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    Kevin Prentiss

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Understanding Fairness in a Partnership

Fairness is a word that comes up often in conversations between me and Kevin about our partnership in Swift Kick. Through the many business books and classes I've taken, only one book has ever talked about the topic of fairness, even though I believe fairness can be used as the #1 determinate of the success, or failure, of a partnership...and thus a business.

Sometimes fairness can be linked to quantifiable measures, such as two people committing to work x number of hours per week. If one person works the established number of hours but the other person slacks, then an imbalance exists and the situation is clearly unfair. Fairness, attached to data, through pre-established measurements, is easier to discuss because both parties can easily point to the measurements. Using a third point of reference, in this case, the measurements, is a tool to deflect emotions out of the conversation.

Sometimes fairness can be linked to quantifiable measures, but the type of fairness I'm talking about is when it's not quantifiable or lacks pre-established measurements. The fairness I'm talking about is when something FEELS unfair because either it can't be quantified or measurements weren't set up ahead of time. Until I learn a better term, I'll call it non-quantified fairness.

How a partnership handles non-quantified fairness is a real test of the strength of the partnership. Ideally, it's best to do as much prep work ahead of time to avoid non-quantified fairness conversations, but I promise no matter how much pre work is done, something will come up.

Here are some signs you're about to enter into a non-quantified fairness conversation:
  • A third point is missing (data, measurements, outside expert opinion, etc)
  • Both sides go in thinking they are doing the right thing
  • Feeling statements are used (I feel...)
  • Defensive statements are used (You don't understand...)
  • Decisions aren't clear and take longer to reach
Here are some tactics to minimize the damage and maximize the value of a non-quantified fairness conversation:
  • Find a third point to reference
  • Pause for 3 seconds and breath deep
  • Put yourself in the other person's shoes to understand their points
  • Restate their points out loud in the conversation (So you are saying...)
  • Take notes
  • Agree to pause the conversation if it drags on. A break can do wonders.
  • Bring in a third party mediator if it's really bad
Lastly, here's how to limit the possibility of non-quantified fairness conversations from ever happening:
  • Do "What if..." statements for the partnership and business
  • Define goals together and ahead of time
  • Host regular "How are you doing?" check ins
  • Read and complete The Partnership Charter
Like I said above, fairness can be used as the #1 determinate of the success, or failure, of a partnership...and thus a business. It's worth the time to do it right.

When's the last time you had a non-quantified fairness conversation? What more would you add to the lists above?


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