A Quick Guide to Unanimous Consent

In a hot second I can tell you exactly what makes many business meetings long: It’s unnecessary discussion. On non-controversial matters. Where everyone agrees already. Good news—there’s a simple answer within parliamentary procedure for eliminating much of that needless debate: It’s called unanimous consent. And here’s a list of basics on this very helpful tool for making meetings more efficient.

  1. Why and Wherefore: Unanimous consent is valuable for making meetings more efficient and productive: It eliminates the discussion portion of the motion-making process for taking action as a group. And it’s the official way to skip saying, “All in favor…. All opposed….”
  1. Within the Rules: Most groups have rules that say discussion must be allowed on motions. (Doublecheck your organization’s rules to make sure.) But using unanimous consent is a way to technically follow those rules by making sure everyone’s good with bypassing that opportunity to discuss.
  1. In Other Words: Unanimous consent is the same as general consent.
  1. When To Use: Unanimous consent is useful for uncontested issues—matters where there’s no usual or anticipated disagreement. Approval of the agenda is a good example.
  1. Best Practice: Using unanimous consent works best when the presiding officer or staff has carefully examined the agenda ahead of the meeting, looking for non-controversial topics that will be presented to the group, guessing on which points there might be 100% consensus. Even if the presider isn’t sure, it’s worth a try to explore whether there’s unanimous consent on some agenda items.
  1. The How-To: A group’s unanimous consent can be discovered by a simple statement: The presiding officer can simply say, following the presentation of a motion or a topic, “If there is no objection, we will approve the agenda as distributed.” Silence is good here. If no one speaks up at that time (and the presiding officer should pause and scan the audience for a moment, typically three to five seconds), then there’s unanimous consent. The presiding officer then says, “Since there is no objection, the agenda is approved as distributed.”
  1. What’s Next? Unanimous consent, once confirmed, lets the group move straight to the next item on the agenda.
  1. Wait…Did We Vote? One common point of confusion with unanimous consent involves the vote on that topic or issue. And there’s a simple answer on this: The lack of objection to the action proposed by the presider is the vote. In other words, when everyone agrees to moving right along, everyone is at that moment simultaneously “voting” to approve what has been presented.
  1. Plan B: If anyone does have an objection (verbalized by saying, “I object”), this reveals that there’s not unanimous consent, or at minimum, that a member feels discussion would be valuable, and it’s back to the usual process of discussion from both sides (in favor and opposed) and then a vote that asks for a formal response from those in favor and opposed.
  1. According to the Dictionary: Unanimous, by definition, means an opinion held by everyone. So, yes—if even one person objects to moving forward without discussion, you need to take the time to honor that concern. It may be a big question. It might be just a small need for clarification. Either way, unanimous consent isn’t unanimous unless all who are present agree.

Just To Confirm…

Robert’s Rules agrees: Not everything on the agenda warrants discussion. Frequently members of a board or even of the entire organization already agree with approval of the minutes or with the motion presented. It’s a timesaving, morale-boosting move to at least find out whether there’s unanimous consent—and then simply move on. Shorten your next meeting with this simple solution.