Consenting, Objecting and Stepping-Aside

Consenting, Objecting and Stepping-Aside

The phrase “step-aside” is historically used in consensus decision-making. Someone does not agree with a proposal but “steps-aside” to let the proposal be approved at the meeting.
The challenging part of stepping aside is that the person who steps aside is not joining in responsibility for the decision. And leads to the possibility of that person coming back later and saying “I told you so” or “I never agree with that in the first place.”

For that reason, we do not use stepping-aside in consent decision-making. We ask people to object if they think the proposed action will harm the community’s (or the circle’s) ability to work towards its aims. In considering whether or not to consent to a proposal, we make the distinction in sociocracy between preference and range of tolerance. In the Pioneer Valley Cohousing Community where I live, we have been struggling with a proposal to drop the words “Pioneer Valley” because of her colonial implications. In this case, for example, someone could say “I prefer keeping the name Pioneer Valley, but dropping the name is within my range of tolerance. It is in my range of tolerance because I don’t think it will harm the community to drop PV.” This is different than stepping aside because the reluctant person here is sharing the responsibility of the decision.

In sociocracy, unlike consensus, there is also no concept of “block.” If anyone objects to a proposal, then we all share the responsibility to consider if we are moved by the objection to drop the proposal or to find some safe-enough way to amend it so that we may move forward and learn from our experience. As the slogans say, we are looking for a way forward that is “safe enough to try” and “good enough for now,” knowing that, in many cases, taking smaller steps now will bring greater clarity to our longer journey.

Semantics can be meaningful for people. As a non-Christian and influenced by Quakers, I would not “swear on the bible.” I would affirm to tell the truth as best as I am able. In a consent round, saying “I consent” may be difficult for someone because, although they are not objecting, saying I consent may express too strong a yes and not be consistent with their sense of integrity. Alternatively, one can say things like “I have no objection” or “This proposal is not my preference but I will not object because I believe taking a step forward and learning from the experience is in the better interest of the community than leaving things as they are.” Whatever words we use (block, consensus, standing aside or objection/concern, and consent), what matters is this: does the member who was trying to stand aside request that the proposal be changed, or not?

As a facilitator, I listen to how people say “I consent” or “No objection,” and if I am not convinced about their true sentiments, I may say something like “I want to make sure you are truly not objecting rather than caving to peer pressure. Can you speak to that?”

Ultimately, none of us really know what we are doing. We are simply making guesses, judgment calls, that we hope will keep us moving towards greater connection. What matters is that we walk together, and are willing to share our path forward as co-responsible members of our circles and organizations.