Fairness affects many areas of our life. And yet, even though there’s consensus that things should be fair, it doesn’t always turn out that way. That’s because some folks have no intention of being fair; others evaluate fairness based on how something affects them rather than considering how they’d feel if the roles were reversed. Are you fair? Next time you determine whether such things as a deal, a penalty, a reward, or a decision are fair and equitable, take the shoe-on-the-other-foot test. How would you feel if the tables were turned?
- Does everyone play by the same set of rules?
- Is there a level playing field or do some people have a special advantage?
- Does everyone have equal access or do some folks march to the front of the line?
- Are decision makers impartial — honest, objective, and trustworthy?
- Are rewards based on merit and tangible results or some arbitrary criteria?
- Do people get what they deserve?
It’s interesting how quickly people get upset when they’ve been treated unfairly. But shouldn’t the same outrage apply if someone else has been treated unfairly?
Put Yourself to the Test
Think about situations that you face every day. Is it fair if someone:
- gets a head start, receives preferential treatment, or is handsomely rewarded — without earning it?
- is unfairly singled out, unjustly accused, or defamed by an angry crowd — while the real culprit gets off scot-free?
- is ridiculed by family members, shunned by friends, or bullied on social media — because they don’t conform to the same beliefs and values?
- is ordered to follow the rules, swallow their pride, and change long-standing habits — while the bureaucrats who create the rules exempt themselves?
- works their tail off, hits the ball out of the park, yet still get passed over for the promotion — because advancement is based on nepotism, popularity, tenure, or fixed quotas rather than performance and tangible results?
How Would You Feel If the Roles Were Reversed?
I’m sure you can come up with real-world scenarios that you face. While every situation may not always turn out to be fair, the important thing is to try to do what’s right. In other words, before you judge any situation, take the shoe-on-the-other-foot test and imagine how you’d feel if the situation were reversed.
- Is the process fair?
- Are the rules being fairly applied?
- Is the agreement equitable?
- Are people being treated decently?
- Are folks being falsely accused?
- Are people being pressured to conform?
- Are folks being mocked and bullied?
- Is everyone receiving equal treatment?
- Is freedom of expression being protected?
- Is the approval process fair and objective?
- Are people being discriminated against?
- Are some folks receiving an unfair advantage?
- Did the winners earn the trophy?
- Are people held accountable for their behavior?
- Are folks being looked down upon?
- Are people’s beliefs and values being trampled?
- Does the punishment fit the “crime”?
- Are folks being unfairly penalized?
- Is the reward based on objective criteria?
- Does everyone have an equal opportunity?
The Importance of Empathy
“Originally, shoemakers made shoes entirely by hand and each shoe would be the same and fit either foot. During the 1800s cobblers began making shoes that were specific to the left and right shoe so that if a shoe were placed on the wrong foot, it was quite uncomfortable.” That said, if the shoe is on the wrong foot, the obvious thing to do is to change it. By the same logic, if someone else is being mistreated, it’s time for a change as well.
That’s the way it is, doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be.
It’s hard to see the world with blinders on. So challenge yourself to see the light. This isn’t a test where you hand in your exam and receive a grade. This test is self-graded — based on the honor system. You may never be able to walk a mile in a man’s shoes, but at least you can give it a try. Ask yourself whether things are fair and equitable — and take the necessary steps to make things right. After all, every step forward is a foot in the right direction.
Ready to Take the-Shoe-on-the-Other-Foot-Test?
Please leave a comment and tell us what you think or share it with someone who can benefit from the information.
Fair Is Fair
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Kare Anderson says
Your specificity, enables us to see the benefits, meaning and methods for adopting or strengthening this vital trait – a common trait in your much-valid articles including this one Frank Sonnenberg. Relatedly, seeing the value in adopting a mutuality mindset can spur us to seek and speak to sweet spots of mutual interest and thus spur mutually beneficial, stronger relationships with others, as you do
Frank Sonnenberg says
Great point, Kare.
I believe, as you do, that win-win relationships offer unlimited potential.
The fact is, winning doesn’t have to be at someone’s expense. Instead of focusing on what you want, focus on how much you can accomplish together. In many cases you’ll gain more jointly than you could alone. In other words, think win-win rather than winner-take-all.
When you and a colleague (or organization) have a vested interest in achieving a common goal, you’ll work together as a team. That reduces posturing and game-playing, which ultimately leads to mistrust.
Thanks for taking the time to write.