Monthly Archives: July 2013

What is a Humane Relationship?

In a recent post I stated my belief that:

“The power of agile comes from the power of human – and humane – relationships. “

I’ve since had lots of folks tell me that they share this viewpoint – and I’ve also received some questions about what “humane relationships” might look like. Which is a very fair question, particularly given the shortage of same in most workplaces, and indeed across wider society too.

So, first off, let’s signal the distinction between “human relations” and “humane relationships”. In my book, the former refers to the simple observation that, as humans, people have relationships with one another. The latter, however, refers to the quality of such relations, and in particular “having the quality befitting human beings”.

i Characterized by kindness, mercy, compassion or consideration for humans (or animals)
ii Marked by an emphasis on humanistic values and concerns

Mayo and the Human Relations Movement

Founded by Elton Mayo, and brought to wider attention by the experiments at the Hawthorne plant in the USA in the 1930s, the Human Relations Movement sought to evidence the idea that if a company or its managers took an interest in employees and cared for them, it had a positive effect on their motivation. The experiments also claimed to show that employees often work best in teams, and that employees were more motivated if they were managed and consulted more.

See also: The Human Relations Approach

In Contrast – Humane Relationships

While similar in outlook to some aspects of the Human Relations Movement, I see the idea of Humane Relationships in a somewhat different light.

A key aspect of the Human Relations Movement lies in promoting an alternative, much more Theory-Y style of management, with the aim of improving the productivity of people and thus organisations. Thus Human Relations serves the business, rather more than the individual employee.

Humane Relationships, for me, is much more about the quality of the relationships between (all) the people involved in an endeavour, organisation or business. Not just the employees. And not to improve productivity per se – but to improve folks’ sense of well-being, and to meet their emotional and other needs. (cf Maslow). Then via obliquity, maybe the organisation might benefit, too.

So, returning to the original question: What do Humane Relationships look like?

For me, Humane Relationships are those which support and encourage mutual growth, and positive personal change. Where we recognise each other first and foremost as human beings. Relationships where we each can learn and develop our skills for promoting our mutual growth and well-being.

Am I suggesting that we can all become each other’s therapist? In essence, yes.


We can facilitate growth when people are present and themselves, when in the relationship with another is genuine and without “front” or facade, openly being the feelings and attitudes which at that moment are flowing in us. Carl Rogers coined the term “congruence” to try to describe this condition. By this he meant that the feelings we are experiencing are available to us, available to our awareness, and we are able to live these feelings, be them, and be able to communicate them if and when appropriate. No one fully achieves this condition, yet the more we are able to listen acceptingly to what is going on within ourselves, and the more we are able to embrace and live in the complexity of our feelings, without fear, the higher the degree of our congruence.

“The more we exemplify genuineness and congruence in our relationships, the higher the probability that changes in other folks’ personalities will occur.”

~ Carl Rogers

Unconditional Positive Regard

When we are experiencing a warm, positive and acceptant attitude toward what is in others, this facilitates change. It involves our genuine willingness for others to be whatever feeling is going on in them at any given moment – fear, confusion, pain, pride, anger, hatred, love, courage, or awe. It means that we care for each other, in a non-possessive way. It means that we prize each other in a total rather than a conditional way. This means that we do not simply accept each other when we are behaving in certain ways, and disapprove of each other when we behave in other ways. Unconditional Positive Regard means an outgoing positive feeling without reservations, without evaluations. Again, research studies show that the more we experience this attitude, the more likelihood there is that we will find mutual growth and well-being.

Empathic Understanding

When we are sensing the feelings and personal meanings which other folks are experiencing in each moment, when we can perceive these from “inside,” as they seem to the other person, and when we can successfully communicate something of that understanding to that other person, then we may be able to claim empathic understanding.

“I suspect each of us has discovered that this kind of understanding is extremely rare. We neither receive it nor offer it with any great frequency. Instead we offer another type of understanding which is very different. ‘I understand what is wrong with you’; ‘I understand what makes you act that way’; or ‘I too have experienced your trouble and I reacted very differently’; these are the types of understanding which we usually offer and receive, an evaluative understanding from the outside. But when someone understands how it feels and seems to be ME, without wanting to analyze me or judge me, then I can blossom and grow in that climate. And research bears out this common observation. When we can grasp the moment-to-moment experiencing which occurs in the inner world of another as they see it and feel it, without losing the separateness of our own identity in this empathic process, then change is likely to occur.”

~ Carl Rogers

So, to recap, Rogers’ extensive research advocates three basic conditions which facilitate this mutual growth:

  1. Congruence
  2. Unconditional Positive Regard
  3. Empathic understanding aka Empathy

When I think of Humane Relationships, I generally think in terms of these three basic conditions.

“Individuals move, I began to see, not from a fixity or homeostasis through change to a new fixity, though such a process is indeed possible. But much the more significant continuum is from fixity to changingness, from rigid structure to flow, from stasis to process. I formed the tentative hypothesis that perhaps the qualities of the client’s expression at any one point might indicate his position on this continuum, might indicate where he stood in the process of change.”

