Organizational Development

Evolving Human Relations

A word of caution: empathy out of balance can become codependent sympathy and can lead to emotion-based decision making instead of data driven planning. Such decisions can be divisive and have unhealthy long-term impacts on company culture. For example, leaving people in roles for which they are not good fits because of trying to do “the right thing” can spiral out into unforeseen consequences. However, one could argue thoughtful human relations are at the core of such practices.

Over the years various trainers and motivational leaders have submitted formulas for getting people to do what you want them to do, make friends, and be “happy” or “successful”. Professionally, should these theories be equated with “human relations”?

William Foote Whyte of Cornell offers this perspective: “The term ‘human relations’ has been used to apply to everything from sex education to race relations. When we tack the phrase “in industry” onto it…[to] some it seems to mean “how to win friends and influence people” in an organization. To others it means “how to be nice to people.” Although his primary reference may be to Carnegie’s 1936 book, I think he offers a relevant consideration at this time when the internet is overrun by people who want to sell you their 10 step formulas for everything from being a life coach to selling chiropractic services to “leading” on various levels.

I recently met with a client who has been in the habit of saying, “I want to respect what [the employee] is telling me.” It sounds authentic because he believed it. Through our work, as he put it, “the mist lifted” and he was able to see he was actually empowering the employee to reflect the same issues he struggles with: accountability to deadlines, taking initiative for communication around deadlines, and hunkering down in solitude when the more efficient path would be outreach. Healthy human relations, avoidance, or a combination of the two – what do you think?

This week think about what the term “human relations” means to you. Watch how your definition impacts your work style. Are human relations left to human resources personnel who are often overrun with administrative responsibilities so you can get your work done? Human relations like “respect”, can mean different things to different people. Here is the definition from the online Merriam-Webster online dictionary (6-1-2015):

1:  a study of human problems arising from organizational and interpersonal relations (as in industry)

2:  a course, study, or program designed to develop better interpersonal and intergroup adjustments

And so, I am educated. I did not know the primary definition is the study of problems…I would have voted for #2! It’s another productive day at Interpersonal Evolution.

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