Reaching Post-Partisanship: Here's How; Consensus-Building, Not Compromising, Is Key

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen R. Covey and Robert Fersh, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When asked recently how he would manage the inherent competition between his powerful White House staff and his strong choices for the cabinet, then-President-elect Barack Obama responded: If the tone I set is that we bring [enough] intellectual firepower to a problem, that people act respectfully towards each other, that disagreements are fully aired, and that we make decisions based upon facts and evidence as opposed to ideology - people will adapt to that culture and we'll be able to move together effectively as a team. If successful, this approach could serve as a blueprint for successful work, not just among the Obama team, but also across partisan lines in Congress, and potentially when it comes to U.S. relations with other nations. President Obama's instincts on how to resolve problems are much needed at a time when the American public is hungry for leadership that unites the country and places problem-solving ahead of partisanship. But while he can do a lot to set the tone, it will be important to embed additional people with real skills - in the White House, in federal agencies, in Congress - so that the implementation of such instincts is not dependent on the transcendent leadership of any one leader or group of leaders.

As last week's party-line vote on the economic stimulus package in the House of Representatives indicated, it will take hard work and know-how to create solutions that unite different factions. The president, his team and Congress can achieve third-alternative solutions to major challenges if they are willing to systematically employ proven approaches to finding common ground. One such approach is synergistic consensus-building, not compromise, a particularly effective tool to address issues of national importance and complexity. Consensus-building is frequently misunderstood. It is not a call to sweep differences under the rug. To the contrary, it only works when people clarify and articulate their differences fully. The key ingredients of consensus-building are bringing a wide range of voices to a common table, ensuring that all parties are open to finding new answers that are better than what they brought to the table, building trust and empathic understanding among the parties, clarifying differences and then securing agreements on common solutions.

We have employed these tools over a period of years, and together are working on a major project that has produced a strong consensus report from 34 highly diverse, eminent Americans on how to improve U. …