I’ve always said that people will even things out when they think there has been an injustice.  For example, you lower someone’s pay, whether they admit to it or not, they will adjust something in the relationship with the orgranization to compensate.  This may take the form of slower work, more sick days, a bad attitude, you name it, but they will even things out, if you’re lucky.  I say if you’re lucky because they may punish you far beyond what you have done to them.

Research at the University of Chicago by Boaz Keysar reinforces this idea.  Participants in the study played a game where one was the dictator and the other the subject.  The dictator in some cases started with say $100 and could give some of that money to the subject.  In other cases the subject was given the $100 and the dictator could take however much they want

So, with a starting amount of $100, the dictator giving the subject $50 is the same thing the same as the dictator taking $50 away from the subject.  At least it’s the same financially.  It turns out that people are much more unhappy when you take stuff from them.  The researchers found that subjects rated the dictator more harshly if the dictator took $30 from them (the subject now has $70) than if the dictator gave them $50 (the subject now has $50).  Did you catch that?  The subjects were happier with less money simply because something was given to them, not taken from them.  Remind you of taxes?

Plus, it gets even better.  When the roles of dictator and subject were switched, those who felt they had been treated unfairly when they were the subject, were even more selfish when it came time for them to be dictator.  This has some really interesting implications in management, don’t you think?  Framing is everything.

John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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