The government of the United States is unique in that it has provided stable governance and peaceful power transfers for over 200 years. Why? Because people generally trust the democratic process and the checks and balances established by our founders. The system is built on the tenets of fair process:
1. We have the ability to track what is being decided and why.
2. We know that we can participate by voting, caucusing, petitioning, demonstrating, calling our elected officials, running for office, and more.
3. We generally believe that our elected officials are fair and motivated to act in the best interests of the country.
4. We generally believe that those making the decisions represent the people who voted them into office.
5. And we know that there is always another election to throw out those who don’t measure up and there are processes that can be used to modify the system.
I can hear you scoffing and I don’t blame you. While our democracy basically qualifies as a fair process, it isn’t perfect. Not by a long shot. It is often hard to believe politicians are capable of telling the truth, motivated to be fair, and truly aware of the issues and plight of their constituents. Outcomes too often seem unfair. Politicians seem more and more out of touch. And many seem to have slammed the door on learning from each other, trying to find common ground, and looking for win/win solutions.
But when it works, when politicians act with honesty, integrity, and transparency, when they work through their differences, our system of government is extremely capable, effective, and fair.
So it is in business, too. To ensure a decision is accepted, be sure the process used to make the decision is accepted.
If people believe a decision was made by the wrong people, for the wrong reason, or without reasonable regard for those affected, even wonderfully positive decisions can cause an uproar. I have witnessed examples involving parking policy improvements, employee celebrations, and even bonuses that created an uproar simply because the decision process seemed unfair or uninformed. You can’t violate a person’s sense of fair play and then expect that person to embrace your decisions.
On the flip side, I’ve seen employees rally behind terrible decisions simply because the person making the decision was obviously well-meaning, consulted the right people, and clearly had the best interests of the group or organization in mind. One recurring example is the project manager who commits to a ridiculous schedule. Since his planning process is generally fair and reasonable, his team knuckles down and gets the job done to bail him out.
People will support almost any decision as along as the following are generally true:
1. They understand what is being decided and why.
2. They understand if and how they can contribute.
3. They believe those making the decision are fair and motivated to act in the best interests of the organization.
4. They believe those making the decision are informed about the scope and impact of the decision.
5. They believe they can influence the process so bad decisions are single events and aren’t repeated.
When these five criteria are met, decisions rarely encounter resistance. Disappointment, yes, but not anger, passive aggressive resistance, or revolt. Leaders and managers who strive to make decisions in a manner that evokes a sense of fair play, create an environment that is trusting, respectful, and collaborative.
Those who ignore the tenets of fair play breed fear, suspicion, poor morale, and eventually, revolt. Sound familiar?
This election cycle is veering into particularly dangerous waters as candidates speak and act in ways that undermine our entire system. Instead of debating the issues and proposing solutions, candidates are ranting and raving, smearing each other, calling the process rigged, speaking without regard for facts, failing to discourage violence, in some cases, encouraging violence, and invoking doomsday rhetoric. This escalating pattern is wreaking havoc on the trust we must have in our system.
No matter how frustrated we become, no matter how long it takes to turn the ship, we need to respect and sustain the belief that the system is fundamentally sound and fair. The alternative is anarchy. Violence. Revolution.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on June 12th, 2016.