Agreement without argument

megaphone_200It seems like every time you turn on the news or look at the paper, you see a story about how our national elected leaders seem to be incapable of getting any work done. Far worse than what was labeled as the “do-nothing” Congress of the Truman administration, our representatives seem to be constantly in a tug-of-war with each other. Very little gets done as a result, and even issues that make sense for the majority of the people fail because a wrench gets tossed into the works and the gears of governing stall.

Reaching a consensus doesn’t have to be that difficult. It takes the willingness on the part of all parties to settle for less than everything they want, and allow each other to hang on to their key principles.

At times it seems like the discourse at our unit committee meetings sounds a bit like the debate on the floor of Congress, but it really doesn’t have to. Sure, we hold structured meetings with an agenda and parliamentary procedure, but the similarity ends there.

Our committee meetings are less about debating who’s right and who’s wrong, and more about reaching a consensus about what’s best for the Scouts. As a result, we know that once we’ve reached agreement, there’s no need for a yea-or-nay vote or horse-trading with our colleagues, because everyone is together.

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be discussion on the pros and cons of various ideas, however. Many times, the way to a solution to an issue is for everyone to put their cards on the table and “sell” their viewpoint. Eventually, an acceptable solution to a problem will rise to the top, and if everyone can support it, you have agreement.

What can cause friction in the decision-making process? Often it can be isolated to one of three reasons: You’re short on time, you think you (and you alone) have the answer, or you don’t know how to involve others. In a nutshell, that’s how blogger Dan McCarthy sums up the obstacles to reaching an agreement that all can support. Indeed, when we think we hold the keys, or that we can’t be bothered asking others for advice, we run the risk of making bad decisions and make it harder to find the optimum solution.

How can we overcome the tendency to avoid consensus? McCarthy gives us a six-step process:

  • Agree on what you’re trying to decide. Paraphrasing his example, you may want to expand your debate on buying a new trailer into a discussion on finding better ways to haul the troop’s gear.
  • Find other possibilities. Consider multiple options. For any given destination, there are usually many ways to get there. Instead of the new trailer, consider having smaller patrol boxes that can be hauled in a car.
  • Clearly state your options. If you have several possible actions, make sure everyone knows what they are. Someone might also suggest lightweight tents, for instance.
  • Sort things out. Some solutions can probably be tossed right away due to cost, complexity or logistics (like buying a bus instead!). Try to categorize the remaining solutions. You could see whether a solution agrees with the culture and traditions of your unit.
  • Keep the good and go for a solution. Try to pull together the best points of the viable options. You may find you still need a trailer, but a smaller one would do with some changes to your gear.
  • Form your action plan. Once you have agreement, determine who will be in charge and when it should be finished.

This process can save you a lot of bickering, while leading you to the best possible solution to problems that come before you. Try taking the can-do approach to problems you need to solve, and your committee meetings will run more smoothly.

Image: Stuart Miles /

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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