Three Steps for Getting Your Team to Come to a Consensus

Episode 39

In this special solo episode, I use a recent experience with my two young children to explain the three steps, or tactics, you can take to get your team, group, family, etc. to walk away from a discussion having not only come to a consensus about what to do next but feeling energized and empowered about the solution.


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Hey, hey! It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast! I’m consulting with teams and companies who are trying to move their companies forward with innovative initiatives and differentiating their voice in the market place and being able to communicate their ideas, their vision clearly.

One of the things that I found is that when people come to a table to have a conversation about a problem, about something that they need to solve or try to come to consensus, there are three things that truly help that group be able to come to a consensus and move an initiative forward with great energy.

So I like to use stories from our home life simply because it’s easy to tell those stories and I think they absolutely apply to teams and other kinds of relationships. But sometimes it’s easier to talk about kids and home life and most of us, you know, we all have a personal life. So I want to start there. I want to tell you about a situation that we had in our family where we had to sit down and had a pow-wow. We had a problem to solve.

Our son who is 8 years old have been working on his box sport out in the playhouse and he’ll just take boxes and he’ll come to us and ask us to cut them and he’ll measure it and figure out what he needs. He’ll come inside and will ask us to cut and then he’ll take his stuff back out there. We don’t really know what’s going on but he’s working on his box sport and it was winter time.

So right now, it’s pretty cool outside. We just don’t go out there very often. It’s kind of good to see him engaged, interacting, and wanting to do something like this. While at the same time, our daughter has been helping him a little bit but she’s also feeling a little bit like this box sport just kind of taking up all of the playhouse space and she doesn’t like that.

It all sort of came to our head the other day and I realized that our kids were not happy. One wanted to keep working – he was excited about the work that he was doing and he wanted to keep working and doing it however he wanted it to. I noticed that there were duct tapes in places that I didn’t want it to be and our daughter noticed that there were boxes in places that she was not really excited about them being.

So we said “OK, let’s all go back into the house and we’re going to have a pow-wow.” Emotions were running high and I can tell you that there was no true communications taking place between our kids.

This happens frequently in the world, in life. When one person feels disappointed or threatened and the other person feels frustrated, annoyed, or something and the two start going back and forth, it can easily turn into an ugly kind of a conversation, where people are saying things that they don’t really mean or maybe they really do mean them but they’re not thinking about the other person. They’re not thinking about “How can I get this person to see this point of view and how can we come to a resolution together that’s going to work?”

Most of the time when emotions are running high like that we’re not thinking about the other person in how we can make a good resolution. We’re feeling defensive, we’re feeling like we need to fight back and that’s the way that we come across, that’s the way that we can sort of show up in that moment. That was what’s going on with our kids. This is so typical for all kids, of course, for marriages, or for teams. It’s just the way things go when someone feels threatened and the other person feels frustrated or they both feel threatened in some kind of way.

So what we needed to do is we needed to pull away from the situation and have a meeting. What we did was I used this methodology, this trick that I know. It’s not really a trick but it’s what I know about people to help us be able to sit down and figure something out together. So the four of us got down…we sat down in the living room and I laid down some ground rules and this is something that I think we all need to do when we come to these moments where we’re trying to come to some sort of consensus or resolution on a problem. You have to make everybody feel safe.

This has to be a safe place. This living room, this table and people who are seated here at this table, meaning we’re not attacking each other. If we’re attacking each other then we don’t feel safe and what happens? Well, we feel threatened and we get closed up, some people close down and they make it go within themselves, other people kind of get offensive and sort of lash back out. That is not an environment that is going to produce real consensus because you can even have a real conversation in that kind of a situation.

So you want to start by laying the groundwork that we’re not taking sides here, that right now what we need to do is we’re not going to attack, we’re not going to do any blaming or accusing. That’s what we said at our meeting, in our family meeting “No blaming, no accusing. What we’re here to do is we’re here to solve a problem and this is the problem.” And this is the problem.

