Consultation - The Key to Problem Solving
Baha'is believe that mankind has been directed to use consultation in matters great and small as the primary means of building a better world and a happier, more productive personal life. But what exactly is their definition of consultation?
Consultation is at the other end of the spectrum from the classic Western concept of a business meeting, where each person comes with their own agenda and attempts to outmaneuver and outvote each other with the goal get their way on some issue. Typically the boss runs the meeting and presents his idea first, then asks for comments and opinions. Communication is very one-way, top-down. The idea identified as the Boss's wins. Opposition may be brutally hammered down, and hard feelings or resentment carried over for years after the decision is reached.
True consultation, however, involves people assembling hoping to discover what is right, not who is right. A wide range of views and opinions is actively sought from each person in the room--even the quiet ones--and listened to attentively and politely. Members who disagree with the views presented by others have an obligation to speak their piece as they see it. The objective is a heartfelt unanimous realization of the right course of action, with everyone behind it.
Such unanimous outcomes will require serious changes in both the system of decision making and in the attitudes and behaviors of the participants. In order for everyone to be heard, to feel free to express even dissenting ideas, there will need to be what Amy Edmondson, a faculty member at Harvard Business School, refers to as psychological safety. Her book, Teaming is considered the current best thinking in the field. In it she points out that it is not enough to get the right people with a diverse set of knowledge and viewpoints into the room; they must feel safe from retaliation if they share their opinions--even more so for a dissenter, especially of lower rank, to speak up when they see a problem.
The Baha'i concept of consultation predates current business management wisdom by 150 years and gives clear instructions as to what is required: "The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, ... humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold..." They "must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should any one oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously, well and good; but if the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Bahá'í Administration: Selected Messages 1922-1932, p. 21-22
The message here is that intention matters. Rather than suppressing human emotion and the role of the heart, as in a legacy business meeting that supposed to be purely rational, consultation should include full emotional and spiritual human capacity in a search for a pathway that looks right, feels right, and is right.
Trustworthiness, scrupulous honesty, and loving civility are virtues that are not just nice to have, but also are absolutely required for consultation to work successfully. The changes happening in business and management are beginning to reflect this understanding, little by little, day by day. Even the famous Toyota Way is very clear that at the core is a change of heart, not a change of tools.
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