As the 20th anniversary of the horrific terror attacks of September 11th approaches, we look back at all that has changed in the world and at home in the two decades since. In the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City, there were difficult questions and challenges facing those … Read More
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What is Consensus Building?
Consensus building is a process involving a good-faith effort to meet the interests of all stakeholders and seek a unanimous agreement.
A consensus building approach allows groups to reach an overwhelming agreement among relevant stakeholders and maximize possible gains to everyone.
But ever since U.S. general Henry M. Robert published Robert’s Rules of Order in 1876, groups have relied on the principle of majority rule, measured with a simple yea or nay vote at the end of the negotiation process.
Majority rule appeals to our innate sense of fairness and prevents a vocal minority from overpowering the majority. But when negotiators know they will end up either winners (in the majority) or losers (in the minority), they may overlook the value of consensus building and searching for the best possible outcome for all parties.
Groups that focus on making decisions through consensus building tend to reach agreements that are more stable, more efficient, and wiser than groups that make decisions through majority rule.
There are five essential steps for consensus building in your group negotiations:
1. Include the right people and set expectations. Take time to assess who will be affected by a deal. Ensure that those present have a solid understanding of the substance and context of the negotiation.
2. Assign roles and responsibilities. Negotiate the ground rules that will govern your problem-solving effort and assign responsibilities.
3. Engage in group problem solving. The group aims to craft a “single text” package that meets everyone’s needs before seeking firm commitments.
4. Reach agreement. Maintain effective communication and build strong relationships.
5. Hold people to their commitments. Because surprises are inevitable, implementation is often the hardest stage in any negotiation.
Discover more about consensus building in this free special report, Dealmaking: Secrets of Successful Dealmaking in Business Negotiations, from Harvard Law School.
We will send you a download link to your copy of the report and notify you by email when we post new business negotiation advice and information on how to improve your dealmaking skills to our website.
The following items are tagged consensus building:
This virtual and highly interactive semester-length seminar explores the ways that people negotiate to create value and resolve disputes. Designed to improve understanding of negotiation theory and build negotiation skills, the curriculum integrates negotiation research from several academic fields with experiential learning exercises. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, all sessions will be delivered live … Read More
If you’re in a negotiation with many parties who have varying positions, it may be tempting to join a coalition with parties who share at least some of your goals. But should you join one? … Read More
Some negotiations are simple enough to handle on our own, but those deals are increasingly rare in the business world. These days, to thrive in negotiation, you often need to be able to work effectively as part of a negotiation team. … Read More
Some people learn to negotiate on the job, in a classroom, or in a therapist’s office. In Nelson Mandela’s case, “prison taught him to be a master negotiator,” writes Bill Keller in his New York Times obituary of the legendary activist turned president, who died on December 5, 2013. Soon after his arrival at South Africa’s … Read More
Sometimes parties to a dispute disagree on key facts and forecasts but lack the technical or scientific expertise needed to come to a consensus. Suppose, for instance, that a developer is seeking to build a high-rise condominium building in a village that is experiencing a development boom. Longtime residents fight the proposal, arguing that another … Read More
Conflict resolution is the process of resolving a dispute or a conflict by meeting at least some of each side’s needs and addressing their interests. Conflict resolution sometimes requires both a power-based and an interest-based approach, such as the simultaneous pursuit of litigation (the use of legal power) and negotiation (attempts to reconcile each party’s … Read More
Here are 15 things about dispute resolution in environmental negotiations that Program on Negotiation faculty member Lawrence Susskind published on his website, Consensus Building Approach. … Read More
Do you teach negotiation to students from different cultural backgrounds? Are you teaching students how to negotiate in a cross-cultural context? Do you teach a “one world” model of negotiation; or, are there cultural variables that require changes in the basic model of negotiation that you teach? The Program On Negotiation at Harvard Law School invited … Read More
On November 15th, 2019, the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) hosted a conference on excellence and innovation in negotiation pedagogy. Negotiation and dispute resolution teachers and trainers from around the world came to Cambridge to learn about new approaches and share their experiences. Speakers at the conference spotlighted innovative instructional techniques in many diverse fields of … Read More
Join us in Cambridge on Friday, November 15th, 2019 for a conference on excellence and innovation in teaching negotiation. The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) at the inter-university Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce that the 2019 Negotiation Pedagogy Conference will take place on Friday, November 15th, 2019 at Harvard Law … Read More
