What if people can’t get to consent?

Being out of consent is a condition that, by definition, is intolerable. No matter what the governance system, when people are out of consent there can be consequences. People can fight, sabotage or simply withdraw, physically or mentally. Intentionally practicing The Consent Principle provides a way to bring objections to the surface so they have a chance of being addressed.


If you are practicing the Consent Principle and can’t find consent:

  1. The first question to ask is whether there is a clear shared purpose. We govern toward a purpose and how to get there. Without shared purpose, it may be impossible to find consent. The risks or objections to a particular strategy only make sense if we are aiming in the same direction–even if we have different reasons for it. Groups can clarify the purpose that brings them together; or they can reconfigure themselves to work toward different goals.

  3. The second question to ask when people can’t find consent is, “what can we do that is good enough for now?” An obstacle may be that we are searching for the perfect solution, or confusing objections with preferences. Instead, people can decide to try something for a period of time and evaluate it.

  5. A third question is whether the group has clear practices and procedures for constructive conflict. Holding an objection can sometimes trigger strong stress or fear reactions. To find ways forward within a range of tolerance, groups need systems leadership skills and tools: for fostering reflection and generative conversations; for giving and receiving feedback; for tolerating uncertainty; and for letting go of preconceived solutions and plans, so new ideas can emerge. Avoiding conflict — or exacerbating it — can make consent more difficult.

  7. A fourth question is whether there is a realistic expectation about the time it might take to find consent. A popular African proverb says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Going together is not the fast option. We might need to question our assumptions and cultural habits around urgency.

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