A decision-making meeting is exactly what it sounds like: the purpose of the meeting is to come out with a decision after thoughtful discussion. There is more than one way for a decision to be made. The leader of the meeting might be the ultimate decision-maker regardless of what others in the room think. There might be a vote taken and the majority rules. Another method, consensus decision-making, involves getting members of the group to agree to support a decision in the best interest of the whole.
Consensus decision-making can lead to higher job and leadership satisfaction rates by promoting a sense of community and respect. However, decisions made by consensus do not come easy. Consensus does not mean that everyone agrees completely with a decision; rather, it means that it is a decision everyone can “live with.” Even so, getting everyone to “agree to agree” is in fact the most challenging way to go about making a decision. Here are four tips for smoothing the road to consensus.
Emphasize Data and Numbers
Opinions tend to have a lot of emotion behind them. The best decisions, however, and backed by data. Not only does the data help show the course of action to be taken, it can also steer people on the other side of the fence in the right direction. People tend to put more faith in the use of data-driven facts than in statements of belief. Using graphs and charts will make your point appear more scientific and thus be more trustworthy, leading people to agree on what the data indicates.
Encourage Productive Discussion
Obviously, your meeting will be filled with discussion. However, there are certain things that a meeting leader (and even participants) can do to achieve productive discussion – that which leads to the ultimate goal, which is consensus. The mindset and behavior of meeting participants is highly dependent on the tone set in the meeting. How you say things as a meeting leader is extremely important in setting this tone.
One way to encourage discussion that is respectful and thoughtful is to avoid completely dismissing ideas, even highly disputed ones. Instead of shutting an idea down, prompt the individual to briefly explain the approach and how it would be implemented. Throughout the meeting, be sure to use a positive tone of voice, which makes the meeting seem like a “safe space” where all ideas are welcome.
Be Collaborative, Not Competitive
Consensus decision-making is supposed to be a win-win situation, not a win-lose. It’s not about getting your idea chosen by the group, but working together to achieve the goals of the organization. When working toward consensus, it’s to the benefit of everyone in the meeting to work in a collaborative way. Approaching the meeting with a competitive stance will only deter progress. Come into the meeting with the mindset that everyone’s opinions are as important as your own – which they are – and it will be much easier to meet them the middle.
Address Individual and Group Concerns
Unless you’re really lucky, you will most likely have several members on your team that do not fully agree with everything that a certain decision entails. Their qualms may be keeping the group from meeting a consensus. The first step to overcoming the naysayers is to identify the positives of the potential decision on which everyone agrees. Once those are highlighted, then work on the concerns of the dissenters – which may be legitimate. Often, those who disagree are seen as Negative Nancies, but in reality they can see potential roadblocks that others may not. Commit to investigating those potential issues if the decision goes through. This will allow the group to move forward in the current meeting, and give flexibility to resume deliberation if the problems are insurmountable. The ultimate solution will be one that has the support of the entire group.
You know what they say about opinions: everyone has one. At the same time, everyone has the ability to understand one another and reach a compromise. As the meeting leader, you have the power to help participants find it within themselves to hear out the views of their colleagues and consider other options. Though it may take more time to gather data, solicit opinions, and address concerns, in the end the group and organization will be better off because there will be more information to make a well-reasoned decision. Maintaining a collaborative environment in the meeting will help facilitate the information-sharing stages of the meeting to lead to a consensus that meeting participants can feel good about.