Field Guide to the Four Way Test

The Rotarian Field Guide – The Four Way Test

by George Sewell

 Is it the truth?

Is it fair to all concerned?

Will it build goodwill and friendships?

Will it be beneficial to all concerned? 

If you don’t automatically apply the Four Way Test to just about every situation, then you’re missing out on a practical tool for improving not only your situation, but for others.  The Four Way Test holds a powerful philosophy for creating win-win relationships.  It is, your personal Field Guide!

Is it the truth?

         This is the first challenge to Rotarians regarding how we think, speak, and act.  Right off the bat we ask about the veracity of the situation.   Perhaps, a century ago in Chicago, Paul Harris recognized that any gathering of businessmen should be based on a common assumption of truthfulness.

          Truth, at the founding of Rotary, probably had less celestial concern with Pilate’s question than the more human question of honesty.  It would be difficult in deed to complete a transaction without confidence in the honesty of the other party.

          “Is it the truth?” is the logical first question.  If the truth, honesty, is not present, the other questions in the four way test are automatically negative (and time to cancel the meeting!)

          Avoidance of deception is the crucial point and the foundation of trust.  Can you trust someone unless there is some measure of honesty in the relationship?  To be honest is to be true.

          Can you recall any business, professional, or personal relationship that flourished in the absence of trust?  Perhaps only short-term or a variation of “deceive me once, shame on you!  Deceive me twice, shame on me!”  Successful relationships are built on trust and honesty.  That’s not wishful thinking, or fanciful desire – it’s the way we operate.

          Is it the truth?  What other question would better serve you at the beginning of any situation?  The next logical step is to ask:

 Is it fair to all concerned?

Your Field Guide now looks at the playing field, bargaining table, or wherever it is that people are gathered.

Fair is defined as “just and honest.”  When we think of something as just we mean that it is equitable and impartial.  Put another way, “does everyone have an equal opportunity, or potential, for success?”  Have you ever come across anyone who willingly or knowingly wanted to play against a stacked deck, so to speak?  Casino’s aside.

          So, before we engage in an exchange with others, ask if all involved are offering a “just and honest, equitable, impartial, potential for each to succeed?”  This is a good way to seek the desired win-win situation.

          However, it is important to recognize that fair is not synonymous with equal.  Fair is not the same as Equal.  Fair is, however, the opportunity for results.  In every transaction the attitude, skill, and energy of the participant determines the potential for successful outcome.

          An essential factor in our personal and collective success, and marvelous standard of living in the United States, is the core philosophy of the “inalienable rights” of each person.  As elucidated by Jefferson, the Creator has bestowed to all inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  These are true Rights and are not favors or privileges granted from a government, monarch, or ruling party.  So, from creation, it could be said all is fair.

          To be fair for all concerned, then, means that no one is deliberately cheating or making a deception that lessens, or prevents, the potential for success of another.  If the situation is true and honest it will be fair to all concerned.

Will it build goodwill and friendships?

Do you know anyone who would prefer to enter a contract, agreement, or association if the result was a loss of goodwill and a loss of friendship?  Of course not.  (For any who might ponder a “yes” then the first two questions were ignored.)

          Goodwill  is one of the most valuable possessions of a business, organization, or individual.  Goodwill may be considered “benevolent intention” – the best outcome for all is desired.  A brand name is Goodwill in logo form – the product or service is known to be satisfying each and every time for those purchasing and using it.

          Years ago a professor of marketing from Louisiana State University in Shreveport was studying the manufacture of brand name products in China.  There was consternation at the factory regarding the rejects which did not conform to the product standard.  “These could be sold immediately” was the consensus.  It was difficult to convey the concept of brand name goodwill to the workers and management.  Shoddy products sold under the brand name would quickly destroy consumer confidence in the product – the loss of goodwill.

          Goodwill is the ethereal quality that creates much of the value of any exchange.  The price tag for purchasing goodwill can be significant.  The purchaser has the challenge of maintaining the quality and expectations of the customer.

          What about better friendships?  The question presumes that a degree of friendship exists.  If the first two questions are affirmed, a measure of friendship is already present.  Who are friends?

          It is absolutely wonderful and desirable to associate with people you regard as friends.  Friends are those folk you choose to associate with personally, socially, for business, or philanthropically – such as your Rotary Club.  Friendships are based on the first two questions of the Four Way Test.

          You probably do not have a friendship with someone you believe is untruthful, or who does not share your standards of fairness (granted, you may be required to associate with them, but that’s a different situation.)  Once again the Four Way Test supports the win-win concept of relationships.

          The question “will it build goodwill and better friendships” is a natural progression.  It is likely that you instinctively move away from any engagement that does not build goodwill and would not create a better friendship.

Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

          When using the Four Way Test for all transactions, Rotarians first determine if it’s the truth, then insure that the situation is fair to all, and then check for the ability of the transaction to build goodwill and friendships.  Now it’s time for the final, and lasting question:  Will this activity, agreement, contract, purchase, association benefit all concerned?

          Good question.  It’s a different question than asking if it is fair.  Fair is the equal opportunity.  Beneficial implies that all parties will gain, in some measure, from the activity.  That is the win-win situation Rotarians seek and promote.

          The final question may challenge some deeply held philosophies.  The challenge is in the phrase “will it be beneficial to all concerned?”   All is emphasized.  It is a surprisingly common belief that in order for one person to gain, or benefit, someone else must lose, or be harmed.  This is a position derived from a belief that the universe is static, unchanging.  Another way of looking at it would be that every thing is finite and limited.  There is only X amount of benefit in the universe, and for anyone to have a piece of benefit, it is at the expense of someone else.

          Although we are racing through the 21st century, this medieval philosophy persists.  During the 20th century the universe was discovered to be ever expanding  and consisting of immeasurable force.  In effect, hardly static, and about the closest we can conceive to infinity.  This cosmology affects philosophy.  There appears to be no limit to benefit in the universe, only a matter of making use of it.  Benefit acquired by anyone does not naturally lessen the benefit possessed or available to someone else.  Therefore, it is possible, that agreements, contracts, relationships, associations, etc., can be beneficial to all concerned.

          The eloquent sequence of the Four Way Test is a Field Guide to create win-win situations, where all benefit.  Is it the truth?  Is It fair?  Will is build goodwill and friendships?  The first three conditions affirmed produce benefit.  To gain goodwill and friendship is beneficial.

          Rotarians around the world strive to create a philosophy that provides opportunity for everyone.  It just might be that the most effective way to create that world is to apply the Four Way Test to every situation, every time, and keep at it, until all four questions are affirmative.  Then the world will change.  One agreement, one contract, one relationship at a time.  And this is happening.  Rotary International is a player in that marvelous process. 

The Field Guide is in your pocket.  Service Above Self can mean a lot more.

-30-

More George here.

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