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Fairness is a term that varies on each person’s perspective. Which makes it incredibly hard to quantify or measure, when you feel as though you’re not given a “fair shake” at work.

One of the first things that employees say when they are put on a performance improvement plan, or get a less-than-stellar review, is how unfair the situation is. Solopreneurs tend to have the same complaints – it’s unfair that a competitor is bringing in more business or traffic; or the system really isn’t tit-for-tat.

How to react when you feel things are unfair

Sadly, this happens more often than any of us would like to believe. But being so subjective, people do not view fairness in the same light.

For instance, I was once promised a promotion as part of a relocation package. There was good reason behind it – my scope of duties were expanding and expectations were higher. But it didn’t happen… was it unfair? Yes. Was I upset – you better believe it. Did it feel unfair (I mean, I did move my entire life to a new place for that opportunity) – um, yes. But would throwing a temper tantrum help my cause – probably not.

Take a step back from the situation.

Feeling slighted is an emotional reaction to a situation. And we all know that business and emotional responses don’t tend to lead to great things for our long-term career success. Essentially, walk away from the situation before reacting. It will take a lot of deep breaths and some serious “face-schooling” efforts, but gaining some space and perspective from the situation will help you move forward.

See it from the other person’s perspective.

This is the hardest step for many people – we wouldn’t feel treated unfairly if we saw the other person’s perspective from the get-go. For example, as a solopreneur I feel as though I’ve been slighted by my friends and peers several times during my first year. Someone doesn’t share a post; they don’t give you a discount on services that you extended to them; they don’t promote you/your product with the same passion that you promoted theirs… and so on.

It’s hard not to see the situation as anything but unfair. But the other person isn’t looking at it from your point of view. To them, they may have been promoting you in a way that they felt mirrored your efforts. Perhaps they didn’t know all of the things you’ve done for them, or maybe they just aren’t comfortable with hyping you up.

Regardless, the other person is approaching the situation through a different lens. You won’t be able to create a plan of action without figuring out where the connection breakdown is.

Determine best case/worse case scenarios.

In my mind in the scenario above, I had a great revenge plan starting with… “I’ll show them.” I also thought of ways that I could change the situation around by out-performing others. Clearly, these two reactions or scenarios are from different ends of the spectrum and would have different outcomes.

I’m not saying that the nice scenario is always the best one, but definitely take each option and work through the best and worse outcomes possible… and if you’d be willing to live with the consequences of the choice you make.

Reevaluate your efforts.

At the end of the day, if you feel you are being treated unfairly and not compensated (not just monetarily so either) for your time and efforts, then you need to evaluate if your actions need some adjusting.

In my corporate example above, I realized that my efforts were above expectations, but that was not something that the company was willing to reward. My ambition and output didn’t align with what the company recognized as performance. So I dialed it back – big time, to a level where I felt I was doing the work that I was being paid for and nothing more.

In my solopreneur situation, I have mainly dealt with this in two ways: 1. I have stopped promoting, following, hyping up, and discounting certain people who never returned the favor; 2. I have addressed it with the person – I asked for what I needed from them to make it feel “fair” to me.

Move on.

Regardless of the path you choose to move forward, you have to move on completely from the situation. In other words, get over it. Maybe the above steps will give you the full-scope view of being able to forget about the situation and call it done, or maybe you will have to take drastic steps to feel righted again.

The key here is acknowledging the unfairness in the situation, addressing it as needed, and start living your life again to your standards.