Practicing Humanistic Management Through Compassionate Listening and Constructive Feedback

The concept of humanistic management has been making waves in the workforce for a while, but many employers may still not quite understand what it means or how to implement it. A great place to start working toward this management strategy is by focusing on compassionate listening and feedback. Understanding why humanistic management is important and how communication plays a major role in it is the first step toward beginning to implement these practices into your own office environment.

Humanistic Management

While some businesses seem to manage their employees by looking only at the bottom line and what their employees can do to increase it, there’s another way of thinking that’s becoming more prevalent. Instead of putting the focus solely on profits, the idea of humanistic management recognizes that people are also — and arguably even more — motivated by feeling like they are valued as humans and that their employer cares about their well-being. This concept is focused around the four basic human drives:

  • The drive to acquire
  • The drive to defend
  • The drive to comprehend
  • The drive to bond

When employees feel valued and are able to get a sense of personal growth and satisfaction from their work, they may be more likely to stay engaged emotionally in their work, be more productive and be more loyal to their employers.

The 3 “R”s of Compassionate Communication

When it comes to applying the principles of humanistic management, the focus becomes on valuing employees for who they are as people and recognizing that they have a purpose and needs beyond just generating revenue for the business. Compassionate communication, both on the receiving and giving ends, is one of the key components of humanistic management, and learning how to do this well can make it easier to relate to your employees in this more positive way. To make it easier to understand and implement, Professors Deborah Way and Sarah Tracy have broken down compassionate communication into three “R”s.

1. Recognizing

The first key tenet of compassionate communication is recognizing where the other person is coming from. This means being able to take a step back, not take things personally and really listen and internalize what they are saying. In this step, you may need to look beyond what the person is saying directly (although be careful not to make assumptions or inferences that aren’t there) and try to understand the driving forces behind what they are communicating. Figuring out which emotions are being triggered (on both sides) is key to addressing the core issues and being able to move onto the next step.


You have an employee who is constantly coming to you to “tattle” on the other employees, such as taking longer breaks or not doing all proper documentation. Instead of dismissing them or telling them not to bother you anymore, you take a step back and recognize that the underlying issue here is really related to the employee not feeling like their own contributions are valid or like they are having to pick up the slack for coworkers unfairly.

2. Relating

One definition of the word “relating” is to “have or establish a relationship,” and this is a good way to think of this concept when it comes to compassionate communication. Once you have recognized the issue and the possible emotions and motivations behind it, relating to the employee is simply communicating that you understand where they are coming from and that you empathize with their situation. In doing this, you are putting the manager and the employee on the same team so to speak, and making the issue is a problem to be tackled and solved collaboratively, rather than an argument that one side — and only one side — can win. It’s important, however, to ensure that the relating and empathizing is sincere, as anything less can come across as patronizing and actually undermine the attempts at productive communication.


Moving from the example in the first step, you might choose to validate the employee’s feelings that, yes, others may not be doing what they are supposed to and you can understand how that would be frustrating or be adding to their own workload.

3. Reacting

In traditional management styles, managers often react first, either immediately applying a solution or taking one person’s side. This is meant to “fix” the problem quickly, but what happens is that the employees don’t feel heard or valued and, instead, feel dismissed and may be less likely to attempt to solve problems collaboratively in the future. In humanistic management and compassionate communication, reacting comes last and is focused around moving forward and making reasonable requests of all parties involved.


In our example, reacting could be asking the employee for suggestions on how they think the issue could be handled, honestly evaluating the breaks or documentation to see if longer breaks are needed for employee morale or if all parts of the documentation are truly essential or providing a way for employees to voice their concerns without constantly running to management.

Benefits of Compassionate Listening and Constructive Feedback

While it can take some time to get comfortable with this new approach to communication and management, especially if you have been operating under traditional management strategies for years, compassionate communication brings many benefits to the workplace.

  • Increased morale. Employees who feel listened to and valued and like they can present ideas or issues without fear of being dismissed or punished may have higher levels of job satisfaction and increased morale, creating a more pleasant workplace culture.
  • Better productivity. When workers’ higher needs are met, they are able to focus on new ideas and strategies instead of office drama or job retention. This could result in innovations and initiatives that can help save your business money or increase efficiency or productivity in other ways.
  • Employee loyalty. In today’s world of online job applications and recruiters, your employees are probably being bombarded by emails and listings for job opportunities. If you want to retain your best workers (and you do!), practicing humanistic management and compassionate communication can increase employee loyalty and make it less likely for them to move to other positions because of job dissatisfaction.

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About the Author

Experienced in the marketing, education, personal finance, and parenting industries, Katelynne has been working as a full-time writer and editor since 2011. She has written content for Fortune 500 companies, law firms, indie publishers, small-business owners, and mainstream websites.

Katelynne S is a freelance writer who writes about lifestyle and travel.