By laying this sort of foundation at the beginning of a conversation like this, you’re sort of setting the ground rules and letting everybody know what they are allows people to feel more at ease. They’re more open to discussion and they’re not so worried about what’s going to happen, “Do I need to be on the defensive?” It allows people to sort of let down their guard a little bit as long as _____ plays by the rules. But you have to say, “This is how we’re doing this, we’re not attacking and if we begin to do any attacking, if I starts to hear a blame then I’m gonna shut that down. I just want you to know that right now.” That allows everybody a chance to sort of just breathe and be like “OK, this is a safe a place.”

The second thing that you need to establish beside safety is a sense of celebration. People need to know that you value them, that you appreciate them, and that you understand them. If you can help people to feel first safe then you can give them a chance to feel celebrated. When people feel celebrated, they feel more willing to engage. They feel more willing who they are and the best of who they are to this problem solving conversation.

If they do not feel celebrated, if you stay at safe and you don’t go any further than safe then it’s likely that somebody could feel ignored or rejected. Even though they feel safe in this environment, “You’re not going to attack me; you also don’t really think that I have anything to say. You don’t really care what I have to say and what I have to offer.” That’s how people will feel if you don’t make sure that they feel celebrated.

Of course, when I say make them feel, I mean that you’re providing the opportunity for them to feel a certain way. You’re sort of laying the groundwork for that, you’re nurturing this emotion, and you can’t make people feel things. But that’s what I mean when I’m saying that. If people feel ignored or rejected instead of celebrated then they’re going to withhold the best of who they are, or they might get a little pushy and demanding “You’re not gonna listen to what I have to say then I’m gonna make sure that you listen to what I have to say and you better do it this way.” Or it might be, like I said, that person who goes inside instead of engaging more, they go inside more and that person is going to withhold some possibly groundbreaking insights that could help the group and could help solve the problem.

So what we did in this moment, the situation in our house was we said “OK.” So number one, no blaming each other about anything here. What we have is we have a problem. We’ve got to take that problem and put it outside of the context of ourselves. So this is an outside problem that we are going to team up and conquer. After doing that then we said “We are so impressed with your initiative to make this box sport.” We let our son know that we were so impressed with all the work that he has done because that was one of the things that he was feeling really crampy about. “Well, I might have to move things and I worked so hard and now it’s like a “It doesn’t matter,” that sort of thing.

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like “Man, I worked so hard on this and now you want to change it?” That can feel really awfully crampy. So as a leader, as somebody who is wanting to gain consensus in your team, you want to make sure that that person that you actually do celebrate and appreciate what they have done so far. Even if it’s not all perfect, celebrate what they have done that’s good so that you can move towards a resolution.

But if you could just give them that opportunity to let them know that you recognize how hard they have been working “You know, son, you have been working so hard on this and I’m so proud of you. I love what you’ve done so far.” And to our daughter, we have to make sure that we understood that we celebrate her as well. We celebrate her desire to be able to play and engage with her friends in this space, “We understand that this is what you want.”

So by empathizing, by celebrating that other person and everybody in the group and making sure that everybody knows “Look, I see you. I see what you’ve done. I see your potential and I’m excited about this potential.” What have you done so far with this group? You have made them feel safe so that they open themselves up to this discussion and then you made them feel celebrated so that they feel willing to contribute the best of who they are to this conversation to this problem solving situation and then finally people need to feel challenged.

As parents, we could have just said “You know, we know the best solution for this. This is what we’re gonna do.” We could have handed down a declaration of a decision of what we’re going to do now because maybe we do see the best thing to do. Quite often that’s what happens; however, we’re not just looking for a problem solved, we’re also looking for consensus in our family.

We’re looking for everyone to be onboard and to do it willingly and that’s what you’re looking for in a team as well. You want everybody onboard. You could. I’m sure that you being the smart and intelligent and insightful person that you are, you might already feel like you know the answer and what should be done. But when you’re working with a team, there’s so much more going on than the need to find the perfect solution to this problem. So much of what you’re trying to accomplish is to draw out their innovative potential and to get everybody onboard so that everybody is rowing together in sync in the same direction so that whatever this initiative is that you’re trying to accomplish or move forward is that that it does.

