September / October 2022

Emerging Leaders Editorial: Building Consensus

Heather L. Bennett-Kelley
Emerging Leaders Editorial - Heather Bennett-Kelley

Most people in their careers have to work with others at some point, and in these work interactions there are exchanges of ideas. In pushing business processes forward, determining methodology for a new experiment, or designing a manufacturing facility, multiple stakeholders come from different points of view and with varying priorities. Working with others in any capacity and having the exact same approach and understanding to a problem as the other people is very rare. To make decisions, consensus needs to be gained.

The definition of consensus is the majority of opinion, general agreement,1 or group solidarity in sentiment and belief.2

Why do we need to build consensus? As most of us do not live and work in a vacuum, we are not the only stakeholders in our lives. A stakeholder is one that has stake in an enterprise, or one who is involved in or affected by a course of action.3 I am a project manager at a construction company. If my team is going to design and build a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, there are many stakeholders, from the engineers designing the system to the facilities team that will be maintaining the piping once installed to the patient that may receive the life-saving medication that the plant manufactures. Not all of these stakeholders get a direct voice in design and construction decisions, but their voices do need to be considered. If someone feels their voice is not considered, then getting their buy-in is much more difficult and it might not stick even if they say yes.

Convincing Others

How do you persuade people that your vision is worth agreeing with? You cannot make them, and if you do there likely will be resentment. Also, if you are a junior member on a team, you might not be able to make others follow your idea because you lack seniority.

An article from the Harvard Business Review4 suggests some tips on how to get others to your side.

  • Liking: Highlight similarities and offer sincere praise. If people like you, they are more apt to follow you. Also, if someone has an idea, recognize that idea within the team.
  • Reciprocity: Give what you want to receive. First exhibit the behavior you wish to see. If you want others to be open to an idea, you need to listen and ask questions about the ideas of those you want to join you.
  • Social proof: Use peer power when available. If someone on your team is already on board and the rest of the group is not convinced, that one team member could give their pitch about why they think it is a good idea.
  • Consistency: Make commitments active, voluntary, and public. Once people make a written commitment, or their opinion is publicly announced, they are more likely to stick with that opinion.
  • Authority: Don’t assume your expertise is known. If you have a certificate in an area that shows knowledge of the subject about which you are trying to convince others, post this in your office or reference the certificate in your introduction slide of a presentation.
  • Scarcity: Exclusivity of opportunity or information goes a long way. People want in on what is rare.

These approaches are best used in conjunction with each other, according to the article. These could also open the door for opportunities that might not otherwise be available.

Good luck with your consensus-building!