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Chapter 4: Consultation

“As an Australian social scientist was told by a Temne tribesman in Sierra Leone:“When Temne people choose a thing, we must all agree with the decision—that is what we call cooperation.”This is, of course, what we [modern citizens] call conformity. The reason for the crushing conformity required of the pre-industrial man, the reason the Temne tribesman has to “go along” with his fellows, is precisely that he has nowhere else to go. His society is monolithic, not yet broken into a liberating multiplicity of components. It is what sociologists call “undifferentiated”. . . . . With this context [of rapid value change], however, a second powerful trend is unfolding. For the fragmentation of societies brings with it a diversification of values. We are witnessing the crack-up of consensus.”

Alvin Toffler, Future Shock

These Toffler quotes suggest two interesting features of humanity. First, consensus is part of human nature.Without this nature, aboriginal societies could never have survived to become modern societies. Second, as our societies become more complex, we lose more of our ability to attain that consensus.

As our instincts yearn for a more consensual decision-making, we increasingly hear this word bandied about in our contemporary society: “consultation.” This word is frequently used by politicians, political pundits, and leaders of corporations and public institutions. They make it sound so easy—as if they only have to say “consultation” to bring it into practice.

Yet most citizens, the subordinate to the more powerful people, do not think they are living in a consultative world. Instead they readily identify themselves with the hapless office worker of the Dilbert cartoon strip, where Dilbert earns his pay by being continually hindered, subverted, and disabled by managers, co-workers, silly bureaucratic policies, and empty platitudes. Dilbert, like many other citizens, accepts that his job epitomizes life in general and makes little effort to change his environment, either by being a more positive influence on the people around him or by leaving his job for a better one because all jobs are just like his current job.

So why are we even bothering with “consultation” when we think we live in a Dilbert-like society and when Mr. Toffler’s quote suggests that a modern society is unlikely to attain consensus? Why not just admit that those in power can make the decisions—good or bad—and those of us not in powerful positions are there only to carry out orders or live with the consequences? To many of us, the word “consultation” is only another empty platitude espoused by the powerful to make us feel included.

The next part of this chapter describes three decision-making models that I have conjectured—power, democratic, and consultative.

The Mountain Climbers

Let’s consider a hypothetical set of twin boys who have an instinct and ambition to climb mountains. As babies, they are very limited by their physical capacities, but when they learn to walk, they look for large obstacles to climb and conquer: furniture, railings, fences, etc. They take much more risk than most toddlers would, and the parents have above-average supervision duties. Even though the desire of these twins is great, the skills are not.

But the parents cannot be with the twins at all times. As they grow older, they wait their chance when they are not supervised to attempt new challenges. Most times they are successful, sometimes not. They receive a few injuries in these early years. They like reading about mountain climbers and their techniques. By the time they are eight years old, they have safely scaled the side of their house and many trees in their backyard.

The parents realize that they will never be able to still their twins’ desire, so the parents enroll the boys in a program for young mountain climbers. Guided by more mature climbers, the boys are given challenges that safely satisfy their drive yet give them the training for bigger challenges. By the time the twins are 15, they are climbing with mentors on some easy climbs in the mountains.

When one of our mountain climbers reaches 20, he gains that sense of being invincible common to many youth. He feels that he has the skills and experience to climb mountains by himself and to take on more risky challenges. He feels he no longer needs the advice of others to guide him.

But his twin takes a different approach. Before he sets out on his climbs, he continues to consult with veteran mountain climbers. Sometimes he takes their advice; sometimes not; sometimes his consultations find even better ways of climbing the mountain.

Which of these twins is more likely to survive this dangerous sport and be able to give advice to younger climbers when he is 40 years old?

Let’s Make a Picture!

I would like to describe a consultative exercise in consultation workshops I used to give.  I had cut up a fairly busy magazine photograph into six to eight pieces. I then gave a piece to each member of the group and demanded that they not show their piece to the other members. Then each member described the piece they held, and the group collectively tried to put the picture back together with these verbal descriptions, a lot of questioning and clarifying, and making a simplistic drawing of the photograph.

One of my favorite pictures for this exercise was of a protest of European farmers. In the center of the picture is a pile of smashed boxes of tomatoes, and one corner of this pile has a small fire. Around the pile are a few protest signs lying on the ground, and around the signs are general street scenes such as parked cars, a bus, and people looking at the fire. I cut the picture such that each component of the picture was in two or more pieces of the puzzle. One puzzle piece had most of a particular component of the picture, and no piece had all the components.

