Tag Archives: arguments

“Blocks” & Vetos in Consensus Decision-Making

Picture of a Cement BlockI find the word block in consensus decision-making destructive. It is particularly counter-productive when used to refer to all objections, rather than seemingly unresolvable objections.

Objections do feel like blocks when after hours of discussion a person or persons will not consent — I find myself feeling this too. And sometimes when I object, in my gut I really want to block. I don’t want to argue the point, I just want to BLOCK. The problem is that when I use the word block, I create something fixed and hard. A cement block. A blockhead.  To be blocked is to be stopped dead in your tracks. All reasoning stops.

Emotion Substituted for Argument

Most often block is used as an epithet and slathered with emotion. The idea of logical argument is lost.

When I am tempted to accuse someone of using the word block, I am usually describing my feelings, not those of the other person. It’s my label. I created the block, not the person who is objecting. I’ve never heard person with objections say, “I’m blocking so forget it” or “I’m a blocker.” No one wears a T-shirt that says, “2011 World Record. Blocked 12 Decisions.” People who participate in groups that make decisions by consensus normally do want to consent. It’s uncomfortable to have to object, and emotions are unleashed obscuring the ability to argue logically.

“Blocks” Are Really Vetoes

A true block is really a veto. It isn’t subject to discussion and resolution. It can be over-ruled but not resolved.

Vetoes don’t have to be explained and are absolute. They are done. No discussion. Someone who vetoes an action is behaving as an outsider, not as part of the group. They are taking all power for themselves, leaving everyone else powerless. A veto represents power-over thinking, not power-with.

A veto means the decision-making environment is no longer open to making a better decision—one that will allow address everyone’s needs and allow the group to move forward as a group.

Objections Are Logical Arguments

An objection means that a person cannot work enthusiastically and energetically toward the aim of the group if the proposed decision is accepted. An objector is allowed to say, “If you make this decision, it will negatively affect my ability to be fully committed the organization.” The task then becomes finding a reasonable counter-proposal. One that will resolve the objection and still meet the aim of the original proposal.

Or find a way to obtain more information to test the objection—and to test the premise on which others are consenting. Consent also needs to be tested. A sole objector may be the person who has examined the situation more closely than those consenting.

A question that also needs to be asked in consensus decision-making is whether there is a shared aim. If not it is less likely that an objection will be resolved in any meaningful or lasting way. It is more likely to become a veto. If a person is vetoing, then the group must reconsider its aim or the aim of the decision. If the aim is not shared by everyone, consensus is unlikely to be a workable method of decision-making.

Participation in the process of working toward a shared aim distinguishes an objection from a veto.

Resistance to Rounds

I love rounds. They do many things but the most important to me is that they give everyone a chance to speak without raising their hand and waving it until the facilitator or discussion leader sees it, worrying about their place in the queue rather than listening, or  counting to see if everyone else has had a chance to speak before you can speak again. Rounds place the focus on what is being said, not the process of getting it said.

I like is the way they encourage people to speak who never raise their hand because they have nothing to add. Rounds encourage everyone speak in their own words. At first people may say,”I agree with Harry,” but with practice, almost everyone will move beyond this.

Creating Peacefulness

I like the peacefulness rounds bring to the group as everyone is focused on each speaker. In a round everyone is equal. They establish and re-establish equality in the room. Knowing that everyone will have an equal opportunity relaxes everyone. They become not only relaxed for themselves, but for others.

So why do we resist doing rounds? In my community, we repeatedly ask for them but they rarely happen. Too many people in the room is a big excuse. But with practice, this one could be overcome. Reminding people to say only what is “in their heart” or what is most relevant their decision, shortens the round. Not to pontificate addressing the arguments of  others.


But I wonder if a larger resistance is related to the facilitocracy that develops when groups are develop a dependence on the facilitator. Facilitocracies develop very quickly in full-group consensus models. Without the principles and structure of sociocracy and dynamic governance, the facilitator bears a huge burden in getting proposals passed. Their job becomes developing trust. If they are trusted, the process is easier. Personality holds sway, not arguments. This has its own pitfalls, however, because without a focus on arguments, the personalities of the objectors then also hold sway.

I’m beginning to consider that even more important in resistance to rounds is a facilitator’s desire to avoid shifting power to the group. Once they have developed their skills, which are often considerable, and gained the trust of the group, they want to keep the focus centered on their own facilitation. To control the room.

And to control the arguments.

And given credit for getting the job done.

Objections: Paramount, Principled, or Otherwise

In decision-making, one consents or one objects. Consent is defined as no objections. To object means no consent It’s very simple.

Consent has no modifiers so why should objections? No one asks for paramount or principled consent.

What would paramount consent be? Would we ask, “Are you consenting because this proposed action is the most important thing in the world right now?”

Do we examine the basis on which people are consenting? No, we don’t. But if someone objects and continues to object, we want to create qualifications for objections and tell them they can only object based on these qualifications. Objections get in our way so we try to blunt them. Consent doesn’t so we want to avoid looking at it too closely.

In terms of adopting a proposal, of making a decision, neither consent nor objections can be qualified. But they must be argued.

A proposal usually contains arguments in favor of an action and we assume that those consenting to it are consenting on the basis of those arguments. Many objections have usually been resolved in the proposal forming process. If objections remain, they can only be resolved by addressing the arguments for and against the proposal. The proposal is the subject. Objections can only exist in relation to the proposal and its affect on the individual and the group if it is adopted.

Why should we consent? Why should we object? Why we are consenting is just as vital as why we object. Rounds balance the objections with the consents.

If the group begins focusing on whether an objection is “allowed” or if it is really “paramount” (a word I could never get a grasp of), it has moved away from examining the content of the proposal to the motivations and character of the objector. The focus on the substance, the quality of the proposal and the quality of the argument is lost.

Stick to the proposal and addressing arguments, for as well as against.