3.3 Consensus and Ethical Decisions
But they could not, when they sat down together, hear and understand what each other was saying, and at one point they divided into three subgroups that simply would not even listen to the other groups anymore. So sometimes we can't even understand what the other person's saying because we're having a hard time finding any common ground, our values and beliefs are so different. If you can't refocus the disagreement because of number three, because of the emotion or the past history, do not attempt to reach consensus to resolve the issue.
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We’re back again now. Module 3, Lecture 3. We’re going to talk about consensus. Consensus is a group decision-making process. We’re trying to find some resolution that’s acceptable to all the participants. Why use consensus? Everyone has an equal stake in this decision. It’s collaborative. It’s fair. There’s no rank in the room. Everyone is involved equally in making this decision. And this is one of the key tools we need to have in place, one of the key rules, one of the key methods we have to have in place to have a chance at consensus working. Everybody’s equally involved no matter what their position is outside this group. And power’s distributed throughout the group. Everybody’s equal in this group when we make decisions using consensus. Consensus may not work because it’s not clearly defined. No one really knows what we mean by consensus. What we mean by consensus is that everyone can live with and support this decision. It doesn’t have to be everyone’s favorite decision. People don’t have to just love it, love it, love it. Most of the group might just love it, love it, love it, think it’s the best thing we could possibly ever do. I really like it because it’s my idea and so I think it’s the best thing that we could ever possibly do. There’s somebody else in the group that says, I don’t think it’s the best thing we can do, but it’s good enough and I’m happy to move forward with the group. I can live with and support this decision. And when we all leave this room nobody will know what the level of buy-in to this thing was along the way. We all have 100% buy-in now. During the discussion, nobody will know who really said, yes, I think it’s the best decision and somebody else says, no, not really the best decision but I’m happy to go along with it. When we leave this room, nobody will know who those people were because we all buy into this thing and we all move forward together as a group. Assume that people understand how to do it. Not always true. Not everybody knows how to do consensus. No specific method to reach it. Opposition is not voiced. No process for resolving stalemates. Group members falsely agree. They didn’t voice their opposition in the room. They agreed to things, and then when they leave, then they voice their opposition to all this. If that’s going on, we don’t really have consensus. Consensus, sometimes I’ve seen one person who’s the last holdout who says, I just can’t go along with the group and do this. And when the group says, well, why not, the person has to come up with why not. That’s part of the process for doing this is they have to explain, this is my thinking. And I’ve seen sometimes one holdout in a pretty large group be able to sway the entire group to the way that they’re thinking because the rest of the group forgot to think about some key issue. Do you think about if we do this the way your saying, it means this and this and this. Remember those consequences we were talking about earlier? The consequences would be this. Oh, we didn’t realize that. That’s not a very good decision, is it? What are you thinking? And then sometimes we end up with consensus being not something that one individual or another individual or another subgroup or another subgroup came up with. It’s something that we put together with the best pieces of everybody’s ideas. So we’ve seen sometimes where a whole group gets turned in a different direction from where they’re all going. We’re all going this way. But one last little holdout that saved them. Seven steps to consensus. Start with agreement. There’s some overlap in all the different things people are saying, quite often. Where’s that overlap? Where’s the agreement we have? Where are the areas of disagreement? Let’s clarify those. I disagree here and here, and here’s why I disagree here, why I disagree here. Another person disagrees over here. Why is that disagreement there? What is it all about? Let’s clarify that. Delineate alternatives. So here are some of the alternatives we’ve laid out, and we have some alternatives that really are not anybody’s ideas but some other alternatives that start to put some ideas together from all of the things people are saying. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the various alternatives. If appropriate, start to try and merge these alternatives. Build something out of these alternatives that, together, all these alternatives give us something really good. A really good solution is what we have here, a really good decision. Attempt to converge on a solution. So along the way, just keep moving toward a solution and moving toward consensus, and once you get to that point where everybody says, I can live with and support this solution, stop right there. You don’t need to go any further. If you cannot reach consensus, you may have to do a couple of things. One thing we could do is decide to just move on and come back to this thing later. Sometimes, if we just say, all right, let’s just table this. We’ll come back and talk about this at the next meeting, so everybody think through this a little bit, come back to the next meeting. When our group gets together again and said, why did we ever disagree? We’re all saying exactly the same thing in different ways, so there really is no