Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the FUTURE.
– John F. Kennedy
As we watch the events unfold around budgets and legislation in Washington, there are lessons to be learned for us all. When the stakes are high and contentious, consensus is not something that just magically appears. Rather it is typically the result of hard work, diplomacy and compromise.
How can we lead the way to consensus in our own work?
Tackle the conflict – Avoiding or ignoring conflict does not make it go away. It may be tempting for some to proceed as if the conflict didn’t exist. However, this often only heightens its pressure and intensity. Keeping the lid on the proverbial pot only increases the likelihood the contents will boil over. Pent-up pressure needs an escape or release. When conflict is acknowledged and actively addressed, compromise is more possible.
Respect the “opposition” – people who feel disrespected or marginalized are more likely to get increasingly frustrated – and entrenched in their position. Consensus begins with acknowledgement and understanding.
Acknowledge the compromises – Consensus usually involves compromise from all “sides” – no one is likely to get 100% of what they want. Emphasizing how people “lost” or “caved” does not pave the way for successful future negotiations. Rather than belittling people, consider recognizing them for their willingness to compromise for the greater good.
Find common ground – Finding points of agreement on goals and objectives helps reinforce shared vision and interests. Rather than reinforcing and exacerbating differences of opinion, focusing on common goals provides a starting point for building consensus on how to get there.
Think long-term – the environment for consensus that we create today sets the stage for future negotiations. If we disrespect others’ points of view or strong-arm others to consensus, it makes future compromises more challenging. There will undoubtedly be the need for future compromises. Laying the groundwork today provides lasting benefits for tomorrow.
When leaders treat conflict and stakeholders with respect and dignity, leaders are more likely to engender trust and cooperation. Stakeholders need to be heard and understood and be an active part of the process of determining how common goals will be achieved.