I recently read this article on LinkedIn titled “Consensus? No, Good Decisions Require Respectful Disagreement” which seems to suggest that ‘Consensus’ involves the absence of disagreement or the suppression of dissent. Nothing could be further from my understanding of Consensus. Indeed, many decision-makers seek only to hear from those who agree with them, but this is surefire way to a bad decision. And it’s not what is meant by reaching consensus.
In order to reach real consensus, i.e. a decision that everyone agrees to support, all views must be shared and understood. Only when those who will be affected by the decision have had the opportunity to be heard, have heard all other views, and have been party to the way in which the decision was reached, can they truly support the decision.
A decision reached by consensus is not necessarily, or even probably, everyone’s first choice. It’s the product of exchanging views, sharing information, discussion, debate and deliberation. In fact, when everyone agrees to something too quickly, it probably means people are self-censoring. The result may be a decision that is not representative of the best thinking and will not be broadly supported.
Yes, achieving consensus is time consuming, which is why not every decision calls for it. Effective leaders have the ability to facilitate the process as well as determine when the decision is important enough to justify the effort.