Making inclusive decisions
Including the minority, resistant or silent voices in your decisions
Inclusive decision making
Clear decisions are important. A minority voice that is ignored by the majority risks creating a sense of marginalization and escalation of tension. Including the wisdom of the minority, voice is possible if this wisdom is integrated into the majority decision. The “No” is not limited to the minority voice, it can also mean the dissenting, critical or doubtful voice in an individual or a group.
The difficulty that this method seeks to address
Many decisions are made through a voting process. The minority is expected to go along with the majority. Sometimes it does just that – perhaps grumbling a little, but submitting in the name of democracy. Some might go along because they have to but their sense of being overridden by the majority causes resentment and may lead to tension, resistance or even conflict in the group.
Raised with the idea that the majority vote decides, we often ignore the minority in any democratic decision-making process. An alternative to the majority voting system is to find a compromise. Compromising often leaves most participants dissatisfied. Nobody gets what they really want. Consensus decisions could result in an effective veto by the minority and a compromise may get everybody to feel dissatisfied.
How can you make a decision and include the minority or dissenting voice? And why would it be important to do so?
A possible way of resolving the problem
This method of making decisions acknowledges that the minority voice, the “no”, contains wisdom for the majority. It acknowledges that the majority decides, yet it allows the majority decision to be tempered or adjusted to include the wisdom of the minority or dissenting voice.
The process, step by step:
- Allow the participants to motivate their perspectives during a free discussion. Make it safe to express the “no” – doubt, uncertainty or opposition.
- When everybody has had a chance to speak, ask the group to vote on the issue. Say that the majority will decide, but that the wisdom of the minority will be included if possible.
- There will be a majority and a minority. Ask each person who has “lost the vote” in turn: “what is your concern with the majority decision?” Thank them for expressing their view. Check whether anybody else (even if they voted for the proposal) recognises the view within themselves. Thank any person for expressing the view – which seems to resonate with others too.
- Ask the person you are addressing: “what would it take (what would you need) in order for you to go along with the majority or to live with the decision?” Note the response for the next step. Proceed to others who voted against the majority proposal.
- Restate the decision in the following way: The majority voted for (proposal A) and the wisdom of the minority is (include the conditions suggested by the “no” voters). Ask them to vote again. You may need to repeat the process with new “no” votes.
Here’s an example that will illustrate the process:
A participant in a meeting insisted that he be heard despite their issue not being on the agenda. The facilitator asked the person to motivate their request and asked for other views. These included the need to stay structured and stick to the agenda. The facilitator asked the group to vote. The majority voted in favour of sticking to the agenda. Two participants voted to address the new issue. The facilitator asked each of those who voted what their concern with the majority decision was. The first was the person who had insisted on being heard. He said that his issue arose after the agenda was set and that he thought it would be negligent to just allow the issue to be shelved for two weeks The facilitator checked with the group and asked whether anybody else could resonate with the concern that not addressing the issue soon would be negligent. A number indicated that they shared the concern – if even in a minor degree. The facilitator said: “thank you for raising this issue, as you can see it is not only you who have this concern that it should be addressed. What would you need to go along with the majority decision?” After thinking a moment, the person said: “I can live with the decision if we agree to address it in an extra meeting early next week.” The facilitator asked the other person who voted against the proposal and answered that she shared the previous speaker’s concerns and suggestions. She then said to the group: “please listen carefully, we are going to make a decision now. We will stick to the agenda for today but agree to have a meeting early next week to discuss this new issue. Please raise your hand if you agree.” All participants voted for the new proposal.
Where the method is useful
This method can be used to make personal or group decisions. The spirit behind this method can also inspire more inclusive large-scale dialogue processes. The aim is to avoid unnecessary escalation of tension because a minority feels excluded by the majority.
The method described is formulated in such a way that it can be used by facilitators in meetings or working groups. The variations on different levels of scale
This method is based on the work of Myrna Lewis and the Lewis method of Deep Democracy. Reference: Myrna Lewis, Inside the NO.
Including the marginalised, minority, dissenting or doubtful voice is a central theme in Deep Democracy. It implies identifying and integrating the unconscious part of the individual or group.