Fighting for Fairness

Want a fair evaluation by your employer? Be assertive.

By Camille Chatterjee, published March 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Want your boss to treat you fairly when it comes time for a raise? Tell him what's on your mind, suggest studies.

M. Audrey Korsgaard, Ph.D., of the University of South Carolina's School of Business, conducted two studies to see whether assertive, outspoken workers elicit better performance evaluations. First, she had college students play the role of an employer grading an employee--an experimenter--on a critical thinking test. In a follow-up interview, the "employees" either strongly defended their answers (by making eye contact, using direct statements beginning with "T" and sitting up straight) or spoke passively (slouching, looking down and making vague responses). The interviews were rated by outside observers for fairness, especially consideration and justification. "Consideration is whether people really seem to listen to what you're saying," Korsgaard explains. "Justification is the extent to which the manager provides an explanation for how he made the evaluation." Supervisors paired with assertive employees were rated as being the most fair. They didn't give better appraisals, but that wasn't the point of the study, says Korsgaard. "It's important that workers get respect," she says, "but we don't want workers to disrupt the equity of the report system."

Next, Korsgaard administered assertiveness training to a group of employees at a retailing firm. These employees later reported being most satisfied with their manager's evaluations. Confident workers feel more appreciated and content because they air their opinions and engage in serious dialogue with their supervisors, says Korsgaard. So bosses beware: it's the quiet ones that are plotting mutiny.