In a “power” organization, one person in this group would be the powerful person, and the others would be his subjects. If the “king” was holding the puzzle piece with the small fire, he would pronounce that the entire picture was composed of a fire of some kind. The subject who is holding the other piece with a bit of the fire could see some logic in this decree, but the rest would be entirely dumbfounded because there is absolutely no fire in their pieces. In their minds, the king is an idiot.But because he is the king, they would not to say anything contrary.

In a “democratic” organization, the two most strong-willed people in the group would compete against each other. One such person would be holding the piece with the fire and would argue that the entire picture consisted of a fire. The second strong-willed person, holding the piece with the bus, would claim the picture was of buses. The “watcher” with the piece showing a bit of the fire would support the strong-willed campaigner for the fire idea. The watcher holding the second part of the bus would vote for the bus idea. The other watchers would not see much logic in either position but would vote on “fire” or on “bus” based on the speeches given by the strong-willed campaigners. Regardless of the extra viewpoint offered, the democratic model would be just as unlikely to reconstruct the picture as the power model.

But I never had a power or democratic group do this exercise. In all cases, the participants instinctually recognized that they could not reconstruct their picture if all participants were not fully included in the process. Each individual quickly moved into a consultative style of decision-making simply because there was no other way to solve this puzzle.

Greenhorns in the Arctic

I read a very interesting study of consultative decision-making. The study had college students select items from a list of those items most necessary for a long winter trek across the Arctic tundra. All items had a cost factor, and the students could not select items that put the project above cost. The “right answer” was a list created by people who had experience in Arctic conditions, and the students’ answers were compared to these experts’ answers to see how well the students had done.

In the first round, each student created his or her list individually. Not surprisingly, no student came close to the experts; after all, what does an average college student know about surviving in the Arctic?

However, when the students were put into groups of two, and later four, their collective decisions became closer to the experts. Despite not having actual experience in the Arctic, the students not only created a synergy for idea generation, but with the interaction they were able to use their supposedly rather limited knowledge, experience, and wisdom to almost become experts.

On the original list was an inflatable life raft, and the experts selected this item without hesitation. As individuals and in groups of two, none of the students selected the raft, and instead purchased other items on the list. But when some groups reached four in size, they realized that an explorer carrying all this weight in a backpack would increase the chance of breaking through the snow, thus making travel difficult. Instead the students planned to buy the raft, load it with their supplies, and pull it behind them. The raft distributed the weight better, and breaking through the snow was less likely. But only until the student groups reached a certain size did they come to this realization.

Identifying the Problem

Each participant in a consultative body has acquired knowledge, experience, and wisdom that no other members have. Therefore it should not be surprising that each participant will see the same problem from different perspectives. The diagram below shows these various perspectives of a hypothetical consultative group facing one problem.

The freeform object in the center represents the problem to be solved. The boxes around the problem are the participants in the problem-solving process. Because each participant has acquired different knowledge, experience, and wisdom, each sees the problem from a different angle. Similar to the participants who reconstruct the fire-and-bus picture in my consultation exercise, the participants in this diagram must engage in consultation to see the entire problem. One or two viewpoints will not be enough.

However, five or six viewpoints may see enough of the problem to correctly extrapolate its shape. For example, the group may only need the perspective of either Participant #4, #5, or #6 to correctly describe the “bottom” of the diagram. However, the problem has two “warts” which are represented by the black dots. If the warts are not made known to the group at large, the group will never create a good solution. If participants #2 or #3 are not included in the process, the wart to the right will not be seen. If participant #8 is left out, the wart to the left will not be seen.

Let’s assume that Participant #8 is not an assertive person. She sits quietly during the meeting not realizing that she has some important information. Without seeing the wart on the left, the group is not aware of the entire problem. If the group is using the power or democratic model of decision-making, it will not make the effort to gain #8’s information, and it will then make a bad decision.

However, if the group has good consultation skills, the other participants will ensure that Participant #8 does speak her mind. They will recognize that she has knowledge, experience, andwisdom that no else has—even if she thinks her viewpoint is not that important. When #8 does tell the group about the wart, the group will avoid a bad decision without important knowledge.  

The Mathematics of Consultation

Assume you are working in a democratic model of decision-making, and your group must resolve an issue. Two major ideas are formed, each with its own strong-willed leader. You are undecided about which idea is better because both ideas have their good and bad points. The leaders are wooing you to vote for them. They may offer the logic and facts of their argument—or they may offer you a favor in exchange for supporting their idea.

