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Difference Between Consensus and Majority rule

Consensus vs Majority rule

There are fundamental differences in the way the decision-making process is carried out when reaching a conclusion via majority rule versus when an agreement is negotiated through consensus. Majority rule and consensus each have their own set of benefits and obstacles, and each is impacted by unique social factors and political considerations.

A consensus requires that a group reach a decision which has been agreed on by a collective. In order for the decision to be fully supported going forward, it is necessary that all group members participate in the decision-making process, including those with minority opinions.
Majority rule does not require that the group comes to any agreements or compromises. The decision of the group is decided according to whom or what receives a majority of votes. There are some instances, particularly in the field of politics, when a super-majority is required to pass or block a piece of legislation or prompt political action by Congress. It is not always the case that the majority rules, absolutely.
Consensus, a democratic decision-making process, necessitates that group members engage in a dialogue and share information for the purpose of increasing others’ understanding of the issues and to provide a rationale for choosing a particular position. By including the whole of the group in the discussion and decision-making process, everyone becomes invested. If only some group members participate, it is more likely that only those who were the biggest advocates would continue to provide support for a decision. To reach a consensus, there has to be a context or environment created that is conducive to respectful dialogue and the healthy exchange of ideas. There should be a mutual respect, common vision, or shared principles between group members in order for the group to succeed in reaching a worthwhile consensus.
Majority rule does not require the same level of interpersonal communication. It is a democratic process which ultimately comes down to simple mathematics. This method of decision-making, outside of registration, is often anonymous. The nature of the process, in many cases, allows individuals to maintain their privacy, as others cannot know with certainty, for whom or what a person has voted. Since there is only the matter of counting votes, decisions can be reached much more quickly with majority rule.

Due to the time that may be required to reach a consensus, this method can be an inefficient means to addressing time-sensitive issues. When seeking a consensus there is always the risk that groupthink develops. Instead of hearing arguments which may lead to the discovery of obstacles or disadvantages of a certain position, in the interest of avoiding conflict, group members may agree to a decision they do not genuinely support.

A disadvantage of majority rule is the majority’s ability to vote against the interests and preferences of those in the minority without those groups or individuals being heard or involved in the discussion. Those in the minority may be disenfranchised and remove themselves from the decision-making process because they are aware they do not have the numbers to win or significantly impact the vote.  Poor decisions may be made by the majority simply because they have enough votes to implement their plans.

  • Consensus requires participation from all group members, including those with minority opinions. Majority rule does not require a collective agreement.
  • Consensus enables all group members to be invested in the chosen outcome. Majority rule may result in those in the minority feeling left out of the decision-making process.
  • Consensus requires an environment that is conducive to healthy discourse. Majority rule does not require the same level of interaction, and may allow members to keep their beliefs private, if they so choose.
  • Majority rule is a quicker decision-making process.
  • Majority rule is susceptible to abuse by the majority, while groups seeking to reach a consensus may fall victim to groupthink.

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