Human relations professionals mainly focus on social relationships and social groups in different social settings. It is of paramount importance for human relations professionals to have a wide scope of understanding and knowledge of theories that explain human behavior and relations. It can be achieved by drawing from a vast array of theories from different academic disciplines, including psychology, sociology and political science. In accordance with the assertions of Stahl et al. (2020), a multidimensional approach is critical and essential when discussing the various theoretical perspectives that are employed in explaining human relations in social, economic or political contexts. Thus, this section looks at three theories from three separate disciplines, that is, psychology (Erikson’s theory), sociology (social exchange theory) and political science (rational choice theory), and how they can be used together in human relations practice.
Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development
One of the most popular theories in psychology is Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Erik Erikson introduced the Stages of Psychosocial Development theory in the 1950s. Erikson’s theory draws from Freud’s theory of psychosexual development considering that it draw parallels in childhood stages adding to it not just the influence of social dynamics but also the extensions of psychosocial development into adulthood. Having said that, the underlying notion of Erikson’s theory is that personality follows a predetermined order of development through eight sequential stages from infancy to adulthood that are influenced by social, psychological and biological factors (Maree, 2021). An individual experiences a psychosocial crisis during each stage which could positively or negatively affect personality development. Erikson’s holistic view of development, as Maree (2021) posits, stresses on the role of social relationships on development. The nature of these crises is psychosocial since they involve the conflict between an individual’s psychological needs (psycho) and the needs of society (social). Therefore, for Erikson, each stage of development is characterized by a unique conflict and result.
In Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, the first stage occurs from birth to 18 months, which is the trust vs. mistrust stage. If an infant is properly cared for by their caregiver, they will develop trust, security, and confidence. On the contrary, since children at this point in development are utterly dependent upon their caregivers, the failure to receive adequate care and love would cause these children to feel as though they cannot depend upon or trust he adults in their lives (Thompson, 2021). The second stage is the toddler stage which is known as the autonomy vs. shame stage. In this stage, the child develops a greater sense of personal control. The third stage is the preschooler stage which children will develop initiative or guilt. Here, children use social interactions in asserting their power and control over the world. The fourth stage is the industry vs. inferiority stage for school-age child; this is the age in which students should be able to learn, create and display competence (Thompson, 2021). The fifth stage is the adolescent stage in which youth are finding their identity (Identity vs. Confusion). Stage six is the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage where the focus is on developing enduring and secure relationships with other people. The last two stages include the Generativity vs. Stagnation, where an individual focuses on creating or nurturing things that will outlast them, and the Integrity vs. Despair stage, where people now reflect back on life. Erikson believed that for each of these stages, successful completion would results into a healthy development and the acquisition of basic virtues. For Erikson, the failure to successfully complete on stage in completing a stage would mean taking longer to enter into the next stage and develop an unhealthy personality and lack a sense of self (Thompson, 2021).
In the context of human relations, much attention is paid to Erikson’s Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation. In the intimacy versus isolation stage, individuals focus on developing enduring and secure relations with other people. In addition, the intimacy versus isolation stage occurs from 18 to 40 years at a stage where the major conflict centers on establishing intimate, loving relations with other people. Hence, in this stage, successful resolution leads to the establishment of lasting, meaningful relationships. Thus, success, in this stage, is defined by having healthy, fulfilling relations with others, whereas failure is underscored by the inability to forge such relations causing an individual to experience loneliness or isolation (Thompson, 2021). Hence, based on Erikson’s theory, human relations thrive when people share themselves more intimately with others through longer-term commitments with those outside their families.
Social Exchange Theory
Albeit the field of sociology being underpinned by many theories, the social exchange theory is among the most prevalent sociological theories with wide applications today. The social exchange theory is, for instance, applicable to human relations practice due to the explanations it provides on how human relations work. The American sociologist George Homans introduced the social exchange theory in 1958 at a time when he developed a framework based on basic economics and behaviourism, which explains why his theory is founded on the concept of cost-benefit analysis. The overarching notion of the social exchange theory is that the development of relations between persons is achieved through the process of cost-benefit analysis (Yin, 2018). In other words, the extent to which an individual puts efforts into a relationship is dictated by the measurement of the pluses (benefits) and minuses (cost) of the relationship. Thus, the uniqueness of this theory is attributed to the fact that it does not evaluate relationships between people on emotional metrics, but is rather dependent on mathematics and logic in determining balance within relationships (Chernyak-Hai & Rabenu, 2018). The social exchange theory is founded on various core assumptions. These assumptions mainly center on the nature of relationships and human nature. To begin with, the social exchange theory assumes that humans are inherently driven to search for rewards and avoid punishments. In addition to this, the other tenant of the social exchange theory is that the rationale for an individual interacting with another is to gain maximum profit at the most minimal cost possible (Yin, 2018). In other words, before beginning an interaction, a person first considers how it benefits them. Lastly, the social exchange theory assumes that people are aware of the variations in this “payoff” from one person to another and with the same individual over time (Chernyak-Hai & Rabenu, 2018).