To many citizens living in western democratic countries, this process seems normal—and acceptable. Regardless, the democratic model has only offered the organization it is governing with two possible solutions. Let’s consider what happens when true consultation is employed.

In the consultative model, the two leaders still present their initial positions to the group. However, they do not try to champion their own ideas. Instead, each leader recognizes that the other leader has some knowledge, experience, and wisdom that the other leader does not have—and that is why they have initially come to different conclusions. Each leader tries to understand the reasoning behind the other’s position.

If this occurs, then the perspectives, insights, and possible solutions multiply. The two leaders by themselves have created two viewpoints. When the first leader tries to combine his knowledge, experience, and wisdom with the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of the second leader, this creates a new third perspective different from the original two. When the second leader engages in the same process with the first leader, a fourth viewpoint is created. With the consultation process, the group increases its possible viewpoints from two to four.

Now you jump into the process. Your own viewpoint offers a fifth perspective. But you are combining your knowledge, experience, and wisdom with the two leaders, and they are doing the same thing to you. Leader #1 is combining his ideas with yours for a sixth perspective, and you combine yours with his for a seventh. You repeat the same process with the second leader for an eighth and ninth perspective. By increasing the number of participants from two to three, the number of perspectives increases from four to nine.

Other members of the group jump in. As the number of participants increase, the number of possible perspectives can increase exponentially. When a sufficient number of perspectives have been opened for further discussion, the group is more likely to find the magic that leads it to the better solutions.

Comparing the many possible viewpoints of the consultative model to the one viewpoint of the power model or the two or three viewpoints of the democratic model, it is easy to see the superiority of the consultation process.

The Relationship Between Power, Democracy, and Consultation

More than a few readers will feel that consultation is still only a utopia. Human nature, being what it is, will never allow it to happen—and these readers have lived their lives in the power or democratic models, just like Dilbert in the cartoon strip. I would like to challenge this claim: almost everyone has experienced good consultation.

Power Dominated Example

First, let’s consider a good example of what many of us would consider a typical power model: a medieval monarchy. On the surface, the monarchs often ruled with absolute authority; few challenged them or their decisions. They could make whatever decrees they wanted, and the rest of the society would have to live with these decrees.

The peasants in a monarchy certainly felt this way. They really had no say in their taxes, laws, or society’s finances. But, in truth, the monarchs had some limits in how far they could push the peasants around; for if the peasants were not somewhat content, they would not be as productive as they could be in the fields, mines, and construction sites. In other words, a prosperous society depended on the contentment of the society’s peasant classes—even if the peasants’ expectations were not very high. To find out what was on the minds of peasants, the monarchs had to engage in a primitive form of consultation which was often filtered through various layers of civil servants and aristocrats. If the all-powerful monarchs made decisions without such consultation, they found themselves governing a less prosperous society, thus sowing the seeds for mass unrest or a future civil war. Although the relationship between the monarchs and the peasants they governed was primarily a power model, some limited and one-sided consultation was necessary for such a society to flourish.

While monarchs could keep consultation to a minimum with their peasants, they did not have a similar relationship with the aristocratic classes, the clergy, or army generals. With these groups, the monarchs were forced to engage in some dialogue. Some of this dialogue was to ascertain who had the real power; some was to play the games of political intrigue to ensure the monarch had enough support as not to be overthrown by a rival; some was actually consultative where the participants—at least the monarch’s allies—would combine their knowledge, experience, and wisdom to maintain their power base and sometimes even better the society they governed.

In essence, a successful monarch, although nominally very powerful, used all three models of decision-making—power, democratic, and consultative—in his governance. He would subconsciously switch the decision-making process depending on who he was dealing with such as a trustworthy ally, an untrustworthy ally, a powerful rival, or a weak rival. He might use a different method depending on the issue to be resolved. For example, he would probably have to use a fair amount of consultation with the aristocracy to determine whether his nation should wage war against another nation. But he could use his power to shift some national finances to build a luxurious castle for his family.

Not only would he be subconsciously switching models of decision-making, he would also be using various combinations of the three methods at any time. For example, he could forego his position of power in order to give his most powerful advisors some free and democratic discussion on a particular issue. He may even allow the people hearing the discussion to come to some kind of democratic decision where he cedes the final decision to the majority. Or he may even use his power to encourage or allow a consultative process where his advisors could speak freely without fear of retribution. But the powerful monarch defines how much democracy and consultation is allowed into such discussion and decisions; he could veto anything at anytime.

