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How to Find Consensus: Seven Skills for Collaborative Work

Thursday, February 02, 2017 10:29 AM | Regina Funkhouser (Administrator)


Regina Pinney

Executive Director

Regina@nonprofnetwork.org






This may surprise you, but I want to thank the current political climate.


It has made me – and us – better.


What a wonderful world we live in. I have witnessed a surge in civic participation illustrated by the recent marches in Washington and around the world, by the larger crowds at my local City Council Meetings, and by conversations within my circles that are smarter, more passionate, and with more calls to action.


I am seeing an urgency to engage in a larger conversation about what kind of society we are building. The discord and dialogues – some productive, some not – in social media have been inspiring. More people are doing research and fact checking – more people are critically thinking and forming their opinions based on evidence.


I am witnessing a resurgence in the role of authentic journalism to strengthen democracy and good governance.


Nonprofit Network has a long held belief in the power of diversity, we define diversity broadly, with intent to allow all people a seat at the table.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN in 1948, Article 19, says, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

General S. Patton once said “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”


The value and strength of decision making actually increases by having difficult conversations where we all begin at different points and have respectful conversations and dialogues that lead us to a consensus.


In collaborative work (let’s face it – what work is there besides collaborative work?) We believe that if you move slowly and allow everyone a chance to participate in the conversation and come to a consensus, that decision will, in fact, be the best one. But this process requires people to be willing change their mind and allow information to alter their path. We must be open to influence.


This is not easy.


But here are seven skills from the Center for Adaptive Schools that will certainly help.Take a look through this list and ask yourself how you can thoughtfully promote and encourage each of these skills in your interactions with others. Really, right it down. Identify one action for each skill.


The Seven Norms of Collaboration


1. Pausing

Pausing before responding or asking a question allows time for thinking and enhances dialogue, discussion, and decision-making.


2. Paraphrasing

Using a paraphrase starter that is comfortable for you – “So…” or “As you are…” or “You’re thinking…” – and following the starter with an efficient paraphrase assists members of the group in hearing and understanding one another as they converse and make decisions.


3. Posing Questions

Two intentions of posing questions are to explore and to specify thinking. Questions may be posed to explore perceptions, assumptions, and interpretations, and to invite others to inquire into their thinking. For example, “What might be some conjectures you are exploring?” Use focusing questions such as, “Which students, specifically?” or “What might be an example of that?” to increase the clarity and precision of group members’ thinking. Inquire into others’ ideas before advocating one’s own.


4. Putting Ideas on the Table

Ideas are the heart of meaningful dialogue and discussion. Label the intention of your comments. For example: “Here is one idea…” or “One thought I have is…” or “Here is a possible approach…” or “Another consideration might be…”


5. Providing Data

Providing data, both qualitative and quantitative, in a variety of forms supports group members in constructing shared understanding from their work. Data have no meaning beyond that which we make of them; shared meaning develops from collaboratively exploring, analyzing, and interpreting data.


6. Paying Attention to Self and Others

Meaningful dialogue and discussion are facilitated when each group member is conscious of self and of others, and is aware of what (s)he is saying and how it is said as well as how others are responding. This includes paying attention to learning styles when planning, facilitating, and participating in group meetings and conversations.


7. Presuming Positive Intentions

Assuming that others’ intentions are positive promotes and facilitates meaningful dialogue and discussion, and prevents unintentional put-downs. Using positive intentions in speech is one manifestation of this norm.


-From The Center for Adaptive Schools (Dolcemascolo and McKanders, 2013)


When a person – or, better yet, a group – adopts these seven skills, as the aggreed rules for behavior, then big things can happen.  Hard conversations lead to progress and a group of people with different perspectives can reach consensus. 


Seek consensus. Influence the conversation. Be influenced by others. 


Move that needle forward.




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