Many of us feel that to be fair one has to be nice. On the contrary, to be really fair in life one has to have courage to say no and risk being not nice. Here are some of my takes on the whole concept of fairness and the related issues and habits that I have seen in me and around me.
Fairness is personal
First and foremost what is fair is completely a personal concept. Here I am not referring to adhering or not adhering to contracts, legal rules, or clear promises made. I am talking about a dynamic assessment how one should respond to situations as they unfold. Everyone has their own way to assess and respond, and that is their definition of fair.
Fairness can not be defined by outside parameters simply because there would be as many views as people and then we could never be consistent in how we respond. That in the end confuses everyone around us and creates more turmoil and effectively unfairness.
If fairness is personal (or organization specific) – then it may appear like one can do whatever they deem fair at their convenience and the whole world would be in chaos. Well it is not so because to be really fair we need to focus on: Communication, Consistency, and Courageous Action
Even when our definition of fairness may not be agreed upon by some or many, it becomes fair when we proactively spend energy on communicating expectations and in advance give freedom of choice to others to participate or not.
Let’s say we have an aggressive performance driven organization, then it is fair to terminate people after they are accorded what we consider a fair chance to improve. The important thing is to communicate our expectations in advance at time of recruiting and on-going basis as much as possible.
Another important factor in being fair is being consistent. Consistency allows others to understand us better and work on mutual expectations better without stress. If we are inconsistent, essentially it could be a sign that we are labeling what we are doing as fair when it is simply a matter of convenience and we change to our convenience. The underlying guiding principles of how you define fairness will be amply clear if you are consistent in using the same guiding principles.
In organizations these could be the core values – these need to be clearly defined, articulated and lived by.
When we act at the end when things get really bad, we weaken our credibility. When we let a relationship go on too long after it is clear it is not working we build expectations that is fine when it has not been fine. Then the other party assesses our sudden (to them) action as unfair. Everything seemed fine to them as we were not acting, communicating or correcting anything due to lack of courage. No action simply is taken by others as “all is fine”. This explains why in many cases when an employee is fired – they are always surprised. Or when a relationship is called off by one party – the other is shocked.
The whole idea of fairness is not to let unfair (to you) situation persist without courageous action to either remedy it or remove it. When you let unfair situation persist without action you are essentially lowering the standards and expectations around you.
Beyond that – there is also an issue of fairness to all. When one person is allowed to get away with something (or not doing something) then the ones who are making more effort feel unappreciated at the end because they do not see the difference in our courage to act.
In the end fairness requires courage – courage to deepen our understanding of what we deem fair, to make effort to communicate it consistently and frequently, to consistently act – and act with courage to apply our definition of fairness.
I think perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal; fairness, however, is not.