Reaching Consensus can be Tough, but not Impossible when Values Come in to Play.

The age old saying “Let’s agree to disagree” might work in some circumstances, but if you’re in the throes of a community engagement project or in a strategic planning meeting where consensus is vital to success, this won’t cut it.

While reaching consensus in some situations might seem impossible, there are tools and tactics good facilitators and negotiators can use to ensure all parties meet a common ground.

It all boils down to values, and what are considered the deal breakers, non-negotiables and negotiables.

For example the deal breaker might be that a development has been approved and will go ahead; the non-negotiable might be that it is a 10 storey building and within height restrictions; the negotiable might be that more public space is an option.

Working out what is negotiable and what isn’t is the first step. Defining values is the second step. Coming to a conclusion is the third step.

Values are standards of behaviour and principles, and can be applied to help people inch closer to consensus.

For example, a local resident group’s values might include openness, fairness and willingness to compromise. The Developer’s values might be inclusiveness, willingness to communicate, and honesty. It’s about identifying these values and applying them to a situation.

Once values have been defined, the third step is to reach a consensus which might mean initiating more discussion, increasing timeframes or providing more information. Negotiations can then take place.

Importantly, groups or individuals need to ask themselves, “What am I willing to give up, and what is the other party willing to accept”.

For example, a resident group’s willingness to compromise means that they are open to accepting less on-street parking on the condition that more public space is provided. The developer’s honesty means that residents have been told about the height of the building from the offset, and through inclusiveness and feedback the developer is now willing to compromise on the look and feel of the development.

In this situation values have helped to identify what each party is willing to negotiate on, and how they go about it.

Of course not everything works out smoothly all the time, it’s a matter of chipping away at the negotiations, working out what are easy fixes and what are the pressure points, and closing the gap through small wins.