disagreement. Sometimes there is still some disagreement, so there are three reason that people may disagree. This is one that we see quite often. They have not heard and understood each other. There was one group that was trying to develop a new policy for young children. It was a health policy, a safety net for kids between the time they were born until they turn three years old. This was for kids who had severe medical needs, mental or physical health needs of some kind. And if they didn’t fit into any program that would help these kids, there was a program here. This last safety net that would catch all those kids that didn’t fit anywhere else. Now a group has to come together and see what that program looks like. This group is made up of physicians, nurses. It’s made up of teachers. It’s made up of psychiatrists, psychologists. It’s made up of parents. It’s made up of people who are experts in the health industry, all kinds of people that are experts in physical and mental health. A bunch of people who care about little kids. They really wanna work on this thing. But they could not, when they sat down together, hear and understand what each other was saying, and at one point they divided into three subgroups that simply would not even listen to the other groups anymore. This is what we should do, and we’re not even going to listen to what you have to say. Because of that, this dragged on for two and a half years without a bunch of little kids having any kind of safety net at all. And this is a bunch of people who really want to take care of these little kids. They have these little kids in their heart. They want to take care of these little kids. They just got to the point where they couldn’t hear and understand each other, and so they couldn’t move forward. They did finally move forward. They had one meeting where they finally actually were forced to sit down and listen to each other. And the process was put in place so they could actually understand what the other groups were saying. And they worked through that really rapidly, and with that and one more meeting they came up with a wonderful program that was implemented almost immediately and everything went great. People hold different values and beliefs. We just come from different backgrounds. Different cultures, different belief systems, different value systems. This family has a different value system than this family over here. We all have all of that in our heads. So sometimes we can’t even understand what the other person’s saying because we’re having a hard time finding any common ground, our values and beliefs are so different. So a lot of times that can get back to hearing and understanding each other. Why would you look at things and say that? Oh, I see, I understand it this way and see it in a completely different light. Oh, maybe we can work through this somehow. Different values and beliefs. Sometimes disagreement is based on emotion or past history. If it’s reason number three, if the disagreement is emotion or past history, guess what? We’re having a hard time reaching consensus, and we can take a break if it’s appropriate, just to let everybody separate for a little bit. Come back together, discuss this again. If we simply cannot reach consensus, going to a higher authority is probably the best backup method that we have. We just go to a higher authority and say, what are we gonna do? Like the engineers that were trying to paint the cars. They couldn’t paint these cars, couldn’t figure how to do this. And they went to higher authority and said, we don’t know which way to go. And the authority said, that way, and then the whole group went that way. That’s how the cars got painted. So we just need somebody to break that deadlock once in a while. If you can’t refocus the disagreement because of number three, because of the emotion or the past history, do not attempt to reach consensus to resolve the issue. You’re gonna have to do something different. Authority is probably the best thing to do. You can’t go to majority vote, because we already talked about why you can’t use that. Okay, we can’t reach a consensus. All right, let’s vote. How many think this? How many think this? All right, well, that group, too bad, we’re going ahead without you. And that’s not what we’re trying to do with our groups. Decisions can be ethical or not ethical. And what are we talking about with that? A number of different things. One thing, we’re talking about the ethics of our culture. And we’re talking about the ethics of our subculture in an organization, ethics about our organizational culture overall, ethics about industry culture, ethics about our regional culture, our national culture, the world culture. Talking about there are some cultural ethics that we all understand and accept, and are these decisions within those ethical boundaries that we have laid out? There are a number of professional organizations that one of the first things they have is, here are the ethics of our organization. And here is what we say belongs in that ethical action and decision sphere that we’ve put together. These are the things that we think are ethical. Ethical decisions involve all the individuals who are going to be impacted by the decisions whenever possible. Now we know that sometimes there’s an authority decision with no input that just has to be done in a kind of a crisis situation. Sometimes somebody just has to say, okay, this is what we’re doing. You do that, you do that, you do that, because we don’t have any more time. We may have a matter of seconds to make decisions and take actions, and we don’t have time to do anything other than that. But whenever possible, involving everybody that’s going to be affected by this decision is a great way to make good ethical decisions. With that, we’ll move on to another module.
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