Understanding a distinct duality
has a soft side and a hard side. Today, we may focus more on feelings
than facts. Tomorrow, it may be the other way around. This is the case
with regard to managing people. Let's look at the soft and hard aspects
of Human Resource Management (HRM).
HRM is increasingly emerging as a science and an art. This
paradoxical nature of HRM can be depicted by using the traditional
Chinese symbol yin yang. This is what we see in the national flag of
In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin yang is used to describe
how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and
interdependent in the natural world. It also depicts how they give rise
to each other in turn.
Opposites thus only exist in relation to each other. The relationship
between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing
over a mountain and in the valley. Yin (literally the 'shady place' or
'north slope') is the dark area occluded by the mountain's bulk, while
yang (literally the 'sunny place' or 'south slope') is the brightly lit
As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places
with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was
In simple terms, yin is characterised as slow, soft, yielding,
diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth,
the moon, femininity and night-time. Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard,
solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive and is associated with fire,
sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.
To put it even more precisely, yin yang are complementary opposites
that interact within a greater whole, as part of a dynamic system.
Everything has yin and yang aspects, but either of these aspects may
manifest more strongly in particular objects, and may ebb or flow over
There is yin in yang. Also, there is yang in yin. In other words, two
different and opposing elements appear to be in a constant state of
flux. This is the nature of HRM in reality, where managing employee
concerns and employer concerns need to take place in synergy and
The hard and soft aspects of HRM are separated, indicating a distinct
duality. Such a duality highlights the art and science of managing
The soft aspects are more into relationship building, which needs an
artistic approach. In contrast, the hard aspects represents more of the
structural, analytical and rational elements highlighting the need for a
The beauty of HRM is the meaningful co-existence of such a complex
yet coherent whole. It is not only HR professionals but all other
managers should be aware of such a harmony to maintain a proper balance
between achieving results and maintain relationships.
Yin and yang of HRM is relevant to people, interactive teams and
institutions. Clarity of approach will no doubt pave the way for
committed actions that deliver concrete results. Such a yield symbolises
unity, harmony and rich relationship between soft and hard aspects of
The writer is the Acting Director of the Postgraduate Institute of
Management. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Division of
Management and Entrepreneurship, Price College of Business, University
of Oklahoma, USA.