Hence in this power-dominated example, we have a combination of power, democracy, and consultation—not a model of poweroverrunning the other two.

Democratic Dominated Example

In a more modern example, I see political parties as organizations primarily employing the democratic model because the parties are ultimately guided by rules providing for an appropriate amount of discussion followed by a majority decision. But inside any political party are people looking for ways to maximize their power within the party—and, somewhat ironically, they need to engage in a reasonable amount of consultation to build the alliances that build their power base. And once these people attain a certain level of power, they have a tendency to limit the amount of democracy and consultation—if it suits their purpose and they can get away with it. In essence, all three decision-making processes are present in a political party, but the democratic process, not power or consultation, is the ultimate referee.

Consultative Dominated Example

Let’s consider a volunteer group trying to do a specific service for its community. If the volunteer group cannot create a reasonably good consultative atmosphere, it loses some ability to attract volunteers to get the work done. But often some ideas in the group conflict with the ideas of other strong-willed members. They have a friendly debate, trying to sway the neutral members to vote for their idea. And then they have a friendly vote to make the decision, which means, for this instant, the group is mostly in the democratic model. But power can play into the group as well if the group’s officers use the power of their positions to sway other members to vote their way—or even attempt to stifle debate about ideas they do not like. Despite democracy and power playing parts of this volunteer group, most volunteer groups behave as a consultative body on most of the issues they need to resolve—if they want to retain their volunteers.

The Power-Democratic-Consultative Paradigm

These three examples of a medieval monarchy, a political party, and a volunteer group bring forth an important conclusion to the power-democratic-consultative paradigm. All the decision-making organizations and relationships I have belonged to have had all three of these elements. I have not encountered an organization with just one of these processes to the absolute exclusion of the other two.

The following diagrams show three hypothetical decision-making groups. All three have elements of power, democracy, and consultation, but in each group one model dominates over the other two. The dominant model is identified by the black dot in the triangle; the closer the dot is to a particular vertex, the more that group is using that decision-making model. 

Let’s use the first diagram as an example to explain further.This power-dominated group seems to be making its decisions using 80% power methods, 10% democratic, and 10% consultative. This combination was probably typical of a medieval monarch. A monarch who insisted on using 100% power all the time was probably dethroned early in his reign.

What we need to do is identify a group’s primary decision-making process, then move it more towards consultation.

Requirements for Good Consultation

As I alluded to earlier in this chapter, consultation does not come easily. We cannot wish it to happen to make it happen. If we, as individuals and decision-making groups, are not willing to engage in the requirements of good consultation, our ability to consult is diminished.

As Individuals
Briefly, here are some of the attributes we must strive for as individuals before we can engage in true consultation with other individuals:

  • Develop a pure motive: the welfare of the group is more important than the welfare of the individual.
  • Reduce and eliminate any prejudicial attitudes about race, religion, culture, class, and education.
  • Accept the two genders as equal partners in the consultation process.
  • Eliminate gossiping and backbiting,a behavior that degrades other participants to the point where their viewpoints are not important to you.
  • Be willing to use your own initial knowledge, experience, and wisdom as a starting point.
  • Acknowledge that each member of the group has knowledge, experience, and wisdom you do not have.
  • Recognize that although you have some excellent knowledge, experience, and wisdom to offer, the group’s consultative decision will likely be different—and better—than anything you can make by yourself.
  • Be patient when the group is not going in the direction you think it should be going.
  • Recognize that all decisions are experiments—no one knows for sure how something will turn out until it is actually tried.
  • Recognize that very few decisions are life-and-death for an organization or a community.

Without these attitudes, the ability for an individual to combine his or her knowledge, experience, and wisdom with others is quite limited.

As Groups

When individuals are consciously trying to reform their character and attitude, they are preparing themselves for consultation. But the group itself must consciously strive to attain these attributes:

  • Foster an atmosphere of trust, respect, and harmony.
  • Allow time to make decisions through the consultative process.*
  • Allow time for relationships between the members to mature.
  • Strive for a unanimous vote on each decision. A unanimous vote is a good sign the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of the participants are or are in the process of combining.

* In my experience, decision-making is often slower in groups trying to consciously move towards a more consultative approach. But as they acquire their culture of consultation, not only are better decisions made, but these decisions also come quicker.

