If you are going to build consensus, you need the capacity to take a third person’s perspective, and you need to help the contacts you are working with to do the same.
First, Second & Third Perspectives
When you have a stakeholder speaking to another stakeholder, the person speaking is speaking in the first person. They are sharing their perspective. The person listening has their own idea about what is being said, and that is a second perspective. You have the third person’s perspective.
You have to decide what you believe the speaker is saying, and you have to decide what you believe the second person thinks about what they heard.
But wait. There’s more
There is another stakeholder who is absent from this meeting. That person has a perspective, too. They have their own idea about what the first stakeholder said, and they have their own perspective about what they believe the second person thinks about what they heard.
The more stakeholders, the more perspectives. The more perspectives, the more there is to elicit and to manage.
The challenge with building consensus
One of the problems in building consensus is that many of the stakeholders you are working with are sharing their first person perspective, without considering other perspectives. When we elicit their perspective, we don’t often ask our stakeholders to share with us what they believe their peer’s perspectives might be.
The lack of perspective-taking means that people get left out of the process, challenges aren’t mitigated, and consensus isn’t reached. Or, decisions are made without considering others, and those who are left out entrench their positions and kill whatever initiative was being pursued.