“That’s Not Fair!”: Who Do You Become When You’re Treated Unfairly?

Which of the following do you typically do when you think your manager (or organization) has treated you unfairly:

  1. Mentally ‘check out’ and withdraw
  2. Get angry and combative
  3. Vent your frustration to others
  4. Get all upset and emotional
  5. Use self-talk to sooth yourself (things like ‘it’s only a job’, or maybe ‘this is what organizations have always done and will do, there’s no point in getting upset’.)
  6. Engage in small acts of sabotage that are serious enough to cause damage, but sufficiently ambiguous to prevent you from getting into trouble
  7. Feel amused and move on
  8. Raise the matter constructively using the appropriate organizational channels
  9. Organize a mutiny

In a leadership development session I recently facilitated, the issue of ‘how we respond when our innate sense of justice is violated popped up in an unexpected and very real way. This prompted a rich conversation as we analyzed together how participants each respond in situations where the leadership acts in what is perceived to be an unfair fashion.

In organizational life, leaders often get into ‘hot water’ when actions they take violate people’s sense of innate fairness. In fact, there are four distinct types of Perceived Justice that, when breached, lead people to feel this way. If as and organization or as an individual leader you are going to act in ways that are perceived as unjust, be prepared to pay the price. The reaction will be any or all of the above nine options – and more. (And by the way, you typically will not even know that you had been perceived as unfair until you encounter the reaction!). Each individual will respond in their own way, depending on the variables of the situation. And once you’ve done it, your damage control activities will need to address all these many reactions, because if you don’t do so, people will be so busy being upset, or reactive, or vengeful, or ‘vent-full’, that no one will be doing any real work!

Meanwhile, if you’re the one who is on the receiving end of what you perceive to be unfair action by management, which of the above reaction grooves do you typically tend to experience? Do you like who you become in those situations? Or perhaps it’s time to change your reaction and move on?

 

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