What does FAIRNESS have to do with it?


Fairnesszone photo by Patrick Seabird

Author: Paula Drouin, Founder and President of ADR International Group Inc. January 20th, 2015

“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.” “I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury

Have you ever wondered what is going on in your brain or the brains of your clients when a conflict exists? Have you been surprized or confused about what appeared to be an “off the chart” reaction to something you perceived as pretty mundane?  Well, breakthroughs in Neuroscience are now beginning to explain some of that phenomenon.

I am currently in a Certificate Program studying Neuroscience and what application it may have to those of us in the field of ADR and our clients. Throughout my career I have noticed that ‘fairness’ is frequently mentioned as an underlying interest by the parties.  Now I understand why!  It has been discovered that humans are actually hard wired to detect a lack of fairness as a threat.  It is part of our survival system and can trigger the fight, flight, freeze response in us.  Well that explains a lot!

To complicate matters what is fair to one person may not be fair to another. I will use an example from the world of Fire Fighting.  I could just as easily use an example from any Para-military organization that I’ve worked with but I have a particular fondness for the work life of Fire Fighters.  In most Fire Departments rookies make the coffee, as well as complete other mundane tasks that have historically been done by rookies.  Rookies are rookies until the next rookie arrives.  Some of the new recruits get tired of being the one who always has to make coffee and you’ll hear them say “it’s not fair”.  However, every Fire Fighter on the job was once a rookie who always had to make coffee. So if things were to change then you could likely expect a cry of discontent from the seasoned Fire Fighters that might sound like, “It’s not fair! We all had to make coffee when we were rookies”.

When attempting to reconcile a fight for fairness, when one side interprets the status quo as unfair and the other side interprets a change to the status quo as unfair, it is helpful to take the time to have a conversation about what fairness means from each perspective. Once that conversation has taken place and any assumptions have been clarified, then the rational brain can return to determine whether any further action is required.

For an in-depth learning experience into the brain during Negotiations and Mediations check-out the upcoming courses by Francois Borgacz “Leaders Applying Neurobiology to Negotiation and Mediation”.

EDMONTON, AB, Canada Event – April 11th and 12th, 2016


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