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.
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:
- Unconditional Positive Regard
- 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.
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