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The Quaker Way of Discussing Business



Here are two write-ups regarding the spirit (not the process) of consensus used in Quaker Meetings for Business.  For Quakers, co-intelligence comes not so much from their conversation (collective intelligence), as from the higher Wisdom (universal intelligence, which they call the Light of Truth) that comes to them in their prayerful, respectful, silence-filled, Friendly conversation. (For those unfamiliar with the Quakers, their official name is "The Society of Friends" and their silent meetings are called Friends Meetings.) -- Tom Atlee



Eugene Friends Newsletter, Feb 2000, p. 6. 
(edited by Greg Roers


Friends' way of conducting business is of central importance to the very existence of the Meeting.  It is the Quaker way of living and working together; it is the way that can create and preserve a sense of fellowship in the Meeting community.  The right conduct of Business Meetings, even in matters of routine, is a vital part of the worship experience.  The process of individuals submitting themselves to the corporate revelation of God's truth forms the basis of Friends' approach to unity.

All members are encouraged to attend Business Meetings and be faithful in the service of the Meeting's affairs.  Appointments of officers and committee members should be made with careful consideration of the qualifications of those named and of the opportunities for growth that may be afforded.  Friends should not accept any service to which they are nominated without an accompanying sense of leading and a capacity for the task, nor should they lightly refuse such service.

Proceed in the peaceable spirit of the light of Truth, with forbearance and warm affection for each other.  Be willing to wait upon God as long as may be necessary for the emergence of a decision which clearly recommends itself as the right one.  Feel free to express views, but refrain from pressing them unduly.  Guard against contentiousness, obstinacy and love of power.  Admit the possibility of being in error.  In Meetings for Business, and in all duties connected with them, seek the leadings of the Light.

Advices and Queries for Business Meeting:

  • Are our Meetings for Business held in the spirit of a Meeting for Worship in which we seek divine guidance for our actions in love and mutual forbearance?
  • How well do our Meetings for Business lead to a corporate search for and revelation of God's truth?
  • How effectively do members of the Meeting participate in the tempering and strengthening of the leading of individuals?
  • As difficult problems arise, are we careful to meet them in a spirit of love and humility with minds open for creative solutions?
  • Do we avoid pressure of time, neither unnecessarily prolonging nor unduly curtailing full discussion?
  • Are we aware that we speak through inaction as well as action?
  • Are we prepared to let go of our individual desires and let the Holy Spirit lead us to unity?
  • Do we recognize that the search for unity may require us to accept with good grace a decision of the Meeting with which we are not entirely in agreement?
  • In what ways do we each take our share of responsibility in the service of the Meeting?
  • Are younger Friends, new members, and attenders given appropriate responsibility in the Meeting?


Beyond Consensus - Salvaging Sense of the Meeting

by Barry Morley
(Pendle Hill, 1993) ISBN 0-87574-307

"Consensus is achieved through a process of reasoning in which reasonable
people search for a satisfactory decision. But in seeking the sense of the
meeting we open ourselves to being guided to perfect resolution in Light, to
a place where we sit in unity in the collective inward Presence. Through
consensus we decide it; through sense of the meeting we turn it over,
allowing it to be decided."

"Sense of the meeting works because we turn our decision making over to a
highter power. Consensus is the product of an intellectual process. Sense
of the meeting is a commitment to faith"

"Consensus is an outward process in which a vote is taken without saying
either yea or nay. It involves listening to all concerns, and then, through
a negotiation process, finding the best solution. Sense of the meeting
hears all of the concerns, then moves beyond the verbal expressions to hear
the spirit of the concern in order to discern what is 'right' for the group"

Canadian Sue Starr, who sent referred to this quote, adds her own experience:

We also call this process 'coming to unity'. My experience of the process
is closer to dialogue than debate or discussion, but goes still beyond that.
We speak to the 'center' rather than to each other, with spaces of silence
between speakers. It is the most respectful way of coming to decisions that
I've ever experienced.

For another view of Quaker Worship for Business see

For a far more extensive exploration of Quaker practice and its relationship to collective intelligence, see Leonard Joy's Collective Intelligence and Quaker Practice

For a secular form of decision-making that arose out of the Quaker tradition, see Consensus Process.


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