The Fine Line Between “Persuasion” and “Consensus”

We were having a conversation with a good friend and client of The Latimer Group last week. During our discussion, we mentioned some ideas around the concept of “consensus” as it differs from the concept of “persuasion.” Our work has always been focused on helping our clients build the skills of persuasion, and our clients value that skill. We have built our entire business around it. And in our recent efforts to constantly improve our service offer, we have begun exploring the possibility that “consensus” is a higher form of “persuasion,” because while persuasion can be about getting the outcome you seek, consensus is about building agreement and alignment.

As we discussed this possibility, our good friend brought up an excellent counter point: that the search for consensus can also create stagnation in organizations, because in the effort to build consensus, (and to take everyone’s ideas on board), you can often end up with many people having a de facto “veto.” The bigger your group, and the more vetoes out there, the less likely that you will keep the project or the organization moving forward. Your pursuit of a good thing (alignment through consensus) can become a bad thing (stagnation) if you can never agree on anything sufficiently to keep everyone happy.

Persuasion is about driving outcomes, and along the way, sometimes you can build consensus, and sometimes you can’t. And sometimes you don’t even really care. Consensus is more about building alignment. Both are valuable. But they do in fact differ, and you have to make a conscious choice of what you are pursuing. Are you trying to drive a decision? Or are you trying to build alignment through consensus? Those are potentially different paths to be pursued.

The search for consensus is a good thing… sometimes. It is a good thing to have your group aligned and moving forward together. But your pursuit of consensus needs to be managed such that you don’t give everyone the right to derail the conversation until they get what they want. If everyone has a veto, stagnation is highly likely.

We have written many times about the importance of having goals in your communication. And here we are again today, with that same notion. Be clear about what you want or need. Is it a decision? Or is it alignment? That choice will point you towards persuasion or consensus.

Have a great day.

We believe that great communication skills change the world. We transform people and organizations of all sizes with simple, repeatable techniques, through an integrated platform of corporate training, coaching, and asynchronous learning.

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.