The core assumptions of the social exchange theory provide the fundamental foundation – “one size does not fit all.” The theory can be viewed on a sliding scale that can be adjusted on an individual basis due to the expectations of a person as set by comparison levels (Chernyak-Hai & Rabenu, 2018). If the personal relationship samples of an individual are set on a certain level, there is a higher probability of the individual using this level as a baseline for future relationships. For instance, if an employee has had a succession of poor or disastrous with former supervisors, the person will have lower expectations at the start of a new employment in comparison to an employee that has had good relations with former supervisors. Conversely, if a person’s former employer provided them with incentives, rewards and public recognition, it is highly possible for such an employee to enter into the new employment with similar expectations. Such levels of expectations can be coupled with the theory’s core concept of costs versus benefits, which is founded on a “give and take” metric of analysed in determining the extent of effort that an individual may put into the relationship.
In line with the social exchange theory, ‘costs’ are identified as the negative that a person sees in a relationship that might inhibit good relations. For instance, a lot of cost may be racked up by a partner who seldom does their expected chores at home or a friend who constantly fails to repay money that they borrowed. On the other hand, ‘benefits’ are the opposite of costs as they include the traits that a person perceives as positive attributes. Examples of benefits include a friend who constantly extends an invitation for a birthday party or always willing to help in times of trouble. Therefore, based on the tenets of the social exchange theory, a meaningful relationship is one that is much distanced from the cost category (Chernyak-Hai & Rabenu, 2018). Also, the cost category holds no value if the positive traits are enough and outweigh the negative traits in the relationship. For social exchange theorists, situations where the benefits are far outweighed by the costs strongly indicate the need to move on although this may not be an automatic decision due to the aspect of evaluating alternatives proposed by the theory. In the alternative evaluation process, an individual weighs costs and benefits of the possible replacement for an existing relationship against an individual’s comparison levels. By conducting such an analysis, it is possible for an individual to determine that they are better off in their current relationship compared to other alternatives, which may also lead a person to the reassessment of the cost-benefit value of their current relationship.
Rational Choice Theory
One of the political science theories that has found vast applications in various disciplines is the rational choice theory. The origin of the rational choice theory dates back centuries to 1776 when Philosopher Adam Smith introduced the theory in an essay arguing that the tendency of human nature toward self-interest leads to prosperity. The main argument of the rational choice theory, as proposed by Adam Smith, is that individuals make choices using their self-interests in order to gain the greatest benefit (Thomas, Loughran, & Hamilton, 2020). Hence, during decision making, people often choose the option that guarantees the accrual of the greatest benefit having weighed various alternatives. Much of Smith’s work was developed from the inspirations from Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” (1651). Hobbes posited that the functioning of political institutions resulted from individual choices. Relating rational choice to social exchange, these authors noted that social behavior is driven by rational calculations of an exchange of costs and rewards. Hence, in social interactions or human relations, the rational choice theory, provides explanations why people may decide to enter into or end relationships, whether individual or group relationships.
Similar to the social exchange theory, the rational choice theory is founded on various core assumptions. To begin with, the rational choice theory assumes that all actions are rational and based on the consideration of costs and rewards (Fumagalli, 2020). The other tenet is the assumption that the cost of an action or relationship must be far outweighed by the reward for the action to be completed (Thomas, Loughran, & Hamilton, 2020). In addition to that, the other underlying assumption is that an individual will end the relationship or stop the action when the reward value diminishes to the point that it is outweighed by the value of the costs (Fumagalli, 2020). The last assumption that provides a fundamental foundation for the rational choice theory is that individuals will extensively use every resource at their disposal in optimizing their rewards. Hence, through the lens of the rational choice theory, people are viewed as rational beings with control of their decisions: rational considerations are employed when weighing potential benefits and consequences as opposed to making choices merely based on environmental or tradition influences or unconscious drives.
In summation, an individual’s self-interest that centers on the consequences of an action as the person defines or perceives them motivates (causes) rational choice action. The benefits and costs of alternative actions (their outcomes or consequences) are judged/distinguished with concern solely about the outcome or consequences for the actor (although this assumption has been relaxed in some later variants of the rational choice theory) (Fumagalli, 2020). The actor goes for the alternative that provides the most ‘utility’ or net gain. Rational choices of individual agent can thus be applied in explaining a social process, action or event; then it can be argued that the social process, action or event has been analytically ‘explained.’
