Decisions and Power

Consensus, Compromise, or Pay Off?

Payoffs and Other Slimy Deals

The board of a wildlife federation reaches consensus on a plan to save a threatened wild bird’s habitat. Then they delete the budget for legal action. A Senate committee unanimously recommends legislation after adding amendments for unrelated items. They gave each Senator something they wanted. A bike trail organization stops protesting a new parking lot when it was promised a wider bike path.

Is this the same kind of push and pull that is required to reach consensus? Rather obviously, I’m going to say no.

Less effective than consensus

All these solutions are compromises and payoffs. They will not move any of these groups toward their aims. The wildlife federation board’s action plan has no teeth. The Senate has produced a cluttered resource-wasting piece of legislation. The bike trail group has shown themselves to be easily bought and their values open to manipulation.

A consensus decision is characterized by its ability to help the group work toward its aim enthusiastically. Each member consents only when they can actively support and implement the proposed action. The proposal may not be comprehensive or ideal but under the circumstances, in the eyes of each member, it is the most effective that can be achieved. By definition, compromises and payoffs do not reach this standard.

Compromises and payoffs discourage commitment

The wildlife federation decision may well discourage action altogether and the organization may seem foolish. The cluttered legislative proposal with all its aim-irrelevant provisions is unlikely to be supported. And if passed, not implemented. In the bike trail group where members often have strong social values, even one trade-off will weaken support.

Members build organizations. Compromises and pay-offs discourage member support and participation.  To achieve the aim of the organization, its members must still be supportive after decisions are made.

Revised. Originally published 2006