A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.
It has been an interesting and somewhat difficult couple of weeks. Patience does not come easy for me. Sometimes things progress much too slow to suit me. Trying to come to consensus, within various groups, in order to act can be a bit agonizing. I generally work pretty well in teams and committees. However I think I must learn to have more patience and tolerance with the process. You’ve probably seen the tee-shirt or posters, “Lord, grant me patience, but PLEASE HURRY!” I need that. The more I work with governments, public policy and yes, politics, the more I find I need patience and endurance and maybe a touch of fortitude. I have always been told that the “Devil is in the details.” Yet it is important to look at the overall, broader picture. It can be a difficult balancing act to look at both the details and the thirty-thousand foot level and see them both with equal clarity.
Admittedly, a good part of the difficulty lately was of my own making. I am an information junkie. I love digging into things, and trying to ask questions – although sometimes I am afraid I am not asking the right questions at the right time. Not long ago I did ask a question, which I believe was the right question. I received an answer from a trusted professional and I accepted it at face value. Consensus within our group was reached, based on the information at hand.
Later, I received some additional information that made me reconsider the consensus I acquiesced to earlier. Unfortunately, it came too late to be of much use, although I lobbied for a 11th hour change, it simply was not to be. Will it be important in the long run? I have no idea. However, it has fortified five lessons learned.
Lesson one is that I should trust my intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right . . . at least for me.
Lesson two is that information and advice given is colored by ones perspective, in spite of every effort to be objective. That perspective must be taken into consideration when evaluating the information. In my case, those presenting information and opinion on the best course of action were coming from vastly different sides of the issue. Yet to make the best decision, both of those viewpoints needed to be heard and weighed. Often it seems, when making group decisions, divergent opinions are not always present, not voiced or not heeded.
The third lesson is to continue asking and asking and ASKING clarifying questions to try to develop understanding – not only of the issue but of the people involved.
The fourth is that it is ok to not go along with group think. This fits a bit with lesson one. As Dr. Martin Luther King said,
“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency ask the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
Mike Myatt, a columnist for Forbes and a trusted advisor to Fortune 500 CEO’s put it another way,
“Groupthink is a very dangerous practice. It stifles innovation, discourages candor, disdains dissenting opinions, and mutes the truth. If what you seek is to neutralize your advantage by dumbing down the insights, observations and contributions of your team, then by all means default to consensus thinking.”
The fifth lesson is simply never quit trying. Thomas Edison said it best,
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
I will keep asking questions – hopefully the right ones at the right time and, if necessary, slow the process down in order to seek viewpoints from all sides of the issues. I will keep trying to find the best solutions for issues within our town. I won’t always succeed but I won’t quit.
While I generally do try to stay neutral and present the facts – albeit from my perspective – I am learning that at times I will need to take a stance, and it may not be the popular one – but it will be the right one for me.