Unfairness doesn’t only happen in sports – like the missed call in the New Orleans and Los Angeles NFL playoff game. Being skipped over for a promotion. Getting down-sized late in your career. Receiving what feels like a biased performance review. Everyone has likely experienced that feeling of unfairness and often at a young age – remember the kid who was picked last to be on the team in gym class! And the effects can range from discouraging to devastating. Life is not always fair, but we are in control of how we respond to it. In other words, we have options. Below are six of the more important ones.
Over years of consulting, I have heard A LOT of leaders say they were treated unfairly. And some were. But not all. It is important to take an honest look and see if the decision was really unfair or just disappointing. Just because you feel disappointed, doesn’t mean you were not treated fairly. Ask a trustworthy advisor to help you think the situation over and determine if it really was unfair or just disappointing.
If you were treated unfairly, consider if it can be corrected. I recently read a book about a Navy Seal who asked for an unfavorable decision to be reconsidered. And it was. Sometimes an unfair ruling can be reversed after additional information is considered. Don’t be afraid to respectfully ask for clarification or even reconsideration in situations where that would be appropriate.
Been treated unfairly? Go ahead and grieve. It’s normal and it can be healthy. To deny the anger, sadness, frustration and disappointment that comes from such treatment lacks authenticity. You wanted to get that position and were rejected? It’s ok to grieve that loss. Just don’t express your grief in ways that can hurt your reputation or others. An emotional melt-down might be appropriate after hearing your spouse was in a major car accident. It is not appropriate when told you are being let go. Remember, some grief is best handled in privacy or with close confidants.
If you allow yourself to become a victim of your circumstances, they will become a restrictive anchor in your life. Everyone feels like a victim at some point in life. And while the initial “I’m a victim” reaction may be normal, catch it, contain it, and eliminate it before it becomes a negative narrative by which you see yourself and by which others see you. You might need some help with this, and that’s ok. But do whatever it takes to resist becoming a permanent victim. Jim Marshall, a former NFL player who accidently scored for the opposing team – with millions of people watching – said “I could sit in my misery or I could do something about it.”
What is often your first thought when treated unfairly? Get even! You have heard the phrase “hurt people hurt people.” And that is often true. Venting on social media. Gossiping to even the score. And worse. Every day in the news, we see people resorting to violence to “even the score.” STOP. The illusion of feeling better that you believe will come from “getting even” seldom results in really feeling better. It often makes you look like the weaker person. And, it can ruin both your reputation and your life. Healthy people are those who, even when treated unfairly, do not allow such treatment to determine their future. They choose to move forward. They strive to take the high road and show they know how to handle disappointment because it won’t be their last. As the writer of Proverbs wisely shares, “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9).
Unfairness does not have to define you. You can choose to grow from it. All of us have heard of Post-Traumatic Stress, but psychologists also look at post-traumatic GROWTH. In other words, some of the most effective leaders around us have experienced some serious unfairness in life, and yet they have grown stronger, better, and more influential because of life’s unfairness rather than in spite of it. Growth is a choice. Writing about the importance of choosing hope in the midst of watching his wife suffering from debilitating dementia at a young age, author Douglas Groothuis said, “We should avoid taking harbor in what ends up being a sewer.” Choosing growth is not always easy, but it is far more healthy than the alternatives.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.