as well as the tyranny of a few over the group.

If properly done, consensus-seeking opens the group to the leadings of a "higher power." Thus the decision finally arrived at may be different, and is often better, than the view held by any one person at the beginning.

The process makes demands on everyone in the group. To begin, it requires that everyone feel responsible for helping to make the best possible decision for the group, even if they are the only one holding a particular viewpoint.

Reciprocally, all others are bound to give the most careful and sympathetic hearing to what another says, searching for the inner truth in the words. If you agree with a viewpoint being expressed, it is helpful to say, "I agree," or "I approve," or some such expression of consent. This enables the facilitator (clerk) to keep in constant touch with the way the group is moving. The discussion moves slowly and deliberately, with enough time between statements for full consideration.

As the discussion goes on, often a sense of the group begins to emerge. At that point the facilitator will test the sense of the group by attempting to state what s/he thinks the consensus is. This is a critical point. Those who agree need to indicate their agreement. Sometimes the facilitator needs to re-formulate the sense. On the other hand, if a person still dissents, in conscience or in principle, they have an obligation to say so.

At this point, two resolutions are possible. If only one or two still dissent from the clear sense of the group, they may say something like: "Iím still not in full agreement with the group, but I donít wish to block the group from acting, so I stand aside." Note that consensus is not necessarily the same thing as unanimity.

If, however, a personís disagreement is based on a deeply held value or conviction, it is his responsibility to continue to say so. (Sometimes the lone dissenter is right!)

In this situation, the facilitator may call for a period of silence, for prayerful reconsideration. Often this "cooling off" period helps people to modify their views or to come up with a new and previously unthought of solution that satisfies everybody. If not, the issue is deferred to a later time.

Robert Hillegass


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