I recently learned a new term, at least new to me, that reflects one’s ability to manage, and ultimately to survive, in one’s environment. This term is called range of tolerance.
Initially used in biology to describe an organism’s ability to function, range of tolerance explains why some plants can only grow in certain climates or why some animals only live in certain places.
For example, you wouldn’t see a polar bear in Florida nor would you see an orange tree in the Arctic. That is because temperature is key to survival. While some living things can tolerate a wider range of temperatures than others, all living things have a limit. (Hence the reason the planet Earth is unique. No other planet in our solar system has the climate to support life.) Knowing an organism’s tolerance gives you the information needed to nurture growth.
What caught my attention recently was applying this concept, range of tolerance, to human interactions.
Thanks to a delightful conversation with some Public Health students from our local university, I learned that companies and organizations invested in their people are using the range of tolerance concept to build consent.
A lot of organizations think they have the consent of their members because they receive no outward display of resistance – they don’t hear “no.” The erroneous belief that lack of no means yes is based on the assumption that everyone has the power, or feels safe enough, to object.
To truly build consent within any group means power differentials need to be addressed and trust needs to be established. Organizations and companies, which sincerely want a free and clear consent from each of their members, will minimally need to slow down and prioritize trust building.
The goal would be to develop a culture where any member who experienced being out of their range of tolerance could speak aloud their discomfort without fear of ridicule or retaliation. In a consent-building organization, the speaker would then be asked what they needed in order to get back in their range of tolerance.
I hope you noticed two things. One, the speaker is asked to be a part of the solution. In other words, one cannot simply object and expect others to fix the problem for one. Two, the goal is to get the speaker back into her or his range of tolerance. The goal is not to make it perfect for them. That would be an utopia and I am not sure they exist.
As you may imagine, committing to getting all folks into their range of tolerance is involved. You may get one person back into range only to cause another to fall out of range.
A willingness to invest in longer conversations with compassion are required.
Another key to success is a willingness for each individual in the organization to have an understanding of their range of tolerance. Building consent requires introspection and self-awareness. Folks who aren’t willing to get clear will not be a good fit.
As someone who is committed to building healthy community, I am experimenting with this concept by introducing range of tolerance into the circles I facilitate. So far, I am excited by the conversations.
I am noticing how much faster we get to the root of the concern and how much more relaxed folks are when they feel there is space to speak their truth.
I also am noticing a need to check my speed. I have had to reframe what success looks like. In other words, success is not about how much material I have covered, rather success is about having everyone engaged and onboard.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about range of tolerance and whether you have ever participated in a group or organization committed to building consent in this manner. Click the image below, if you would like to share, and send me an email. I know have lots more to learn and welcome ideas.