Ploys Used To Subvert Consensus

The following are some common ploys that can come into play at collective meetings and within the organization's group dynamics whenever influential or domineering members attempt to steer decision-making.

At meetings:

1. Expressing annoyance or exasperation with a member's concerns, implying the person is wasting the group's time, is overly concerned with nitpicking over proper procedure, or is bringing up subjects that are not relevant. Consensus requires that all members be heard and all issues addressed. No one person or faction can determine what is or is not important.

2. Insinuating (or stating outright) that bringing up problem areas or voicing dissenting concerns is disruptive to the work of the organization or disloyal to those working hard on the collective's behalf.

3. Expressing reservations with a proposal before it has been fully explained by the proponent, in an attempt to stir up misgivings among the attendees. The focus then shifts to a discussion of the group's anxieties, and the proposal dies without the collective ever getting back to studying the plan itself. (A good facilitator should prevent this from happening. What usually occurs, however, is that the facilitator will simply let people speak in the order in which they raise their hands, thereby making any discussion, which requires back-and-forth exchange, impossible. The person making the proposal may not get a chance to speak until well after a string of misunderstandings, passed on from speaker to speaker, has killed any hope of clarification. The facilitator needs to allow two people who are thrashing out their mutual understanding of an issue to finish before moving on.)

4. Objecting to something that was never proposed. For instance, A says attendance at meetings should be encouraged by publicizing them more widely. B, who prefers low turnouts in order to exercise more weight in decisions, responds that people should not be required to go to meetings. Clamor ensues against the anti-democratic suggestion of coerced participation. A's proposal dies.

5. Allowing the group to reach a decision and appearing to support it, then quietly steering them to the next agenda item before they've had a chance to agree on a plan for carrying out the decision. Similarly, volunteering to make something happen without getting too specific, then letting it drop when the time comes to act.

6. Stating that favored projects can be carried out by only a few committed members but, when it comes to projects that are opposed by the manipulative member, insisting that these require broad participation, thereby ensuring that they will become bogged down in the logistics of coordinating a large proportion of the membership and will likely not come to pass. Similarly, insiting that some decisions require broad support, rather than just an absence of objections, in order to pass, and may therefore have to be postponed until more opinions are heard, which usually results in an indefinite (i.e. permanent)postponement.

7. Scoffing, scowling, staring down, yelling down, sighing loudly, acting wounded, worried, impatient, or put upon, and walking out.

Within the group's larger dynamic:

1. Setting oneself or one's faction up as the de-facto leader by taking on the lion's share of administrative tasks, thereby appearing to be indispensable, and refusing offers of help, particularly when that help would make the helper privy to key knowledge about running the organization.

2. Hoarding information, especially details that are crucial to the organization's functioning or compliance with important issues (like paying taxes, for instance).

3. Setting oneself up as the sole coordinator of the collective's various committees or activities, thereby becoming the only individual (or faction) to have control over the organization as a whole.

4. Setting oneself up as the sole person(s) who can act as an outside contact by virtue of being the only one(s) with access to all the organization's subgroups or projects.

5. Acting as spokesperson for the group to outside interests.

6. Making decisions without consulting the collective, usually by beginning with trivial matters (like ordering supplies), which gradually grows into deciding single-handedly about larger issues (like the direction that should be followed by the collective).

7. Scoffing at adherence to process, implying or claiming that only do-nothings are concerned about following procedures while there's real work to be done.

8. Treating meetings as pedantic and tiresome (perhaps never getting around to drafting or agreeing to a schedule for meetings).

9. Claiming there is no need for rotating tasks because the most competent people should do what they're best suited for. (Note that task rotation ensures power sharing--something that domineering members usually don't want.)

10. Claiming to know the organization's protocol (which is unwritten) in dealing with any given situation. Pulling rank (seniority, experience, or special knowledge) if anyone finds reason to object.

11. Insisting that those who do the most work in the organization have more say in decision-making. Consensus does not recognize merit nor status: all members are truly equal.

12. Stating that in times of crisis there is not the time or energy to adhere to consensus or due process because the pressing matters at hand have to be dealt with posthaste. The domineering faction may then appoint itself ad hoc leader, doing away not only with collective participation but also with transparency in decision making.

13. Using the oldest manipulations in the book: going on the attack so as not to have to defend one's actions and creating a smokescreen of accusations to deflect attention from the issues.

14. Creating scapegoats or pariahs to take the focus off the manipulator.

15. Bullying, threatening, or cajoling.

16. Martyrdom: "After everything I've done for this collective, how could you question me?"

Please send your comments and suggestions to:

"Is This What Consensus Looks Like?"

"Is This the Just Society We Want to Model?


[Why This Booklet?]
[Introduction to Consensus]
[The Particular Vulnera-
bility of Collectives
[Power Sharing]
[Red Flags to Guard Against]
[Ploys To Subvert Consensus]
[The Problem With Politeness]
[The Need For Kindness]
[Creating Pariahs]
[Respect for Differences]
[Personal vs. Group Issues]
[Micro-Managing Behaviors]
[Skepticism is Healthy]
[There's Hope]

[A Model for Justice?]
[The Dearth of Due Process]
[What About Free Speech?]

[Codifying the Collective Process]
[Relinquishing Control of Projects and People]
[Staying True to the Mission]
[What’s a Lone Person to Do?]







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