So this third piece is to challenge the group. You don’t hand them down a declaration; you challenge them to rise to the occasion to help solve this problem. This is the messy way, not the shortcut. This is the more effective transformative way, not the compliance way. Sometimes you need compliance, sometimes you need to just hand down a directive and just make it happen. But when you’re wanting to gain consensus in a group and truly unlock the potential of the people inside of it, this is what you have to do. You want to make people feel safe, celebrated, and challenged.

This challenged piece is about presenting the problem as it is, presenting the problem by saying, for example with our situation in our own living room with our own family, we had to explain to them “Look, we see that these are the issues that we’re facing.” We’re not blaming anybody for these issues because if we blame people to the issues, what are they going to do? They’re going to close down, they’re going to get defensive, kids are going to start crying or yelling at each other and maybe adults do that as well. I’m not sure that I’ve seen that very often but sometimes the yelling could happen.

But we’re not blaming in this moment, we’re challenging them with the actual problem. These are the objective things that we’re facing. We are facing situation where we need to create more space in this environment and we need to take the tape off of the places where it shouldn’t be.

So we need to come up with a new idea. I believe, and as a leader of this meeting, because I was leading this meeting, I said “I believe that, we, together could come up with the solution that is not only going to make everybody happy. I think that it will be even better than it was before. By challenging them to this and casting this vision that maybe it could be even better than it was before that allows people to really start to think.

I think that when you give people this kind of environment, a table to sit at, they really feel like they do have a seat here at the table and that their voice really does matter. And even if you don’t use their ideas, you know, you can say “We’re talking about this in an objective way. We’re thinking about the good of the group. We’re thinking about whatever.” When you talk like that and you keep it objective and you stay away from blaming and you stay from rejecting or ignoring people and you make sure that you’re engaging them then they are going to get to that point where they feel challenged instead of feeling underwhelmed or overwhelmed.

If you hand down that directive without challenging them to be able to rise to the occasion themselves with their own innovative potential then it makes them feel drained. They are either overwhelmed by the fact that there are so much more to do now and I just don’t even know. There’s so much here to chop off like maybe the problem is too big and we can’t solve it. You’ve just given us the directive and I don’t even know what to do next and that sort of thing or they might feel underwhelmed like “Well, I have some ideas, but I guess we’re just going to do this and what I was thinking could have been better.” Whether they’re right or not, it doesn’t matter that that’s what could be going on in a person when they’re not allowed to give voice to their own ideas.

So overwhelmed and underwhelmed, what do these make people feel, ahhhh they’re just drained. But if you challenge them, they feel energized as a healthy amount of challenge. After they’re feeling opened and willing and now they’re feeling energized to meet these needs, to help contribute to the answer to the solution and then once everybody has developed a consensus even if not everybody is totally in agreement, most of the time you can come to a consensus where you can get agreement and people are pretty much onboard.

When you get to that point, people are more likely to truly be energized and move that initiative forward with their own energy instead of having to borrow energy from you. So rather than you having to come up with the solution and then give them the solution and then pull everybody together and try to motivate everyone to get this initiative to move forward that seems like a shortcut. In the end that’s going to take more energy from you.

As a leader of whatever group you’re with right now, whatever conversation you’re in right now, it could be a one-on-one conversation where these three elements come into play. Whatever you’re at in that discussion, it’s going to make a huge difference if you can lay the groundwork so that the person that you’re speaking to, your audience, your team, your family, your friend, or your spouse, whomever it is; if they feel safe and then celebrated then you can bring a challenge to them to opt their game, to get them, to dig into the best of who they are so that you can come up with this innovative solution and really make the difference that they want to make.

And then together, you have developed this energy behind your solution, behind this initiative that you’re going to move forward with less effort and pure bootstrap and kind of leadership. You are going to truly be inspiring your team and inspiring your family to move forward with their own internal motivation. Because if you do, they are going to be able to dig into the depths of who they are and give the best of who they are to the team and for the solution that you have together come up with.

So go make your team, feel safe, celebrated, and challenged and make your voice matter more!


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