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The Dos and Don’ts of Consultation

The most obvious problem with consultation is that people

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believe that if you involve them in sharing ideas, they get to make

the decision. It’s easy to see how this happens since you ask for

people’s input, you weigh all the options, and you make a deci­

sion. Then two-thirds of those you asked feel violated because

you didn’t do what they told you to do.

Dialogue is a great tool for consultation. It enables you to get

all meaning into the shared pool. But before people start con­

tributing, be sure they understand that the fact that you are con­

sulting with them does not mean that eventually the decision will

be made by consensus.

When should you use consultation? Consult when ( 1 ) many

people will be affected, (2) you can gather information relative­

Iy easily, (3) people care about the decision, and (4) there are

many options, some of them controversial.

When these conditions apply, find a way to touch base with a

lot of people in different positions, locations, and functions

before moving on. Don’t simply call on your friends and buddies.

Also, consider the following:

• J)on ‘, pretend to consult. If you’ve already made up your

mind, don ‘t go through the charade of involving people, only




to do what you wanted to do all along. For example, the boss

calls on people and then strikes down ideas that aren’t in line

with what he or she has in mind, while giving subtle clues and

gentle rewards to those who stumble onto the “right idea.”

• Announce what you ‘re doing. When you are only going to

involve a sample of the people who will be affected, let others

know who these people are so they can talk to them if they

like. This is akin to holding neighborhood political meetings.

Not everyone will show up, but people who want to take part

can take part.

• Report your decision. When others are kind enough to share

their opinions (whether you take their advice or not) , they

deserve to know what you decide and why. Don’t try to keep

your decision a secret because you’re afraid you’ll offend peo­

ple. They’ll soon learn of the decision anyway. Better to hear

it from you and not through the grapevine.

Holding a Good Vote

• Weigh the consequences. Voting by its very nature creates

winners and losers. So you have to be careful. You should only

take a vote when you know that the losers don’t really care all

that much. Otherwise you may be fighting the battle for a long

time after the decision has been made. With children, for

example, have them carefully consider if they’re okay with los­

ing before they agree to have you take a poll.

• Know when to vote. When matters aren’t all that weighty, there

are many good choices to select from, and people care about

not taking too much time, then take a vote. It’s the kind of thing

you do to reduce lengthy lists. Vote to reduce the list of twenty

items to five. Then use consensus to select from the five.




• Don’t cop out with a vote. When everyone cares a great deal

about an issue and people are having trouble coming to a

choice, don’t stop and call for a vote. Votes should never replace

patient analysis and healthy dialogue. If you find yourself say­

ing, “All right, we’ll never agree so let’s vote,” you’re copping


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