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Busting the Myth That Consensus-with-Unanimity is Good for Communities

by Diana Leafe Christian

Many consensus trainers tell us consensus-with-unanimity is good for communities. It creates a sense of trust and connection, a sense of harmony, they say, since everyone’s agreement is first required to pass a proposal.

Though I believed this for years, I no longer do. I now believe that using consensus-with-unanimity, especially with no recourse, actually harms most communities.

One of the reasons is that people often misunderstand and misuse the blocking privilege. This often results in the unintended consequences of discouragement, low morale, diminished meeting attendance and others such as:

  • People able to endure more conflict may prevail, creating “decision by endurance.”
  • Disproportionate power to whoever supports the status quo.
  • Community stagnation (unable to change or evolve).
  • Power struggles may drive out some of the group’s most responsible, effective members.

What Works Better Instead?

There are three collaborative, win-win methods. The N Street Consensus Method, Sociocracy and Holacracy do not allow the kinds of power-over dynamics that can occur with consensus-with-unanimity. Communities that use these methods don’t tend to have the unintended consequences that can occur when using consensus-with-unanimity. Rather, these methods tend to generate a sense of connection, trust, and well-being in the group.

This article was excerpted from a Part I article of the same name that appears in Communities Magazine, Summer 2012 issue. Click here to learn more about this issue, which focuses on the theme ‘Diversity,’ or to purchase the magazine.




Diana Leafe Christian, an Earthaven member, is author of the books Creating a Life Together and Finding Community, publisher of Ecovillages, a free online newsletter about ecovillages worldwide, and a columnist for Global Ecovillage Network. Click here for Diana’s website.

collaborative, Consensus, Diana Leafe Christian, sociocracy

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