To get what we want, we sometimes ask more powerful parties to intervene on our behalf. But what happens if they go off course? That’s the predicament automakers in the U.S. market find themselves in after asking the Trump administration to loosen fuel-economy standards for their vehicles. Pedal to the metal When Donald Trump became president in 2017, … Read More
From complicated land use debates to the regulation of pollutants, environmental negotiations are fraught with dynamic legal, scientific, and societal considerations. Because many of the natural resources in question are limited and fragile, disputes over them can be particularly difficult. To help educate professionals about how to work through challenging environmental and sustainability negotiations, the Program … Read More
As a collaboration between UST School of Law and the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, the following is the transcript of a conversation between the creator of the multi-door courthouse, Harvard Law Professor Frank E.A. Sander, and the executive director and founder of the University of St. Thomas (UST) International ADR [Alternative Dispute … Read More
Because of tightening global competition and demand for new technologies, including self-driving cars, automakers are feeling the urge to merge. For years, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and Renault chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn—both known as tough negotiators and demanding bosses— discussed the possibility of blending their two companies, but nothing came of it. Then everything changed. In July 2018, Marchionne died suddenly of an undisclosed illness. Four months … Read More
Avoid cross-cultural misunderstandings with these negotiation exercises It’s no secret that communication and negotiation etiquette varies widely across cultures. In France, for example, it is rude to talk money over dinner, while in Brazil the American ‘A-OK’ gesture (thumb and forefinger forming a circle) can be a major insult. The increasingly diverse and global nature of business … Read More
Note: Each of the seven individual Workable Peace Series curriculum units can be purchased separately. Please click on the links below for information about purchasing individual units. About Workable Peace The Workable Peace curriculum – a conflict resolution program for high school students and young adults – is a product of the Workable Peace Project, directed by … Read More
Teach Your Students to Promote Organizational Development and Build Leadership Skills Efforts to impact change in any kind of organization usually involve multiple kinds of negotiations or consensus-building efforts. Organizational development is most effective when the participants in the organization, whether public, private or civil society, are directly engaged in deciding what might need to change, … Read More
Have you been energized by the unique “aha” moment students experience when negotiation videos are used in their class? Us too! … Read More
When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced on June 27 that he would retire at the end of July, many conservatives were jubilant, while many on the political left were devastated. These opposite reactions grew out of shared beliefs: that President Donald Trump will nominate a right-leaning judge to replace Kennedy, the frequent swing … Read More
When engaged in a complex negotiation or dispute, how should a group come to agreement? Members might separate into factions and fight to have their voices heard. They might take a vote and let the majority rule. Or they can try to negotiate their way to consensus. There are almost as many ways of making group … Read More
David Fairman—Managing Director of the Consensus Building Institute—recently shared his extensive experience in negotiating with, and teaching negotiation to, a variety of groups from a broad range of cultural backgrounds. … Read More
Corporations around the world are being pressed by their shareholders to do a better job of taking local concerns into account when they initiate mineral extraction projects. Indeed, both stakeholders and risk managers are demanding this. Many companies are now systematically assessing the concerns of a wide range of stakeholders and seeking to demonstrate (in … Read More
Sometimes our negotiations to achieve a desired dream take months. Sometimes they take years. The dream of building a museum of African American history on Washington, D.C.’s, National Mall endured over 100 years, ramped up in the past 15, and culminated with the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on … Read More
Ever since U.S. general Henry M. Robert published Robert’s Rules of Order in 1876, groups have relied on the principle of majority rule, measured with a simple yea or nay vote at the end of the negotiation process. … Read More
“Confessionals.” “Informal informals.” “Indabas.” Delegates from the 196 nations participating in the U.N. Climate Change Conference, held in Paris at the end of 2015, cycled through an eclectic variety of negotiating formats in their race to make binding commitments to lower greenhouse-gas emissions. According to media reports, the participants’ willingness to shake up the complex … Read More
The Consensus Building Institute (CBI) based in Boston, Massachusetts and in Washington, DC has honored Program on Negotiation faculty member Lawrence Susskind with its creation of a one-year graduate student fellowship that offers the successful candidate the opportunity to work with CBI in Boston or DC on an area of focus for bot CBI and … Read More
Every year the Program on Negotiation sponsors fellows and visiting scholars while they research and write about topics important to the fields of negotiation and mediation. This lunch provides an opportunity for this year’s two Graduate Research Fellows, Alexandros Sarris and Sarah Woodside, and Visiting Scholar Stefanos Mouzas to share their findings with the negotiation … Read More
Some might argue that confrontation is inevitable. But a wide range of collaborative efforts around the country have shown that it can be avoided. How can negotiators find their way into the trading zone quickly and easily? One proven method is joint fact finding. … Read More
The MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program, one of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School’s many research programs, acts as a center for research committed to thinking about and resolving disputes in the public sector. Led by its Director and Program on Negotiation executive committee member Lawrence Susskind, the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program conducts research … Read More
When a group of people are negotiating, what’s the best way to arrive at a decision? Ever since U.S. general Henry M. Robert published Robert’s Rules of Order in 1876, groups have relied on the principle of majority rule, measured with a simple yea or nay vote at the end of the negotiation process. Majority rule … Read More
About the PON Summer Fellowship Program: PON offers fellowship grants to students at Harvard University, MIT, Tufts University and other Boston-area schools who are doing internships or undertaking summer research projects in negotiation and dispute resolution in partnership with public, non-profit or academic organizations. The Summer Fellowship Program’s emphasis is on advancing the links between … Read More
Lawrence Susskind (Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology; author of Built to Win; co-author of Breaking Robert’s Rules and Breaking the Impasse) Making public policy about energy has been a scattered, uncoordinated disaster. In this posting, the author argues for a negotiated, consensus building approach to energy planning. Read More … Read More
“In the polarized atmosphere of Washington, D.C. today, consensus is becoming an increasingly rare commodity, as this year’s debates over health care reform and financial regulation have made clear. To help curb that trend, twenty senior federal officials – both Republicans and Democrats – met in Washington in July to hone … Read More
The PON Clearinghouse offers hundreds of role simulations, from two-party, single-issue negotiations to complex multi-party exercises. Negotiating Budget Cuts at Newtowne Hospital is a six-person negotiation among hospital administration and employee representatives to reach consensus on budget cuts in three departments. SCENARIO: Dr. Van Hagen, a distinguished heart surgeon, will soon join the staff at Newtowne Hospital, … Read More
The Clearinghouse at PON offers hundreds of role simulations, from two-party, single-issue negotiations to complex multi-party exercises. The Pullman Strike Role Play is a simulation from the Workable Peace Curriculum Series unit on the rise of organized labor in the United States. This role play is set in the town of Pullman, Illinois, outside of Chicago, … Read More
The Clearinghouse at PON offers hundreds of role simulations, from two-party, single-issue negotiations to complex multi-party exercises. Teflex Products is a five-party, multi-issue negotiation among representatives of a pharmaceutical company, a medical drug manufacturer, and three consumer organizations over the delayed release of a new drug. SCENARIO: Midland Pharmaceutical Company has developed Renaid, a breakthrough drug that … Read More
Access to multimedia content is rapidly increasing throughout the world, with videos and short clips permeating our daily life – whether in gas stations, on ATMs, cell phones, or mobile entertainment devices. We are consuming, producing, and interacting with videos more now than ever before: YouTube is the third-most visited website on the Internet, the … Read More
The Program on Negotiation (PON) is the world’s first teaching and research center dedicated to negotiation, and its founders are among the true pioneers in the field. On April 8, 2003, seven of these founders gathered to reflect on PON’s beginnings in the early 1980s, and on their own journeys as leaders in the field … Read More
Harvard Law School’s News Office recently interviewed Harvard Law School’s Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) students and faculty about three of the projects on which they worked during the Spring of 2009. Click here to read the entire interview http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/spotlight/clinical-practice/clinic.html Harvard Law School’s Negotiation & Mediation Clinical … Read More
The debate over how to reform health care has quickly become volatile and often unproductive, with the media focusing on who brings the largest group of shouting protesters. Professor Lawrence Susskind of the Program on Negotiation and the Consensus Building Institute outlines in his blog how to use a consensus building approach to improve the level … Read More
Join the Program on Negotiation for a discussion on major challenges facing the U.S. as it tries to improve relations with key Muslim countries embroiled in regional conflicts. Key questions include whether and how to negotiate with armed non-state groups, how to engage effectively with fractious and failing governments, and how to manage influential constituencies … Read More
Conflict within an organization can not only damage morale but also cut into productivity and ultimately profits. Once you recognize that there is ongoing conflict in your organization, how do you go about diagnosing the source? In his June 2004 article, “Divided, You’ll Fall: Managing Conflict Within the Ranks,” Lawrence Susskind describes the work done by … Read More
Consider the dilemma faced by Joe, the vice president of semiconductor technology at one of the largest computer companies in the world. He is also the chair of an alliance made up of representatives from six other large companies. The group works together to develop and acquire certain production technologies. The group also second-guesses every … Read More
Recent delays at a manufacturing company have cut deeply into company profits. The management appoints a multi-departmental team to come up with a way of speeding up the launch of new products. A vice president of manufacturing is put in charge of overseeing the effort and is encouraged to use consensus building techniques to take … Read More