The Art of Consultation

The goal of consultation is CONSENSUS. Actions taken as the result of agreement of everyone tend to work better than actions that are the result of "majority rules". That phrase, "majority rules" is just an iteration of "might makes right", a concept that we fervently hope we've moved beyond.

Reaching consensus can take longer than simply making decisions in which those with the most votes drag along the losing side of a disagreement. However, reaching a consensus tends to be more creative and will result in more resources being brought to bear in an action. Everyone has a stake in acting on a consensus.

Consultation is not the norm in our current culture of adversarial confrontations and constant competition. And, consultation requires some new skills, breaking of old habits, and the creation of new behaviors.

> A coarse example is perhaps the easiest way to introduce the principles used in consultation.

In a consultative environment, the leader of the meeting, be he/she called President, or Chair, or Leader, or Facilitator is there only to keep the ideas flowing. Step one would be to explain the need for a solution. It might be a disagreement between members, a conflict with the group and something outside, or a "growing pain". After a clear statement of "this appears to be the problem" the leader will ask a member of the group for what, in their opinion, would be a good solution. It is incumbent upon the speaker to be open, frank, and complete. The member is free to explain the solution and supply supporting facts and information. While this person is delivering their opinion, the other members must listen quietly and non-judgementally. Listen to learn, not listen to reply. The goal is to find a way to move forward, not to champion one opinion over another. When the speaker is finished, the Leader thanks the member for his opinion, subtly reminding the member that once they express their opinion, it is NO LONGER their opinion, they have given it to the group. Disowning your opinion enables the group to do with it what it may, and frees your mind to accept other views. No one makes a motion (nor seconds it) A motion (as in Roberts Rules of Order) is by its very nature adversarial and allows argument only for or against the motion; curtailing creativity and the search for a solution. A second person is called upon and asked for an opinion. Some members may have only partially formulated solutions to present, or just a fact that had not been yet expressed. This input is also valued and encouraged by the Leader. Eventually someone will come up with "lets take this from A, and this from B, and some of N which I just came up with while listening to everyone else", and almost by magic (and it does sometimes seem exactly like magic) a solution is arrived at that everyone has faith in and can commit to. Everyone can exclaim, "well, of course, that's the way!"

At the core of this, the core of the consultative process, is the idea of giving one's opinion, information, or proposals to the group, a practice I call "cognitive release". Once make your presentation to the group, it is no longer yours. It belongs to the group. This allows one to understand that if someone speaks negatively about the presentation, it is about what was presented, not the person who originally presented. It allows another member of the group to use the information to synthesize a new presentation. It also makes room in the originator to form a new idea or accept another, perhaps a synthesis of their original.

The leader's task is to keep people talking. The leader also has to formulate, on the fly, ways to identify given opinions without tying them to the presenter. Affordable Care Act, rather than Obamacare, for instance. The leader also needs to be able to sense when the group has coalesced around one idea and affirm the fact that everyone is in agreement, so the Recorder has a succinct course of agreed upon action to record. Only this accord needs to be recorded. The messiness getting there is of little importance, when all is said and done. When everyone agrees on an action, there is little need to record the path of getting there; no one will challenge the action that they agreed to.

Yes, it's sometimes messy, and can be time consuming but having everyone working in concert is the reward.