speak up, speak together

decision-making that values the individual and the collective

note: This post was written from evy's perspective and might not fully or correctly represent The Village.

a common story: A house is making an important decision. Almost everyone in the house votes yes. One person votes no. Chaos ensues. The no-voter suspects some people are only voting yes because other people are. The yes-voters feel like the no-voter is completely blocking something important for the house. The no-voter feels ganged up on and a pressure to change their mind.

It's normal for any individual's overall preference on a contentious issue to be partially based on what they personally prefer and partially based on what they think other people prefer. People want the things they want, but they tend to also want to live in a harmonious house and with people who care for them and feel cared for by them. To give people the more explicit opportunity to consider both the individual and collective perspective, we've been experimenting at The Village with separating voting for big decisions into two stages.

We call the first stage "rating", and this is where people share their individual preferences without much knowledge of what other people want. We start by sharing our personal ratings on a scale of -2 to +2. There's no "yes" or "no" vote, there's no veto, and there's no system of counting responses to make a decision. The purpose of rating is to give people a chance to share their opinions in a stage where we are focusing on trying to understand each other, without the pressure of voting for a single outcome. If there are mixed sentiments, we take time to ask each other about them and see if there are ways we can meet all of our needs.

Once we feel like we understand each other, we move to the second stage: the vote. For big decisions, every permanent member must explicitly consent to the outcome we choose. We first make a clear proposal for what we want to vote on, which is often more specific than what we rated in the first stage and includes details that came out of our discussion. For example: “We’ll try putting a piano in the living room, with quiet hours after 10pm, and we’ll follow up in two weeks to see if it’s being used and if people have any concerns.” People give a thumbs up if they vote yes and raise a fist if they “stand aside” (vote to disagree but not block). The proposal is passed unless there is a thumbs down vote (which is used very sparingly).

In contrast to the first stage, which is focused on individual preference, this second stage is for people to vote for what they think is best for the house overall, based on the discussion from the first stage. People might vote for something they don't personally want because they see it's important to someone else and want to help that person feel more comfortable at home. People also might choose not to vote for something they personally want because it would negatively affect someone else.

"You're making decisions by consensus, but are you collaborating?" by opensourceway is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Consensus is hard. I don't think there are easy answers to situations where people seem to have conflicting needs around big or controversial decisions, but one thing that can help is having space in the decision-making process, separate from where the decision is being made, to share individual opinions and discuss them with kindness and curiosity.

I like this two-stage system because it encourages people who tend towards people-pleasing to share their opinions with the group, while also giving people who are more domineering a separate platform to share their opinions than the one where they vote on behalf of the house. Of course, these are simplified binaries. People can be more people-pleasing in some situations and more domineering in others, and can sometimes be none or both at the same time! Group preferences can affect people's personal preferences, and vice versa, sometimes to the point where it can be unclear which is which. But I think it's important to recognize the spectrum of acting in the interest of the individual and the collective, and give everyone in a group the explicit opportunity to consider them both.