Justice and Civility

Betty had applied for a promotion into a middle management position at the business where she worked. She felt confident and hopeful when anticipating an interview that was a set part of the process. But afterwards, she felt deflated and discouraged when reflecting on the experience.

“They followed the procedures to the letter, but it was like they just didn’t care,” she said. “At least, they didn’t seem to care much for anything I had to say. It’s hard to believe that they will be taking my application seriously.”

Betty’s reaction reflects an often-overlooked dimension of justice. People usually pay attention to distributive justice: does the choice reflect a good decision. That decision may reflect quality—the candidate with the best track record and the most convincing interview performance gets the job. But distributive justice may also reflect need—the decision should go to the person who would most benefit from the promotion. It would favor the person who most needs the salary raise or the management experience even if that person is not the most qualified candidate at the moment. Either of those values could be legitimate depending on the situation.

The second form is procedural justice: the extent to which the decision occurs through a transparent process that is rigorously followed. Ideally, the procedures for the promotion are clearly articulated, the position is advertised to potential candidates, and anyone dissatisfied with the outcome has an avenue for appealing the decision.

The third form is interactional justice: the level of respect and consideration that decision makers show towards candidates. For this form of justice, the interactions that occur throughout the process through application, response to application, interviews, and announcing the outcome show consideration for the candidate. They acknowledge that putting oneself forward for evaluation is a risky action for candidates. Many are likely feeling vulnerable during the process. Ideally, the decision makers manage the process such that all candidates, not just the successful one, feel better for participating.

For Betty’s situation, she did not know the outcome, so distributive justice was not yet settled. She acknowledged that procedural justice was in order. However, she had doubts about interactional justice.

A lack of civility during a decision making process raises doubts about the decision makers’ sincerity. It also conveys a message that the candidate is not fully deserving of respect. That message is harmful in itself beyond whatever it suggests for the decision process.

  1. Remember that being a candidate is tough. When putting themselves forward, people are increasing their emotional vulnerability. They would appreciate kindness.
  2. Candidates are the company’s future. The unsuccessful candidates are the company’s potential. Although not chosen for this position, they likely include the best candidates for future opportunities. It’s important that they perceive the process as a positive experience.
  3. Relax. Decision makers may become tense in their role as part of a strategy to block unwarranted influence. It’s best to figure out a way to remain focused on the decision while remaining relaxed and open in communicating with candidates.

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