Consultation requires an open mind
by The Editor
ARTICLE: We are often told that, in order to achieve a certain outcome, there will be a process of consultation. But is this word commonly understood to mean there is the possibility an initial position might change, or to mean that one’s initial position has merely been successfully communicated? There is a strong case to be made there exists some serious confusion about consultation’s purpose, sometimes with serious consequences.
Consultation requires an open mind
By: Gareth van Onselen
2 July 2012
The idea of consultation is often abused: a decision is made to appear the result of a process that has considered all the available evidence when, in fact, the evidence was never considered at all, merely indulged, and the decision in question, predetermined.
In other words, it is misused to give the pretence an outcome is democratic when, in truth, it is autocratic.
This is profoundly dishonest – like the patronising nod of a fool, who does not hear nor understand an insight, but nods regardless in the hope he might quickly return the conversation to his own intractable opinion. And make no mistake, those who take any such process seriously are being patronised.
If undertaken honestly, consultation is entered into with an open mind. In this way, the possibility exists that, having elicited the advice or opinion of another party – and based on its strength or veracity – one might change their own position in turn. If that possibility does not exist, then any such interaction cannot be described as consultation, rather the simple distribution of information.
Ostensibly to ‘consult’, only to conceal a fixed outcome, is to defeat the very purpose – indeed, value – of the exercise; for one can learn nothing new with a closed mind.
There are those who would suggest consultation a reference to etiquette – a courtesy undertaken to inform another party of one’s decision. This too is wrong, and is to misrepresent both consultation’s denotation and connotations.
But at least such people are upfront about their confusion. Not so the other kind, who revel in the misconception they are interested in what others think.
When denuded of its potential in this way, the ultimate effect is to reduce the standing of the person responsible; for it is to suggest they cannot be trusted or reasoned with, and that is the fuel on which resentment burns.
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Consultation is to ask an opinion of an educated person. A medical consultation is a good example. Not sure I understand all the other discussion which really refers more to discussion and people’s opinion rather than consultation per se. I could be the fool just nodding along!
Hey Bernhard, well, that is consultation in the best sense of the word – to seek out expert advice in order to make the best decisions. But that needn’t be the case. ‘I got the wrong advice’, being a common phrase which illustrates the point. My argument has more to do with why one consults. In the case of President Zuma, for example, and with regards to Constitutional Court appointments, his attitude to consultation seems merely to be to inform other parties of his decision. There is no intent on his behalf to actually listen to or act on their advice. Hence every single candiate proposed by the Presidency – from Mbeki through Zuma – has been confirmed; often despite serious, well grounded and evidence-based opposition or better alternatives. Not once has the Presidency changed its collective mind on the basis of sound advice. Gareth