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We ended last month on a promise. The blog was all about decision making and how, especially in modern work environments where employee input is important and all voices have to be heard, reaching a working consensus that allows progress is vital. We didn’t make a big issue about it but it was noted in passing how any decision based on a simple majority can immediately invalidate the views of the minority and how inherently unsatisfactory this can be…all leading up to this month’s blog, on the subject of humming.

Yes, humming. You see, one of the most vital of all commodities, the World Wide Web (WWW), tends to find its direction by way of hums, an oddity perhaps very much in keeping with what, to many, is the wonderfully random way in which the www. has developed. Let us re-cap. What happens to the WWW and how it changes is determined by a body called the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). This is a relatively loose agglomeration of techies from all over the world, loose in that there are no members as such, and so, not being members, they do not vote. They are, instead, all “participants”, and as such they work to reach a general consensus, as talked about in this blog last month. And, when they meet, instead of having a show of hands or voting papers or, indeed, a voting gismo of some sort, they often “hum”, using this to gauge consensus, and potentially, a starting point for discussion.  

Imagine for a moment that you are the Chair of a large meeting made up of people who, on the face of it, hold diametrically opposed views on the topic in question. Asking for a show of hands would immediately identify those for and against and place people in one of two camps, or three, if there are obvious abstainers. Battle lines would have been drawn. Asking for a hum obviates this, instead giving the Chair a good indication as to which way the land lies. She or he could then say something similar to, “Opinion A appears to have quite a bit of support, so why don’t those who think Opinion A is a good idea come up and tell us why.” It could be that someone will none the less come up with a really good reason why Opinion A is a stinker, in which case the mood of the room might change and another hum become a good call, but what the initial hum has done is given the Chair a clear sense of direction, and the strength of any further hums measured against the first.

Another benefit of humming is that it gives the Chair an indication of the strength of feeling for both of the options. A smaller number of loud hums for Option A and a larger number of non-committal type hums for Option B could well be indicating that a significant number of people believe there to be a serious problem with Option B, even though it’s the more popular of the two options in terms of numbers. In this case the Chair might decide to start by asking those with objections to Option B to come and give their reasons.

The important take-away in all of this is not so much that we should all adopt humming in our staff meetings, attractive though the idea might be, but rather that reaching consensus is a matter of eliminating disagreements. Those people not strongly committed to Option B in the above example might have no real objection to Option A, even though it wasn’t their first choice.

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