On this blog, for the past few weeks we have been discussing personal power. We have noted that the reason why people use insults is to try to achieve their desires. This strategy often backfires. Therefore, we have been learning plans to increase our skill to achieve our desires without launching insults.
One valuable way to come up with plans to achieve our desires is to become familiar with various sources of power. And so, I have begun to build an alphabetical list of sources of power. So far, it looks like this:
THE ABCs OF POWER
A=Advancing Skill (see The ABCs of Power: The letter “A”)
B=Breaking Down a Conflict into its Three Conditions: Desire, Interference and Guilt (see The ABCs of Power: The Letter “B”)
C=Coalitions (see The ABCs of Power: The Letter “C”).
D=Discussions or Debates (see The ABCs of Power: The letter “D”)
E=Encouraging Caring (see The ABCs of Power: The Letter “E”)
Today we add to our list a source of power that begins with the letter “F.”
F is for Fairness
Fairness is a fascinating subject. Consider the following Blondie comic.
Here we get the sense that Dagwood believes his boss’s request is unfair.
Human beings and capuchin monkeys have what some biologists believe is a fairness instinct. In one intriguing study, primatologists Sarah F. Brosnan and Frans B.M. de Waal trained capuchin monkeys to perform a certain task for which they received cucumber slices. The monkeys performed the task just fine until they were permitted to see others being rewarded with grapes, a higher-value payment. Suddenly many of the cucumber-receivers stopped performing the task, sometimes even throwing those measly, unfair cucumber payments out the cage. Behavioral economists call this “inequity aversion”—the tendency to turn down a perfectly good offer if others are getting a better deal.
In studies with human beings, a similar tendency has been observed. People insist on fairness, even at the apparent cost of their immediate best interest.
In this comic, Dilbert, the guy with glasses, begins to shout at his boss even though staying on the good side of your boss is a pretty obvious principle of advancement in the business world. But Dilbert’s sense of fairness has been violated, and he ends up losing his temper. The comic ends by implying to the reader that if the boss would learn to act fairly the workers would get more done.
There is no question that the cry of “NO FAIR!” ranks as one of the most common complaints.
The good news is that this sense of fairness can be used to increase your power.
As a simple example, suppose that you want to play chess with your friend Alfred and you desire to always make the first move. Alfred says he’ll only play if he gets to go first. What can you do? Well, you can say firmly, “You can go first for the first game, but the next game I get to go first. After all, that’s only fair.” Although you don’t get to go first on every occasion, with this resolution you at least get to go first half the time and you enhance your reputation as someone who is fair.
Another fairness strategy is to suggest flipping a coin to see who goes first.
Although the flipping the coin strategy doesn’t work out too well for poor Hammie, it often can be very effective.
An even more powerful strategy to try when someone like Alfred tries to always go first is to say, “Alfred, I’m willing to let you pick between taking turns or flipping a coin to see who goes first.” This gives Alfred a choice and helps to feed his need for power.
The following fairness strategies may be used when someone wants to do something that is incompatible with your desire:
- People will do things for you if you give them something in return that they deem as a fair exchange and resist doing things that they deem as not a fair exchange.
- People who always want to do something that is incompatible with your desire may be persuaded to do the incompatible act only half the time if you agree to use a game of chance, such as a flip of a coin, to decide if the incompatible act will or won’t occur.
- Taking turns often strikes people as fair.
- Splitting rewards or chores evenly is one way to settle a dispute.
- People may be persuaded not to do an incompatible act if both parties agree to an open discussion followed by a vote. Consider the following comic.
Here Luann and Quill are disagreeing over which of two names to call the album they are working on. One simple way to decide would be to flip a coin, but let’s say they don’t want to decide the matter in that way. Another approach they could use is to agree to come up with five different names that they like, and then get ten of their friends together to discuss which name they like best, and then they could all vote for their favorite one.
In the above cartoon, Charlie Brown’s use of this strategy doesn’t go too well. A more successful use of this strategy is illustrated with the following example. To decide who will go first in a chess game, you first seek out a precedent by finding out how neighborhood chess tournaments decide which players get to go first. You discover that this is decided by one of the players hiding behind her back a pawn and then the other player attempting to guess which hand it’s in. If the opponent guesses right, she gets to go first. You then explain to your chess partner that because this is done at the tournament, you think it’s a fair way for you and your opponent to decide. This strikes your opponent as a fair and fun way to decide.
- By pointing to a court decision that is similar to your own conflict, people may be persuaded to resolve the conflict in a similar manner.
- Letting an unbiased person choose. There are several variations of this procedure. The parties can agree to submit a particular question to someone they agree is an expert for advice or a decision. They can ask a mediator to help reach a decision. Or they can submit the matter to an arbitrator for an authoritative and binding decision.
In this Blondie example, the kids have a desire to play a new game using the equipment they have. They could have argued for hours over the rules and never actually played. By getting the neutral Dagwood Bumstead to quickly decide on a set of rules, they can more quickly get to playing.
You may always want to go first. You may always want to choose something that is much better than what the other party will be left with. Sometimes there is a difference in opinion about what is fair.
Nevertheless, a reputation for fair dealing can have long term payoffs. And if the other party ends up concluding you are an untrustworthy lout, the cost to you may not be limited to just the deal you have managed today to work out. Keep in mind that sometimes to lose is to win.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.