Thursday December 22, 2011

A Myrtle Moment

Is Consensus Real?

How to hear what everyone is saying in a few simple steps

Submitted by Myrtle Macdonald


n many organizations motions and voting have been replaced by consensus. In my sad experience in a variety of settings, it takes much longer to get real agreement that way. A few participants talk at length and often. As a result not everyone gets a chance to have their say.


Some when speaking hesitate between words so others start talking before they are finished sharing what they mean.


Sometimes others assume that they have heard before what they have to say, so interrupt before the new aspect is heard. The sad result is that some members go away feeling they were not heard, and that the decision made was faulty. Some stop attending because they feel left out.

If there is a negative vote the chair person should ask "Do you want your negative vote recorded? If that is not done the person disagreed cannot say later I did not agree with the decision.

I remember once many years ago in a Field Council Meeting in India I voted no to a decision. The members were startled and decided to discuss the matter further. In they end they unanimously changed the decision. Years later they were still glad about those sober second thoughts.

The role of the President or Chair Person is difficult, and not well understood.
Here are a few more guidelines that can make it easier and at the same time enable all present to feel heard and valued:

  • It is very important to have a Secretary, in both regular and committee meetings. It is impossible for the Chair person to prepare accurate complete minutes while paying attention to everyone in the room.

  • The minutes should be in the words of the speakers, not reworded.

  • The Vice-Chair/Vice-President should be alert to notice every person in the room and signal the Chair when someone is trying to say something but is not noticed.

  • The Minutes prepared ahead by the Secretary and checked by the Chair Person are posted or e-mailed, and copies are placed at each place in the room. To check the accuracy of minutes, sometimes it is helpful to have the assistance also of the Vice-Chair.

  • The Agenda prepared ahead by the Secretary and the Chair Person is placed at each seat in the room.

  • Reports of Representatives and others should be short and in writing if possible. If people start leaving before Representatives have their turn to share concerns, they feel frustrated and and may drop out.

  • Prevent digressions away from the Agenda, which use up time.

1. The meeting is called to order. If there are visitors present they are introduced briefly. Then everyone in the circle gives their name and whom they represent, very briefly.

2. Minutes from the previous meeting. Time is given for them to read silently or orally. After errors and omissions are recorded they are moved, seconded and voted on. Anything unfinished is not discussed here, but added to the Agenda, to be discussed later.

3. The Agenda is considered and items of concern are added, to be discussed later.

4. Correspondence briefly. If discussion is needed it is added to either Unfinished or New business.

5. Unfinished Business (sometimes called Old Business)
5.1. Treasurer's Report and business arising discussed here.
5.2. Feed back from individuals who had agreed to tasks
5.3. Reports of subcommittees

6. New Business
6.1. Reports by Representatives of other organizations - new developments
6.2. Planning - long range

The date, time and place of the next meeting

Myrtle Macdonald, M.Sc.Applied (in Nursing Research and Education), McGill University. She works tirelessly in the community to advocate for the rights, safety and well-being of those in the community suffering with mental health issues. She worked in India as a nurse and a street nurse in Montreal for many years.