How to Build Consensus

Family voice and choice is a primary principle of wraparound and the SNCD process.  Learning how to take responsibility for your own choices is an important transition skill. This would be fairly straight forward if families were composed of one person each, or if all the members of a family always agreed. Take a moment and think about your own family. Do you all always agree on how to handle important things? Neither do ours, nor do the families we work with. Before you can honor family choices, the family has to agree on what their choice is.

As we covered last week, there are many ways for a group to make a decision. They can argue until one side wins. They can compromise, so that no one really wins or loses. They can abandon the decision as too difficult, thereby choosing not to address the issue. All of these solutions have losers, who will frequently be disengaged by losing. They also break the team down, instead of building the team up. That is why we don’t use any of these techniques during the wraparound process. Instead, we strive to build a consensus.

Consensus is a collaborative discussion where everyone involved is trying to reach common ground. The idea is for people to build on each other’s ideas until something is found that suits everyone or something is reached that everyone can support. There are three general ground rules for consensus building.

  1. First, everyone contributes. Everyone who is involved is expected to share their thoughts, make suggestions, and generally be a part of the discussion.
  2. Second, the focus is on finding a solution. Don’t dwell on problems or past mistakes. No time should be spent shaming or blaming. Listen to everyone’s input, and try to build on it.
  3. Third, everyone’s ideas are equally considered. It is important to treat everyone’s ideas and concerns as valid and worth listening to. No one has their ideas dismissed or automatically accepted because of who they are – ideas have to be discussed based on their own merits. That is not to say that everyone will have the final say in the matter.

When caregivers disagree about information to include in the SNCD or needs to prioritize, the discussion can quickly become emotionally charged. We are talking about important issues that impact their daily lives, and which might have strong emotional values. Sometimes, we are revisiting recurrent fights unknowingly.

For example, Jake is 12 years old. Right now, he spends two to three hours at the house alone every day after school. His mother thinks this is a problem that needs to be addressed. His father doesn’t see why it’s a big deal. Jake’s parents have fought about this issue many times, and their discussion escalates quickly when they bring it up during the SNCD.

The first step towards reaching a consensus across caregivers is to try and separate the discussion from the emotions it triggers as much as possible. One good way to do this is to make the discussion specific and focused. Define what is being decided. The discussion isn’t about who is right, who is a better caregiver, or any other emotional issue. It’s about one specific issue. For Jake’s parents, the issue of discussion is whether or not they want to try and find a way for Jake to be alone less or be safer when alone. The next step is to have everyone list their concerns that the solution to this disagreement needs to address:

Jake is alone too much Jake needs to learn to be self-reliant
He might get hurt or do something he isn’t supposed to do, and no one would know They don’t have money to spend on a babysitter

Given these concerns, the Wraparound Facilitator helps the caregivers brainstorm options. Perhaps they list that Jake needs more supervision, but agree to note that any solutions have to be free, and that Jake has to have some way to develop self-reliance. Perhaps they list it as a need, but don’t make it one of the first things they tackle. Perhaps they should ask Jake how he feels about it. When they find an option that everyone feels is acceptable, then they implement it and move on.

This is just one approach to resolving conflict and reaching consensus. What are some other things you’ve had work for you?

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