If the group as a whole does not work on developing these attributes, the consultation process can be pushed aside easily by one or two individuals preferring power or democratic models to make decisions. When the group is working towards a consultative atmosphere, it will find any individual shortcomings fade into the background.

“Striving” is the Key

Please note that no individual or group is—or can ever be—perfect in these consultative attributes. If we waited for perfection, no consultation could ever take place. The key word is “striving.” If individuals and groups are striving to improve on a day-by-day and year-by-year basis—they will find their decision-making moving away from power and democratic and towards consultation. The willingness to change and improve one’s character and attitude is perhaps even more important to the consultative process than the actual acquirement of consultative attributes.

Just as a wise athlete will analyze their good and bad plays after a game, those striving to improve their consultative skills should review their interactions with other people. I do this personally, and I am hopeful that my replays are making me better at consultation so I can say the right things at the right time. But the fact that I still have to go through my replays after a meeting or encounter suggests that I still need a lot more work to be better at consultation. Consultation is not easy—but striving for it is the key.  

Determining the Primary Decision-Making Process

To determine the primary decision-making model for any group, I have prepared the list below to summarize the characteristics of the three decision-making models.

Number of Perspectives and Possible Solutions

  • Power: One
  • Democratic: Two or Three
  • Consultative: Many

Freedom of Speech

  • Power: The person with power can say whatever he wants; all other viewpoints are suppressed or very guarded.
  • Democratic: Free speech, governed by rules of procedure. Often hampered by political correctness or intrigue. Watchers have a tendency to remain silent.
  • Consultative: All participants, in and out of the decision-making body, must be encouraged to have their say.

Process of Decision-Making

  • Power: Confined to the person with the power.
  • Democratic: Contest between the more strong-willed members.
  • Consultative: Combining knowledge, experience, and wisdom of all participants.

Listening Required

  • Power: The powerful person is not obligated to listen even if discussion is allowed.
  • Democratic: While a forum is provided for different viewpoints to be presented, no one is obligated to listen.
  • Consultative: Listening is essential to the combination of knowledge, experience, and wisdom.

Ramification of a Bad Decision

  • Power: The ruler does not suffer for a bad decision.
  • Democratic: The majority who made the decision tends to ignore or downplay it; the minority sees the bad decision as an opportunity to gain more influence.
  • Consultative: The decision-making body wants to fix the bad decision and learn from the experience.

Satisfaction of Population

  • Power: The ruler is satisfied; the subjects are not.
  • Democratic: Most skilled players of the democratic decision making enjoy the process of democracy. The watchers find the democratic process difficult for their participation: they become cynical or apathetic, and withdraw from the process. 
  • Consultative: When more people see they have been a part of the decision-making process (even if they don’t get their way), they are more apt to support the decision.

From this list, we can more readily formulate the questions to determine the primary decision-making process of any group. For example:

  • To what degree is free discussion encouraged? If encouraged, to what degree do certain forces limit the amount of frankness of the discussion?

  • To what degree do the decisions come from preconceived ideas of only a few participants? Or to what degree do the decisions come from a combination of knowledge, experience, and wisdom of the members of the group?

  • To what degree do the participants listen to other participants in order to gain a better understanding of the issues?

  • To what degree can a person introduce a perspective or idea that is contrary to the group’s consensual thinking—and have that new perspective or idea utilized somehow in the final decision?

  • To what degree do participants change their original positions when they listen to a differing set of knowledge, experience, and wisdom than their own?

  • After a bad decision is discovered, how does the group or individuals in the group handle that decision?

  • What is the satisfaction level of the individuals in the group, in particular the members who do not say very much?

When asking questions such as these (or formulating similar ones), one should not look for quick yes/no answers. In fact, these questions should be contemplated carefully—and even consulted about with other members.  The answers will usually be relative. They might change with the addition or subtraction of just one individual or with each issue or how the group needs to interact with other groups. They might change with a deeper understanding of power, democracy, and consultation.

Despite the flux of answers one can obtain from such an analysis, I would like to challenge readers to examine groups they have worked with and try to determine where in the power-democratic-consultative paradigm their organizations belong. This, in my mind, is an important step to creating a culture of consultation. In other words, moving towards a more consultative decision-making process should be conscious and deliberate effort, not something that happens by evolution.

In a consultative culture, I envision a time where organizations will be judged qualitatively by their consultative processes. Those organizations with better consultation skills and attitudes will be able to attract better employees and volunteers. They will be more effective in what they do—which will translate into more profits or better use of limited resources.

