I’ve been giving some thought to the notion of “consensus building”. When I think of consensus building I imagine a situation where a bunch of people are sitting around debating an issue and the consensus occurs when the people at the table no longer wish to debate and can live with the proposed solution. I don’t actually have any “official” definition from anywhere to back this up, as the definitions from dictionary.com aren’t too specific. I should mention that the entry in Wikipedia does briefly suggest that consensus “usually involves collaboration, rather than compromise”.
Despite this suggestion from Wikipedia, from my experience I tend to find that discussions around “consensus building” seem to be focused on compromise rather than collaboration. Again, it’s just a gut feel but whether the conversation is facilitated or not I find that the questions in the conversation tend to be along the lines of “if i gave up ‘x’, would you give me ‘y'”? In other words I find the conversations to be subtractive. Ie. how can the proposed solution be pared down until it isn’t disagreeable for most or all of the people in the room. (Apologies for the double negative.) This has to be a less than ideal situation for all parties. Nobody truly wins.
This differs from collaborative conservations which I would suggest are more additive. Ie. lots of “yes, and” with a goal of expressing and building towards an ideal solution for all parties and it would haven been impossible to have achieved individually. My experience tells me that people leave these types of conversations energized, motivated and confident in their colleagues.
Maybe it’s just some pointless semantic babbling, but I’m thinking that “consensus building” is an oxymoron up there with “army intelligence” and “jumbo shrimp”.