~ Carl Rogers

If you’re interested in understanding more about why and how these three conditions promote mutual growth and changes for the better, there’s more explanation in the Jon Russell paper cited in the list of “Further Reading”, below.

How about you? Would you be willing to share your take on the idea of “Humane Relationships”? And I’d love to hear just how often, and to what extent, you have experienced Humane Relationships, and how you’ve felt about them.

– Bob

Further Reading

Basic Introduction to Growth Promoting Communication and Growth Promoting Relationships ~ Jon Russell
More Time to Think ~ Nancy Kline
Speak Peace in a World of Conflict ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

Misery Loves Company

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed I’ve been a less than happy bunny of late. I put it down to working for an unreconstructed Analytic-minded organisation.

In this regard, have you come across the “twelve questions” that define a great place to work – according to 25+ years of research by the Gallup polling organisation?

I’ve used these twelve questions with several groups in previous organisations, to get a feel for what’s working and what’s borked, and also to show an interest in people and their well-being.

So, I thought, why not ask myself the same twelve questions today? Having done so, I thought I’d share the results with you. Misery loves company. ;}

Factors in job satisfaction

It’s not pretty, is it? How would you fare on these twelve questions in your current job, right now?

– Bob

Further reading

First Break All the Rules ~ Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

The Power of Humane Relationships

“Agile works, when it works, by offering an environment in which people can relate to each other in new and more meaningful, humane ways.”

It seems like agile software development now has the attention of some folks in C-suites around the world. It’s no longer just a local issue for developers, development teams or IT departments.

Executives are hearing, and increasingly, believing all the hype about how agility can bring business benefits like improved quality, faster delivery, increased levels of innovation, reduced costs and the like (all more myth than reality, btw).

Most folks see Agile as “just” another kind of methodology, with the same set of issues in making it happen (training, tools, processes, and so on). And like other methodologies, most folks – even those directly involved – attribute its power to increased clarity, common standards, discipline, process, reduced uncertainty, etc.

Few have even an inkling that the power of agile comes from a different source entirely. One very alien to most people and most organisations. It’s the power of human – and humane – relationships. The kind of relationships that we very rarely see manifest in traditional businesses.

Mistaking the nature of Agile, most – upwards of 75% – of all agile adoptions fail to deliver on expectations. Few organisations that commit to adopting Agile even begin to realise the implications of such a commitment. Few anticipate the sweeping upheavals in all aspects of their business – HR, finance, sales, marketing, and above all, general management – that absolutely have to happen to see agile work well, and an adoption succeed (long-term).

The core of agile depends utterly on seeing the world of work in a fundamentally different light. A light which illuminates the significance of things like:

  • Intrinsic motivation (McGregor – cf Theory Y in The Human Side of Enterprise)
  • Autonomy (Dan Pink – Drive)
  • Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck – Mindset)
  • A Thinking Environment (Nancy Kline – More TIme to Think)
  • Continual learning (Peter Senge – The Fifth Disciple)
  • Systems Thinking (Ackoff, Deming, Senge)
  • Group Dynamics (e.g. Lencioni – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team)
  • Alignment on Shared Purpose
  • Skilled dialogue (William Isaacs – Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together)
  • Improved cognitive function and the necessary environment thereto
  • Ba (cf Nonaka)
  • People that care about what they’re doing

But all of the above are, essentially, just characteristics of a workplace where folks relate effectively to one another as fellows, sharing the journey together.

I have the conviction that it’s the quality – some may say health – of relationships that makes for effective software development. And for effective business, too. And that’s why these days I focus on organisational therapy as the means to improve the quality of such relationships.

Woud you be willing to share your view on this conviction?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Concept of Ba ~ Nonaka and Konno (pdf)
The Human Side of Enterprise ~ Douglas Mcgregor

Bail or Bale?

For some years now there’s been a meme, apparently originated by Martin Fowler, going round in the Agile world:

“Change your organisation, or change your organisation.”

Meaning, bring about some positive change within the organisation with which you’re involved, or move along to another organisation where the chances of effecting some positive change – and being happier – might prove higher.

I’ve seen a number of folks talk about “bailing” from their present organisation, and wonder if the choice of “bail” or “bale” might not tell us something about their subconscious perspective on their situation?

Of course, the word “bail” is most widespread due to the pernicious effects of creeping Americanisation of the beautiful British English language, but also consider the roots of the two words:

Bail – As in “bail out from prison” – do folks see their present organisation, subconsciously at least, as a prison?

Bale – As in “bale out from an aircraft” – do folks see their present organisation as a blazing aircraft about to crash and burn?

Would you be willing to share your thought on which term would you most likely use? And what that might reveal about your take on your situation?

“In the end nobody is more responsible for your career than yourself, and there is never a good time to be unhappy with your job.”

~ Martin Fowler

– Bob

Further Reading

Bail Out/Bale Out ~ Entry at

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