Why We Don’t Consult

Looking back over how things were done 200 years ago, I can see an evolution towards more consultation in our collective decisions. As much as we may want even more consultation, we still have some barriers to overcome. In this section, I will try to identify these barriers, in hopes we can accelerate the process of this cultural change.

Inability to Recognize Consultation

This inability stems from the fact that we haven’t defined what “consultation” actually is or what it looks or feels like—because we throw the word “consultation” around so freely. What organizations are recognized for consultative atmospheres? If we did have the abilities to recognize the source of true consultation, would not these organizations be highly sought after for employment—even to the point of not needing to pay competitive wages? What individuals are recognized for their abilities to consult? Would not an individual with a great consultative nature be worth more to an organization?

Consultation—the combining of knowledge, experience, and wisdom—is not yet recognized enough as an asset in our culture.

The Successful Decision-Makers

Still too many successful people have attained their success by employing a high degree of power or democratic attitudes. Consultation, in their worlds, is only necessary when it can further their power base—but the ultimate goal is for them to make the decisions. These examples of such successful people rising to the top show the world that consultative skills are really not that necessary. This undermines the importance and significance of those individuals and organizations with great consultative cultures.

Lack of Altruism

For people that aspire to positions of authority and responsibility, too much consultation may actually be a hindrance to their ambitions. These people look more at their current position as a vehicle to attain a higher position, not as a place where they have the capacity to do the organization some good. They will take credit for good things and distance themselves from things that go wrong. If they need to say that it was a team effort to accomplish something good, they will also position themselves to be a leading player of that team.

When they reach “middle management,” they may try to appease their superiors while driving their subordinates to new extremes. They get rewarded for getting things done, using less resources, and improving the bottom line knowing full well that the actual price paid to attain these goals will not be measured. They analyze each situation carefully and learn when to use whatever levels of power they have, when to be submissive, when and how to build alliances, when to take on an adversary, when it’s necessary to engage in consultation, and with whom they should consult. Building a career to attain a better job or be more influential is often a game that needs skillful playing. A good consultative attitude may not do well in such a competition.

Lack of Respect

In the last section, I seemed quite critical of those people in “management” positions. In one of my consultation workshops with front-line people, the feedback was that “management should be taking this workshop, not us.” But consultation is far from a one-way street with only the managers needing this kind of training. 

You can observe a subordinate with a poor consultative attitude by what he thinks of management. Many of these subordinates have failed to recognize the experience and training their managers have attained over the years, that their knowledge, experience, and wisdom is actually of value to the organization. If management does not make decisions the way subordinates think decisions should be made, the subordinates immediately degrade the decision. They fail to recognize that managers have a bigger picture of the organization and are constantly juggling scarce resources. They cannot immediately rush to implement every good idea that comes forth. In fact, part of good management is leaving certain working systems in place, even though these systems can be improved.

Such subordinates feel that, even with their limited perspective of the entire organization, they are in a much better position to know what the organization needs—and the managers are fools for not seeing the problem the same way they do.

In my experience, some of this complaining can be justified because many decisions are made without input from the subordinates. But many workers in subordinate positions would be just as contemptuous working under a consultative management structure as in a power structure. They would not know the difference.

Internal Anger: Part 1

The three preceding sections show a darker side of humanity. It seems strange why many of us still foster less effective decision-making attitudes when consultation has such obvious advantages. To explain this, I’m going to reduce a complex topic into a few short paragraphs.

Many of us have undergone some serious psychological trauma in our lives. Many of us have not dealt with this injustice very well; we have buried it deep in our psyche—and there it festers, gnawing at the edges of our thinking. We may think we are not damaged or we may think that we have overcome the damage. But we have yet to let go, and a slow simmering fire is burning within us.

To lessen that fire, we can turn to addictions, feelings of worthlessness, or dysfunctional behavior. When we engage in these ways, we actually feel better (temporarily) but the main problem—the trauma—is not dealt with.

Some of us with trauma issues aspire to positions of power and dominance over others. When we can make decisions that affect other people,we find a sense of being in control. This sense of control gives us great satisfaction, which relieves the pressures of psychological trauma. But like the previously mentioned relief valves, “being in control” is only a temporary solution. We need to engage in dominating behavior over and over to diminish that fire that never seems to go out completely.

The “being in control” condition does not lead to a consultative attitude. We need to make the decisions, and we need to see those decisions affecting the lives of other people. This is a main purpose for our lives. 

