There have been some interesting conversations in our household since the release of the Banking Royal Commission report and subsequent recommendations, and the recurring theme is that of justice, fairness and equality.
This post isn’t about what we think of the recommendations but rather an insight into how people feel, react and respond when fairness is compromised – especially if it’s at the top of their hierarchy of values.
When we experience inequality, unfairness or injustice, a part of our brain called the insula is activated. The insula carries a representation of the physical body and that’s why we have a visceral reaction to unfairness. Often people who are treated unjustly or see others being treated so use the word ‘disgusting’ – from the origin gustatory – our sense of taste – it leaves a bad taste in your mouth!
When people perceive (this is a critical word – it doesn’t have to be the ‘truth’) that they have been treated unfairly in the workplace, we might sense that that they are overreacting and want to revert to our sense of logic in explaining why they’ve got it wrong – adding fuel to the fire. Every fibre and bone in their body is screaming out and being led by their very active insula.
So what to do?
Here are few tips that might come across as much easier said than done. If it looks too challenging then might I ask you to reflect on the consequences of inaction? Many good employees find unfairness the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the boundary crossed, the value they refuse to compromise on, and so leave.
How can we change things?
- Reflect and Pause – as busy managers and leaders, we often revert to the easier path and do so unconsciously, for example by giving the piece of work we need done to the person we know who’ll do it quickly and to an acceptable quality. Meanwhile the other person who is desperate to grow and succeed looks on, knowing they are being overlooked – yet again. It takes time, energy and effort to delegate. Remember when you were that keen soul who didn’t quite have the speed or accuracy but really wanted to be given the chance? Give them a chance.
- Be Open and Transparent in advance – I have been involved in many conversations with managers who say that it’s impossible to treat everyone fairly and so they would rather deal with the aftermath when someone ‘finds out’ than being open and honest upfront. In time bridges will be burned that are irreparable. If you have a corporate value of integrity, honesty or openness you owe it to your shareholders, your boss, peers and team members to have the courage to be vulnerable and say it as it is – empathically.
- Develop your Skills of Empathy – understanding compromises of fairness requires you to not only walk a mile in your peoples’ shoes but to take your own ones off first! When someone comes to you with an “It’s not fair” statement (and remember we’ve been practising this since before we could walk!) :-
- Listen actively – listen to understand rather than wanting to formulate your response. Show you are listening by maintaining eye contact, put your devices on DND and don’t interrupt
- Acknowledge their emotion – the most important skill in empathy is to show you understand without using the phrase “I understand”. Unless you have been in the exact same situation (and now isn’t the time to share that) you can’t understand, but you can acknowledge by using phrases such as “I can see this is really important to you” or “This must be very frustrating for you” or “I can sense/appreciate your anger and frustration around this”. Name it to tame it – once we label an emotion we dampen down the emotional (limbic) response and this helps us to calm down
4. Ask for ideas and input – ‘the brain that has the problem also has the solution’(Nancy Kline in her book ‘Time to Think’). Ask the person what they see as a possible solution or ideas, continuing to listen actively. Say that you will take these ideas and reflect on them and look for a win:win solution – you don’t have to guarantee – just honour their feelings and offer an authentic perception of fairness and objectivity.
Objectivity is the ‘O’ in my S.O.C.I.A.L model of core needs which I deliver in my change and leadership programs.