Leadership skills are important at any time, but certain skills become more important in turbulent times. Negotiation is likely to come in handy when organizations are trying to move forward in the face of entirely new obstacles. But keep in mind that negotiation is one thing – and leading a group to consensus through negotiation is another. As a leader, you must be a consensus-builder, so let’s discuss how to do this.
First, it’s a good idea to understand what consensus really is. In basic terms, consensus is a team decision in which all members participated, all understand, and all are committed to supporting. Although consensus sounds easy, achieving every component can be difficult. The ultimate result of consensus is a lasting agreement that must provide group members with satisfaction in three important areas. First, each member must feel satisfied about the content of the negotiation and the agreement. To get there, each team member must recognize that, “I didn’t get everything I asked for but it’s the best decision for the group at the time”. Second, procedural satisfaction comes from the knowledge that each member’s ideas were understood and considered during the discussion. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, psychological satisfaction comes from the knowledge that each group member was treated with respect. With all of this in mind, let’s look at the personal actions you can take to prepare for a negotiation leading to consensus.
Above all, you as the leader must know the purpose of the outcome or goal of the negotiation. Not only do you need to explain it to the team, but you also need to have the awareness in order to direct and coach the negotiation discussions. Next, you should familiarize yourself with possible alternatives to the desired outcome. This comes from a broad knowledge of the organization, its environment, and perhaps the rules and regulations under which it operates. Along with alternatives, you should be open to suggestions that are posed by other group members.
As you prepare for the negotiation, lay out a plan for getting through it. For example, you may want to create “talking points” for your introduction and general topics that must come under discussion at some point. This plan serves as your “roadmap” and will help you keep the negotiation on track. Remember that open-forum discussions can quickly go off topic, so your job is to gently steer the discussion back to focus. Learn all you can about the issue at hand. Don’t settle for simply knowing how the issue affects your organization; study others in the field to see how they are dealing with it. Find out how other organizations have solved problems related to the issue your group is discussing.
Finally, be prepared to use your creativity in the event of an impasse. Be prepared with a story, a case study, or even a brainteaser to get people back into a thought mode. Brush up on your facilitation skills in case you need to veer into a brainstorming session or break the group into smaller discussion units. Just remember to be open to your own – and others’ – creativity.
On the team level, it is necessary for you to lead the way through your actions in order to get all team members involved. One of the first ways you can do this is by gaining trust – and encouraging trust between group members. Be honest, require honesty among group members, and show how a discussion can occur with warmth and confidence. Another way to lead the group to consensus is to create an environment of cooperative learning by asking questions – and allowing the group members to answer. This shows each member as a vital part of the negotiation and encourages group members to learn from each other.
As the negotiation progresses, you can continue to build trust by awarding autonomy. Give the group freedom and independence to negotiate amongst themselves while you take a “back seat”. You can also allow experimentation as you move forward, whether the experiment comes within the context of the group discussion or after a potential agreement has been reached. Along with independence, experimentation will encourage team members to work together to solve the problem at hand. Finally, an important action you can take is to own your own biases, feelings, and thoughts. Be aware of them and point them out to yourself as the leader. When you are self-aware in this way, the group members will also move in that direction.
Consensus is not easy, especially when an organization is faced with new problems and unknowns. But through your leadership, you can help teams negotiate, reach consensus, and create lasting agreements.