Unfortunately, we controllers and dominators tend to create injustices on others, which can lead to their own psychological trauma, which then reduces their natural abilities to engage in consultation.

Consultation—if it is ever to gain its full potential—requires humanity to first shed the effects of its traumas. With more consultation, I believe we will cause fewer traumas for the next generation.

Internal Anger: Part 2

Many of us with internal anger issues may want to have control over others, but our lack of talents or our negative attributes caused by the trauma limit our attempts to gain this sense of control. We then stand a good chance of resorting to another method to reduce the fire inside of us: we develop contempt for the people around us.

When we easily see the flaws of others, this elevates our stature—in our minds—above such people. It makes us feel good about ourselves for we can see our superiority in their inferiority. The fire goes back to simmer for a while; but we soon need our fix again. Hence, we engage in a lot of gossiping and backbiting to keep ourselves feeling good.

A popular attitude we contemptuous people have is that when we see people with more success in their lives, we are quick to point out that their success is more due to some inappropriate means. For those with less success than we have, we tend to dismiss these people as being stupid for not seeing life in the very obvious way we are seeing it.

Gossiping and backbiting is a good sign of people who have a lot of contempt, which means limited consultative skills. 

The Experts were Wrong

Managers and people of expertise are sometimes proven wrong. These mistakes often lead non-experts to believe they can concoct solutions to complex problems without any expert advice—and their decisions will be just as good as the experts’. Hence there is no need for any consultation with any experts.

Part of this poor consultation is due to the experts themselves often portraying themselves as the source of ultimate knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Experts need to recognize that they have a certain degree of fallibility. Rather the experts need to present their advice as a “best-guess” vision—and probably offer several reasonable alternatives for the non-experts to consider. The experts should not be dismissive when the people or communities, who will be living with whatever consequences, go in a different direction than the experts recommend.

As well, the non-experts should recognize that the experts have a different perspective on the issues that the non-experts cannot concoct with their current knowledge, experience, and wisdom. However, the non-experts should not be obligated to use the experts’ position as a final solution. Rather that position should be looked as a step with which to take consultative deliberations to a higher level, considering new perspectives and ideas that could not have been attained if the experts and non-experts were working by themselves.    

Our Democratic Example

Western democracy teaches us that fighting for our position is more important than our position. The solution that gets implemented is more often the position that puts up the best fight. With this attitude, there is no need to consider the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of the people on the other side of the issue. This arrogance that we have all the right answers and that differing viewpoints belong to fools permeates throughout western democratic society. 

Personality Differences

Sometime after I had developed my personal theories for consultation, I became involved with a volunteer group. Being more conscious of how I wanted to present myself and recognizing that all members of this group had the best interest of the organization at heart, I was expecting many great consultative decisions.

On one hand, this group was one of the better groups I have ever worked with. But the great consultation I was looking for did not happen. Despite my attempt at consultation, I felt frustrated that much of the knowledge, experience, and wisdom I could contribute were not being utilized. I found it difficult to engage myself with the traveling, meetings, and tedious tasks that were part of this group. My enthusiasm was waning. I resigned about 18 months after I started—despite being committed to the group’s purpose.

For the next several years, I pondered why this group was a personal failure for me (even though we still accomplished a great deal of work for a volunteer organization). Despite my supposed insights into consultation and the good nature of my colleagues, the consultation was not that great. I stayed as long as I did more out of a sense of duty rather than enjoying it and accomplishing great things.

Finally, I stumbled onto the answer when my workplace hosted a presentation with a professional trainer for the “True Colors” program.

True Colors is a personality assessment. It divides personalities into four basic types, which I have very briefly summarized below:


  • Positive Attribute: Logical & analytical
  • Negative Attribute: Seemingly lacking empathy


  • Positive Attribute: Well organized
  • Negative Attribute: Inflexible to change


  • Positive Attribute: Relationship building
  • Negative Attribute: Takes conflict personally


  • Positive Attribute: Can get things done.
  • Negative Attribute: “Blasts” through people

When I took my personality test, I scored very high on the Green. The other three colors are about equal, but with a much lower score. I am an analyzer, evaluator, logic seeker, fact interpreter, and planner. This is part of my personality that will not go away. When I see a challenge—as some of the challenges I saw with this committee—I have to undergo a very thorough analysis to understand the challenge and find possible solutions. Trying out a quick solution really goes against my nature—especially for some of the problems we were facing.

