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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0081 | November 26, 2002
5,500 Subscribers

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From the Publisher: 

Hello MFJ Readers. This issue, includes an article written by Sarah A. Sheard entitled,
"Is 'Silence Means Agreement' a Ground Rule? This article discusses this often used approach by autocratic management and passive group members to reach "pseudo consensus."

Also, please check out the new Portable Article Bank in the Spotlight Section. This should be of great use to those of you who train facilitators, or for anyone in an organization seeking to educate your peers or subordinates in skills that can help them work together more effectively. Check out the reseller license option that allows you to sell this product yourselves!

If you or your colleagues are interested in submitting an article for consideration, please email your ideas. I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading! 
Steve Davis

GAME Skill

Is "Silence Means Agreement" a Ground Rule? 
Silence doesn't guarantee an internal commitment to decisions.

The Point

If there is no contention, does that means that there is agreement? Some groups use "Silence Means Agreement" to speed up decisions and move the discussion along. If no one objects to a decision, it is implemented as having full consensus.

However, I have found this NOT to be a good idea. Why?

First, it is too much like what people are already used to. In a meeting with a traditional boss, employees are assumed to go along with the boss unless they object in public. Bosses use this when they want to push an idea through. If a team is run this way too, the quieter people can assume there has been no change, with the boss just replaced by the more vocal team members. They can feel that they don't have a real part in the team.

Second, what happens when this rule is applied is that people simply reserve for themselves the right to object later, and they don't commit to the decision. They just agree that they don't object RIGHT NOW.

Instead of silence meaning agreement, I have found that if you actually poll people by going around the room and asking their opinion, two things happen:

1. Those who have reservations state the reservations, which they might not do if silence were an option. Often, their reservations change the whole direction of the group. Either they think of something no one else has, and thereby add to the quality of the product, or they have a real problem with it which the group has to address to ensure buy-in.

2. I have also found with myself as well as others, that if I actually am required to respond to a request for buy-in, I actually have to make a commitment internally. If I have to say publicly yes, no, or "I can live with it," (we use thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs sideways for quick polling), then I actually decide at that point that my position is what I say it is. Otherwise I might reserve judgment: "naw, it's THEIR decision, and I just decided not to interfere with them."


The bottom line is, I strongly recommend going through the process of polling everyone.

Some people don't like polling because it takes too long, and can even throw the whole discussion off track. This will happen if the first time someone objects, the group stops to discuss the objection rather than finish the polling. Sometimes the person polled actually may agree but chooses to clarify a personal viewpoint.

So we set a ground rule that once a group starts polling, it finishes before doing anything else. With thumbs it is easy. If your polling is done verbally, set a ground rule that the only acceptable things to say are: "yes," "no," "I can live with it," or "hey, no discussion until we finish polling."

The group is then obligated to hear from all the people who said "no." When these dissenters have the opportunity to clarify their opinions, a better solution often results.

"Silence means agreement" can rob quiet people of their voice. A quick poll of the participants can improve the quality of the decision, make all people feel heard, and help ensure all participants make the internal decision to buy- in. 

About the Author: Sarah A. Sheard is a Principal Systems Engineer at the Software Productivity Consortium ( The Consortium helps member companies improve the development of software-intensive systems.


Practice this polling method when looking for group consensus and see how it changes the quality of your group decisions. I'd love to hear what happens for you. Please email me your comments.

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Reader Survey 

How do you use gratitude in your facilitation?

Knowing the power and sense of spaciousness created by an attitude of gratitude, and since this is Thanksgiving week, I thought it appropriate to inquire as to how you use, teach, or facilitate an attitude of gratitude in your groups. Please send your inputs to ../contact.html and we'll share with you all the inputs received. 

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About the Author
Steve Davis is a Facilitator's Coach helping leaders enhance their effectiveness through the application and perspective of facilitation. Please email or call me at 805-489-4130 to schedule a Free exploratory session, or to share your suggestions and ideas for the journal. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading!

In the Spotlight

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We've compiled the top 50 issues of the Master Facilitator Journal into the form of an e-book collection. This collection contains the engaging content you're used to receiving in the Journal, but that has been polished and formatted into the form of publishable articles. Articles contain resources such as a useful book or website that pertains to the content, examples, and action steps to take to improve your facilitation skills.

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OPTION 2: Instant Author License Option. You get the rights to resell these articles to your clients and customers. This is not an affiliate program. You keep 100% of all revenues! Our intro price is $69.95 for a limited time (retail $99.00) for the entire downloadable collection available immediately upon purchase. Click here to buy now and select reseller option.  

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Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on December 3, 2002.   

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