In today's political landscape - and in society in general - it seems like our divisions are somehow more important than what brings us together. We split into factions who egg each other on, and those who are tired of this way of being, usually wish for compromise, rather than consensus. I'd argue that reaching compromise is to settle too early.
Wiktionary defines consensus as:
A process of decision-making that seeks widespread agreement among group members.
Consensus can take a long time, and be emotionally draining, but the result can be a new solution that is better than any of the initially suggested ones, while compromise yields something everyone has some issues with. There are a few situations where we usually should strive for consensus:
- With your partner and family: Give everyone a say in decisions that are made, divide chores in a way that seems reasonable to everyone.
- At work: Hopefully everyone wants a similar result (happy customers, projects completed on time, trusting atmosphere). Frequently it's possible to find a solution that everyone is happy with, where nobody has to feel like they settled.
I've actually taken part in a couple of real-world organizations that have consensus as a policy. Here are a few examples:
- Quakers (a religious movement): A small or large number of people make decisions together. Generally, a decision is reached when there are no more objections.
- Wikipedia and its sister projects: In most parts of editing and decision-making, Wikimedia projects aim for consensus, as described by their consensus policy.
Consensus isn't a panacea, and there are important drawbacks. It gives undue power to those who have a lot of patience. Consensus has failed when half of those who care are too exhausted to take part in the discussion. And sometimes the wisdom of the masses fails.
I believe that consensus is one of the most respectful forms of decision-making, which frequently gives great results. Don't settle for compromise!