I believe I was the only Green on this committee. Whenever I went into my analytical mode, the other committee members were not interested in my insights. SoI rolled back my Green nature. While I did establish a better peace within the committee, I became frustrated because I felt we were making inferior decisions with not very much information and analysis. My Green personality was thwarted on this committee.

I should admit that perhaps my analytical approach was not appropriate for the work this committee needed to do. But this leads to the question of whether I should have been appointed to the committee in the first place. If my appointment was still forthcoming, then maybe the other members should have recognized that I had a different way of thinking that they don’t have. Maybe they needed to let my analytical approach become a respected part of the discussion.

Since taking that True Colors workshop, I recognize that I had spent considerable effort in my life on trying to imprint my Green nature onto others. I attributed the reason for other people not wanting to analyze things the same way as I as a serious character flaw. Now I see deep analysis is not in their nature. I need to see what other people can give—outside of my talents—and allow them to contribute in ways that they are naturally inclined to do.  I really can’t expect to turn non-Green people into Greens.

Understanding how our different personalities work together can be a great asset towards better consultation.

Consultation and Tiered Governance

As I stated in Chapter 3, the TDG involves a series of tiered elections so that most citizens do not directly vote for their highest representatives of governance. Also in Chapter 3, I told of history’s three instances of TDG-like systems of governance that failed rather quickly. To make a TDG work, I concluded Chapter 3 stating that we need to find some extra tools. One important tool is to systematically employ and rely on the consultative model for decision-making.

Throughout the TDG, voting is based on good character and a capacity for governance. One of these capacities has to be good consultative skills. If citizens are to vote wisely, they must know how well other prospective citizens have this skill and attitude. However, the ability to consult cannot be demonstrated in a TV commercial, an election brochure, a handshake, a 140-character tweet, or by any other common electioneering tool. The only way to gain this knowledge is to work with other citizens on a fairly consistent and direct basis. 

Whether we choose to stay with the western democratic model or evolve into a TDG, it will be impractical for most citizens to know personally the consultative abilities of our highest elected leaders. In the TDG, however, the elected leaders will not advance to higher tiers if their consultative skills and attitudes are not sufficient to deal with the increasing responsibilities there. The other representatives, who are working closely with each other, will be in a much better position than most citizens to know who has the consultative skills to advance further.

Hence, the tiered, indirect elections actually become a check-and-balance for putting people with better consultation skills and attitudes into higher positions of governance. The western democratic model can never achieve this goal, for western democratic elections are not proving groundsfor consultation skills.  

There is another important implication for consultation in the TDG. TDG elections would have a tendency to re-elect incumbents, but a few new people find themselves elected into the TDG each year. If the TDG has a consultative culture, it will be able to use the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of these new people fairly quickly. The new people will not have to go through an informal probation period, proving themselves worthy of the longer-serving members’ consideration. Less time will be required for the old and new members to learn how to work together well. A culture of consultation will make quick use of any new good ideas.

Good consultation in the TDG will also enable the elected members to effectively utilize the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of the appointed advisors to the TDG, which will be discussed in the next chapter.

As alluded to earlier in this chapter, the world is slowly moving towards a more consultative model of decision making. My great grandparents had much less input and influence in their world than I currently have. Most readers could probably see a similar trend compared to their ancestry.

In terms of making consultation more common, letting evolution take its natural course might get us to where we should be a century or two from now.But do we really want to take this long?

Or should we make deliberate and conscious efforts to decide and take action to build a culture of consultation? The first step is to understand what consultation really is—and what it isn’t.I believe this chapter starts this process, and I’m hoping other thinkers with credentials in psychology and sociology are willing to enhance this idea. With more study and academic analysis, we would to be able to recognize individuals with a consultative mindset and organizations with a consultative culture. With this recognition, we can sideline those who do not embrace a change towards greater consultation. 

We need a forum to practice putting consultation ahead of the power and democratic models. That forum could be the building of the TDG.When the early TDG builders find that consultative culture, they will not only spread it within the TDG, they will spread it to their communities, workplaces, businesses, volunteer groups, and maybe even western democracy itself. 

The altruistic citizens of the world today have a double mission: doing good things for humanity and teaching others, by example, the process of consultation. Of these two missions, the latter will be the more important legacy for future generations who will not have to consciously learn this skill each generation; consultation will be a cultural trait—just like it was in many aboriginal societies.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash
For a more comfortable read, an ebook version of TDG is available on Kindle and on Kobo for about $7.