Organizational Development Consultant and Leadership Coach

Ten Techniques to Make Decisions: #3 Negative Voting

September 4, 2014

“A majority of our group generally agrees which solutions are best without too many problems. But sometimes I’m not so sure we are in complete harmony. Is there a simple technique that will help insure that we have full consensus?”

#3  Negative Voting

What is Negative Voting?

Negative Voting is a technique that identifies which people do NOT support a proposed decision, instead of those who do.

By identifying those who don’t support a given decision, the meeting group can talk to those people, discover their specific concerns, and identify methods to alleviate these concerns. By doing so, it is possible to gain consensus amongst the group before moving forward. This is an excellent way to proactively solve problems before they occur.

When to Use Negative Voting

  • When you want to make a decision by consensus
  • When you need to decide between a few difficult choices
  • When you want to enhance the acceptability of your decisions
  • When group members might be pressured to agree with the majority

How to Use Negative Voting

1. After adequate discussion and analysis concerning a specific decision or option under consideration, ask your meeting group, “Who can NOT live with this option?” Count and chart the number of people who raise their hands. Ask the same question for all options being considered by the group.

2. After this process, identify which options have accumulated the least number of negative votes. Obtain permission from the group to eliminate the options with the highest number of negative votes.

3. Taking one option at a time, ask each dissenting voter what concerns they have about the remaining options. Chart their concerns. Leave ample chart space between each listed concern because it will be utilized in the next step.

4. When finished, ask the entire group to brainstorm ideas that will alleviate the listed concerns. For example: “Who can think of a way to alleviate this problem for Harold?” or “What ideas do you have to alleviate this list of concerns about option one?” Document all ideas in the spaces you provide between each listed concern on your chart.

NOTE: Use a different color pen to distinguish between the concerns and the brainstormed ideas.

NOTE: If you haven’t left sufficient room to write on your existing chart, create a new chart for the ideas brainstormed. Be sure to clearly label which ideas go with which concerns.

NOTE: If necessary, remind the group of the rules for brainstorming.

5. After you are finished brainstorming, ask each dissenter if the group’s suggested changes now allow them to support the option. For example: “What do you think, Harold? How do these ideas work for you? … Do they provide enough information or changes so that you can support this option?”

NOTE: If you are voting on more than one option, ask these questions for all of the options.

6. Do a second negative vote. “Who cannot support option one when it includes these changes.”

NOTE: If appropriate, paraphrase the changes that were suggested.

NOTE: It is unlikely that all options will still receive negative votes, but if this does happen, discuss with the group how to handle the situation. You may want to repeat Steps 3, 4, and 5, or you may decide to brainstorm new, more creative ideas.

7. If your group is reaching for a single decision and you arrive at more than one option that everyone now supports, follow up with a positive vote. You might introduce this by asking, for example, “Which of these two choices do you think is best?”

In Summary:

Negative Voting is a technique for discovering who does not support a decision, instead of who does. This allows the group to proactively address and resolve any concerns so that true consensus can be reached.

1. Ask if there is anyone in the group who can NOT support the options as stated.

2. Identify the options that have the fewest number of negative votes. Determine if some of these options should be eliminated at this point.

3. Taking one option at a time, ask each dissenter what their concerns are regarding the remaining options.

4. Ask your group to brainstorm ideas that will alleviate the concerns.

5. Ask the dissenters if the group’s suggested changes allow them to now support the option.

6. Do a second negative vote including the changes for each specific option under consideration.

7. If more than one option remains that everyone supports, follow up with a positive vote to ascertain which one of the choices is the best.


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You will find my book Mission Critical Meetings: 81 Practical Facilitation Techniques on Amazon.

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