Don’t force consensus onto everything. As Abraham Maslow
once sa id, ” I f t he only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to
1 72 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
see every problem as a nail.” Consensus decision making is
one of today’s widely used hammers. People apply it to situa
tions that don’t deserve the time and attention needed to come
to a consensus or that can’t be solved unanimously.
For example, forty people are brought together to decide on
the color of the work area. That’s too many people. Use con
sultation. A team meets to decide if each team member should
use a certain type of coffee mug (we’re not making this up) .
Let people choose their own. A couple asks their son to decide
his own punishment. Not always a good idea. Some decisions
need to be made by command.
• Don’t pretend that everyone gets his or her first choice. Nobody
ever said that with consensus everyone gets his or her way.
Consensus isn’t about getting your way; it’s about doing what’s
best for the family or team. It requires give and take. It demands
compromise followed by the resolve to support (in some cases)
your second or third choice-because it’s best for the group.
• No martyrs please. Healthy teams and families are good at
coming to consensus because they’re good at dialogue. They
don’t toggle from silence to violence or otherwise play games
in order to get their way. Since everyone has a say and says it
well, healthy groups don’t end up with the same people con
stantly giving in and then playing the role of martyr. “Are you
enjoying the theme park? Don’t worry about me. I’ll just sit
here on the curb and try to think of what it would have been
like to go to Paris.”
• Don’t take turns. Decisions should be based on merit, not on
who offers up the options. Don’t take turns getting your way.
“Well, Leona, my recollection is that you gave in last time, so
I guess it’s our turn to roll over on this one.” Make the deci
sion based on which proposal best meets the needs of the
MOVE TO ACTION 1 73
group. This doesn’t mean that people don’t take into account
personalities or strength of desire (deferring to those who care
a great deal when you don’t care all that much, for instance) .
It simply means that the future of your family or organization
shouldn’t come down to the flip of a coin.