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Democratic Decision Making Skills

Your conflict resolution skills will come in handy for another important aspect of commitment to the group process – making decisions as part of the group. This is because IVP workcamps are often run with the aim of using consensus decision making as often as possible. Unlike other democratic methods, such as majority voting, reaching consensus can be a much more involved process, but will give you the chance to learn more about your fellow volunteers. It will also give you practice at the hard work of finding a solution which fits the needs of everyone.

Consensus Decision Making

In consensus decision making there is an attempt to develop a course of action that can be accepted by all members of a group. While not everyone may feel that it is the best personal outcome, all group members should still feel that it is a decision that they can accept. So if a minority disagree with a certain decision the group must listen to their objections and find a solution that will answer these objections. Even so, complete agreement is usually not the goal, rather consensus decision making tries to ensure that all relevant parties have the chance to share their opinion, and that this opinion is taken into account throughout the decision making process.

Because consensus decision-making is a process which seeks to take everyone’s perspective into account, it is often more time consuming than going straight to a vote, or simply asking the workcamp leader to decide for you. In fact, it can often be surprising how long it will take for your group to reach a decision, especially if the members have very little experience of this type of decision-making. While this can be frustrating, it can also be a very interesting experience and will allow you to learn a great deal about the difficult work of building democratic communities, which respect the needs of all their members.

Below are some points to remember when trying to reach a consensus:

Firstly, remember to use active listening. That is, when listening to others – listen for what they are trying to say, rather than what you think they are saying and avoid focusing on how they disagree with you. Make sure the person you are listening to feels that you are actively trying to understand their point of view. This is particularly important in an international group – where everyone will have different language abilities. Watch out for those who may be too shy to speak up, or may not even understand what is going on.

Next – when you are speaking – try to use clean ‘I’ statements, which state your position clearly, but do not make claims about what other people should or shouldn’t do. Also remember to speak slowly and clearly so that everyone will be able to understand what you are saying.

We should also try to be aware if some members of the group are using avoidance to dissolve a disagreement. Be cautious about decisions that are reached too quickly, some might be ignoring the problem or may not really understand what is going on. This means that we shouldn’t accept silence as agreement. Check the reasons why people agree to a certain solution.

When trying to find ways of resolving differences within the group try to avoid using a competitive approach. Instead of assuming there must be a winner and a loser, try to find ways in which you can reach a decision collaboratively. This can involve looking for a win-win situation, or thinking creatively about the situation itself. Maybe there are entirely new possibilities that no one has thought of yet.

While it may be tempting to try to reach a decision more quickly by using a majority vote, averaging, coin toss or bargaining – try to avoid shutting down the process in this way. Put on your ‘discovery hat’ and remember that the more disagreement there is, the more we each have to learn about other people’s perspectives, preferences and ways of dealing with the world.