How to Seek Consensus 

Surviving in today’s workplace is a combination of energy, determination, and commitment—but it’s also about agreement.
Admired leaders walk a fine line between being buddy-buddy with their co-workers and colleagues, and serving as a benevolent dictator, yet these same leaders know that getting what you want and motivating a team in the workplace is all about reaching a consensus. You may not always agree with the consensus, but if you want to avoid earning a less-than-admirable reputation, you need to learn how to help those around you agree.

In an accounting environment, why is this important? If you’re working in public practice, it’s vital you agree with your colleagues, first and foremost, in the way you work with clients and the technical advice you’re offering. Think about it: If you were a client and you received conflicting advice from your firm, you would not only be confused as to what to do; you would be miffed with your firm for giving conflicting advice.

In business and industry, the thinking is the same, albeit from an internal perspective versus dealing with the public. If you were asked, for example, to adhere to a certain set of accounting controls and one of your team members did not see the need to follow the rules, you, obviously, would be in deep trouble. Sure, there are many ways to get to a solution, but you have to have the team aligned in thinking and action in order to maintain some semblance of continuity.

When you have consensus, everyone will be more committed to the way you address a situation and its outcome. As a leader, though, you’ll want to ensure you pay attention to everyone’s voice. Here’s how to do that.

Take Your Time. While most days are filled with immediate deadlines, one thing you don’t want to rush is consensus. Everyone from the CEO or managing partner down to the mailroom clerk or receptionist needs to have the opportunity to express his or her thoughts and opinions. If not, you won’t have universal buy-in and will quickly be back at square one. If you cannot reach agreement, you may need to make the decision yourself … and we all know how that might look, especially after you’ve asked for everyone’s opinions.

Spend Time Gathering Information. You work in a profession known for discovery—gathering the information you need to deliver accounting services that bring bottom line results to your clients and customers. In the area of consensus, dismiss any thoughts of reaching agreement in just one meeting or even by email. Be prepared to take the time to gather and analyze information so the team can accept the situation and the conclusion. If not, the team will feel as if it is not a part of the final decision and react adversely to what you are trying to achieve.

Embrace Conflict. It’s better to acknowledge from the get-go that we all have unique personalities and viewpoints, and as a result, there will be conflict unless you work in a perfect environment, which, as we all know, does not exist. Of course, consensus comes about only when everyone’s opinions are heard. However, colleagues and co-workers need to feel comfortable to disagree with each other. If you are a leader, you can encourage discussion by addressing all the concerns and serving as a mediator. This doesn’t mean you should sugarcoat your remarks, but try to reach a consensus within yourself to ride the fence in order to help your teams see the matter from all sides. Keep it professional.

Focus on the Issue. Instead of playing kindergarten games and dealing with conflicting personalities, focus on the issue. Remind everyone that the goal is for the benefit of the firm or organization and you’re not there to play on one another’s emotions. Avoid letting people get too personally involved. As a leader, you’ll be more highly respected if you keep the conversation professional.

While there is no textbook solution to reaching consensus, the very best leadership you can offer is to control the conversation so that everyone feels included and a vital, important part of the decision. Leaving someone out will only cause conflict; we have enough of that in our day-to-day lives without adding undue stress. Be a good leader—and set a good example by building consensus.



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