One thing that always strikes me when I experience or listen to people attempting to make joint decisions is that each person’s perspective and choice is often presented as an either/or alternative. Everyone then proceeds to make a case for whatever it is that they are advocating, hoping to convince the other person(s) of the wisdom of their preference. Another version of that is when one person presents an idea or proposal and the other person(s) vetoes it based on their concerns about it — often very valid ones.
The beauty of looking at joint decisions from the point of view of consensus decision-making is that the approach is to create a solution that honors considerations and concerns any person might have and build into the final outcome ways of effectively handling those concerns. In this way, concerns become ways to improve the original proposal, rather than reasons to block a solution. Often, incorporating legitimate concerns involves creativity and thinking “outside the box” to come up with solutions that would not have otherwise been imagined. Far from “settling” for something mediocre to please everyone, true consensus is a process of expanding to incorporate different viewpoints and the value each holds.
Moreover, it’s important to discuss the deeper issues underlying the concern — rather than the concern being expressed as a potential solution. If I think something is too expensive, is that because I want the money to be spent on something else that I consider a priority? If that priority could get handled another way, would that satisfy my concern? If I object to your watching so many sports events, is the concern actually for more quality time together? Can we create both individual time and commit to time together that satisfies us both? If it’s the noise of the TV being on bothers you, can that be solved with headsets rather than my giving up cherished recreation? If you don’t want to go out for a meal because you are concerned with eating healthy food, are you willing to go if we find one that serves organic?
An example of this more productive strategy is also outlined in the wonderful little book called “Getting to Yes” (Fisher, Ury, Patton, 2011). They talk about two people fighting for an orange, when in fact one person needs juice and the other the rind, and, once those underlying concerns are revealed, there is an obvious solution and no conflict.