Application of Theories in Human Relations Practice
Erikson’s theory has vast applications in human relations practice, especially with regards to forging fulfilling relations with other people and developing supportive social networks. In other words, a human relations professional can borrow from Erikson’s theory in fostering the integration of people in a manner that brings about psychological and social satisfaction. Erikson believed that developing close, committed relations was vital and play a critical role in the emotional wellbeing of an individual (Thompson, 2021). Thus, in their practice, human relations professionals should take into account Erikson’s assertion that intimacy encompasses much more than just sex as it underscored by closeness, honesty and love. Erikson stated that intimacy entails having enduring friendships or close, loving relationships. Hence, a human relations professional can help people to forge fulfilling relations with other people, as well as develop supportive social networks, by resolving the conflict of the intimacy versus isolation. Borrowing from Erikson’s theory, successful human relations should be based on deep, meaningful connections, positive relationships with others, enduring connections with people, and strong relationships, which goes a long way in resolving the conflict (Maree, 2021). Also, through applying Erikson’s, human relations professionals can more effectively determine whether individuals need to be referred to another specialist for further professional assistance or not. For instance, Erikson notes that intimate relationships are developed better when individuals exhibit a strong sense of self; there is a high likelihood of persons lacking a positive self-concept experiencing emotional loneliness or isolation. Hence, referring an individual to a psychologist helps them to gain a strong self-identity, which is key to achieving true intimacy and forging enduring and secure human relations.
Similar to Erikson’s theory, the social exchange theory can be applied in human relations practice in helping individuals or groups of individuals to repeat positive interactions and behaviors. The social exchange theory provides human relations professionals with the understanding that every individual seeks out rewards within a relationship. Hence, human relations professionals should acknowledge that the party with whom they are interacting or their client is looking for more positive outcomes at the minimal cost possible. Hence, human relations professionals must foster interactions that bring about more benefits than costs, especially when handling conflicts. Actions that are seemingly beneficial tend to be repeated, according to the social exchange theory. However, the action becomes less effective when it keeps on producing the same reward over and over. Thus, human relations professionals must take this into account and vary their interactions with their clients. The job description of a human relations professional is helping others improve their personal relationships: therefore, it is of the utmost importance for human relations professional to discuss with the different parties how they decide to interact with each other and why. The professional may closely monitor their behavior, including their thinking or rationale for pursuing or ending relationships. People often make unconscious comparisons, according to the social exchange theory, including comparing their existing or current relationship to alternative relationships, previous similar relationships, and their expectations. These comparisons are all oriented towards determining whether the net benefit being received is enough. Thus, persons without any healthy relationship that they can use for the benchmark may end pursuing unsafe or unhealthy relationships even further. Thus, human relations professionals may apply the social exchange theory in helping others navigate their comparisons and expectations in pursuit of happy, healthy and save relationships. Additionally, the social exchange theory can be applied in human relations practice to help professionals understand the nature of their interactions with their clients. Determining the intrinsic rewards resulting from helping others goes a long way in motivating workers to continue their work.
Finally, the rational choice theory can be used together with Erikson’s theory and the social exchange theory in human relations practice. To be specific, the rational choice theory can be used by human relations professionals in understanding or explaining the motivations of those they work with, or why certain people prefer forming or avoiding certain relationships even when they seem favourable or unfavourable. In addition to this, rational choice theory can be used in human relations practice when designing interventions to help improve interpersonal or group relationships. Knowing that people will make decision by considering how they benefit them, human relations professionals can utilize that understanding in guiding their interactions. With this in mind, human resource professionals can use the rational choice theory to: investigate the meaning behind relationships, including those relationships that seem toxic or abusive; understand the role of social interactions and family dynamics affect relationships and interactions; examine why people have the tendency of behaving in certain ways, including engaging in addictions and self-destructive behaviors; promote interventions that people will engage in due to the benefits therein which helps to improve relations; position resources that enable people to understand how benefiting these resources can be for them. The optimization of the rational choice theory require human relations professionals to develop a thorough assessment that puts into account the details of the motivations for certain behavior.
Evidently, the understanding and application of different theories borrowed from disciplines such as psychology, sociology and political science can help improve the efficiency of human resource practice. The three theories in question include Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, the social exchange theory and the rational choice theory. The underlying notion of Erikson’s theory is that personality follows a predetermined order of development through eight sequential stages from infancy to adulthood that are influenced by social, psychological and biological factors. Thus, human relations professional can borrow from Erikson’s theory in fostering the integration of people in a manner that brings about psychological and social satisfaction. Further, the overarching argument of the social exchange theory is that the development of relations between persons is achieved through the process of cost-benefit analysis. Therefore, the social exchange theory can be applied in human relations practice in helping individuals or groups of individuals to repeat positive interactions and behaviors. Lastly, the rational choice theory posits that individuals make choices using their self-interests in order to gain the greatest benefit. Hence, the rational choice theory can be used by human relations professionals in understanding or explaining the motivations of those they work with, or why certain people prefer forming or avoiding certain relationships even when they seem favourable or unfavourable.
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