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Understanding a distinct duality

Life 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 South Korea.

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 portion.

Opposites

As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed.

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 time.

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 harmony.

The hard and soft aspects of HRM are separated, indicating a distinct duality. Such a duality highlights the art and science of managing people.

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 scientific approach.

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 HRM.

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.

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