Consensus-Building Muscles Atrophy

When muscles aren’t exercised they atrophy. They get smaller and weaker. They can’t perform to earlier expected levels. I’ve never broken a bone and had a cast, but I’ve heard remarkable stories of shrunken arms and legs after an extended period of inactivity. The same concept can be applied to skills and learned behaviors. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

In the early team-building days of corporate culture, I remember one facilitator explaining to us that achieving group consensus meant we could “live with the outcome”. It didn’t mean that we were ardent proponents of the outcome, just that we could live with it. That has always stuck with me in working with any group to reach consensus. In other words, we all agree to move forward with the decision the group arrives at, even though it might not be our personal favorite.

This made sense. That’s how we successfully navigated life in many other group situations. Friends. Families. Community groups. In order to belong and get along, we learned how to live with outcomes that were not our personal preference.

In my small corner of the world today, I observe that we have an ever decreasing need to reach consensus. We can increasingly have it our own way. Are our consensus-building muscles starting to atrophy?

Simple daily family negotiations like “What do you want to watch on TV?”, or “What music do you want to listen to?” or “Which movie should we go see?”, “Can I use the phone now?” are a thing of the past. Most households have ample devices to support everyone’s ability to view and listen to whatever they want, whenever they want, or talk to whomever they want, without consulting anyone but themselves. As for new movies, I noticed over Christmas that at certain points in the day all new movies started at the same time, so a whole family could go to the cinema together, but each person potentially go into the movie of their choice.  We seriously considered this!

Personal choice is made possible at every turn. In fact, it’s become a huge marketing strategy. Everything is customizable and personal. Present all the options and let the consumer choose. From foods at restaurants like Genghis Grill, Mission Burrito and the like, where you build your own bowl, burrito, etc, to NikeiD customized shoes and clothing. Even Google maps now presents numerous routing options. The list is as long as the list of product genres or spheres of information.

We have high expectations that the leaders of our world will be able to exercise their consensus-building muscles, when in fact I’m wondering whether they get much practice at this anymore. The have-it-your-way mentality is not that easily switched on and off. How can they reach consensus on weighty, complex topics, when my family struggles to agree on which route to take to the cinema  — and once we get there what movie we should all watch together? Is it possible that a skill, that was naturally developed as part of successfully navigating your way into adulthood in our society in the past, may need to be taught in the future?


About lynnmorstead

Writing about the small things that shape our lives
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One Response to Consensus-Building Muscles Atrophy

  1. Rhonda says:

    Excellent! I read a while back that we have moved from mass production to mass customization — just what you described. Starbucks is a perfect example, or even Burger King’s own motto — Have It YOUR Way. We hear so often, if you dream it you can do it. Well, not always!

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