The Dos and Don’ts of Consultation
The most obvious problem with consultation is that people
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
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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.
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• 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