Change Leadership Secret – 43 – Beware of False Consensus

Change Leadership — Secret # 43
Beware of False Consensus

To a large degree reality is whatever the people who are around
at the time agree to. —Milton H. Miller

What I Need to Know

“False consensus” is a tendency to assume that other people share the same views. Maybe you assume they share your view. Or maybe you assume they share each others’ views. Either way, the danger is that you drive down a path and suddenly realize you are alone.

A more likely scenario is that deep into the process of building a coalition of support for the change proposal, you realize there is disagreement among the coalition members regarding basic premises of the change. The resulting misunderstandings could result in rework, reduced credibility, and impaired relationships. Ultimately, the coalition could fall apart, perhaps even in acrimony.

I starkly remember one client company where a coalition member held very strong views that the rest of the members did not share. In every weekly meeting, he would make statements like “I thought we all agreed [to his view].” The coalition did not fall apart, but it never really got off the ground, either, because every week the members would have to rehash the same questions.

What I Need to Do

Utilize “active listening” skills to restate your understanding of each stakeholder’s view in your own words. Do this for every stakeholder. And do it in writing whenever possible.

Documents are the change leader’s most important tools. Seeing things in black and white helps drive clarity and commitment. Put everything in black and white and review it with the customer, starting with your very first discussion.

Each organization develops its own unique documents it uses to communicate and make decisions. Adapt to the organization’s practices and use their formats. But also develop your own standard templates to demonstrate your experience and expertise.

Make sure you provide mechanisms and time for stakeholders to provide their feedback along the path. Do not always assume silence indicates agreement. Try methodically to obtain feedback or agreement from everyone, even from the quietest person in the corner. Everyone’s view is important—and anyone could derail a consensus.

Action Summary

  • Verify people’s views by saying, “What I heard was…”
  • Put things in black and white for people to review and agree on.
  • Try to include everyone in the consensus.
Change Leadership Secret - 43 Beware of False Consensus

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