Human Relations and You
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Feb 1948, p. 222-237
Oliver, Robert E., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Some introductory remarks on the growing importance of human or public relations. A great deal of exploration remaining to be done in the field of public and customer relations. The key of good public relations. A principle that today nations are trying to master. How the same word has different meanings to different nations, such as the word "Democracy." Things that prevent us from seeing the other fellow's point of view. A policy of domination. Playing favourites. Obstinacy. The key of the development of a changed attitude, lying in the phrase "Not who's right, but what's right." Learning to wear a social mask: some childhood psychology. Understanding ourselves helping us to understand others. Learning to be honest with ourselves. Some faults lying at the other end of the dominant personality: indecision, evasion, snooping, a pendulum temperament. Other executive sins: bluffing, pretending, judging. The importance of human beings. Some concluding quotes.
Date of Original
5 Feb 1948
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
Chairman: The President, Tracy E. Lloyd
Thursday, February 5, 1948


Our last three speakers have been from the Western States, New York City and, last week, you will remember Sir Robert Watson-Watts from England. Today we are very happy indeed to have with us a Canadian from Montreal and, in so doing, we are endeavouring to contradict the Biblical quotation that "A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country" (Matthew 13-57 or Mark 6-4).

Our guest of honour, Robert E. Oliver, was born in Yorkshire, England, and came to Canada at an early age, first to Toronto and then like so many others to Ottawa. Our guest won entrance and general proficiency medals and is a graduate of Ottawa Normaf School, teaching in Rural Continuation Schools for three years and then was on Government war work throughout the war.

Our guest joined an Ottawa manufacturing firm, handling their advertising sales training and consultant on employee education and then moved on to the Bank of Montreal as assistant to the Public Relations Manager, with supervision also over advertising and publicity.

In connection with his activities in regard to advertising, it is indeed interesting to note that his bank, a few months ago, for the first time in advertising history, won what is known as the "Socrates" high award of the year. This award is made by an American advertising agency and cover the advertising of banks and trust companies throughout North America, and was awarded not only for advertising layout and ideas to sell bank services, but also on the general effect on the bank's relations with the public. In making this high award, special recognition and attention was accorded the executives in charge of advertising and public relations in the Bany of Montreal and I am sure this award was a distinct honour and a satisfaction to our guest of today.

I now have very great pleasure in introducing to the of advertising and public relations in the Bank of Montreal, who will address us on the subject

"Human Relations and You".

Mr. Oliver:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am a little bit dismayed by the Biblical knowledge that has been displayed to you today, so if I do any quotations I. will look them up first. I would like to thank your Chairman for his very kind words of introduction. I must first, with a modesty that is not usual in the advertising profession, point out that I had little to do with the Bank winning the Socrates Award I am a little afraid from the introduction that you will be in the position that two ladies in Ottawa (if I may mention that word--"Ottawa", not "Ladies") were in during the last Government Bond Campaign. Somebody dreamed up the idea of inflating a small dirigible on Parliament Hill. During the daytime this ballon was a silvery gleam against the blue of the sky and at night it was caught in the purple glow of a searchlight. While the campaign was on as the objective was approached, the ballon rose higher and higher. One night coming down in a street car I heard two ladies discussing the sight and one of them said, "Have you seen the atomic bomb up on Parliament Hill ? My, but it's beautiful!" I'm afraid some of you may be expecting an atomic bomb and all your getting is a bag of wind, too.

No doubt it seems strange to you that a bank representative should be talking to a gathering of business men on human relations, or public relations, because, according to public concept, there was a time when we were rather commonly regarded as a frosty-faced and fish-eyed group, with a little chunk granite where the heart is normally located. Like the mother-in-law jest, that concept dies rather hard. However, I think it is true that nowadays in cities, towns, villages and hamlets across the country you will find bank managers not only working with veterans and business leaders, merchants, fishermen, farmers, housewives and college students in helping them to meet the day of financial problems that often confront us all, but also sharing with their friends and their neighbours a very large measure of responsibility for community activities. I understand that is true of the Royal Bank, too.

At the same time, we realize that a great deal of exploration remains to be done in the field of public and customer relations. So today I come to you, not as a specialist, but merely as someone who is interested in human beings and what makes them behave the way they do.

I'm a little like Sadie, the telephone operator. Sadie graduated from school, she went to the firm of Applebaum, Bosworth, Christie, Dillinghurst, Evans and Fairchild, and the first job she was given was operating the switchboard. Whenever the switchboard light went on, she would say, "Hello! Applebaum, Bosworth, Christie, Dillinghurst, Evans and Fairchild-Good morning!" Sadie was a little dismayed but it was her first job. She had the enthusiasm of the young and so she practised this at home at night and she got to the point where she could say it a lot better than I can. By and by it got to the stage where when the switchboard light went on she would say, "Hello! Applebaum, Bosworth, Christie, Dillinghurst, Evans and Fairchild--Good morning!", and she was pretty pleased about her progress.

Then to her dismay the firm of Applebaum, Bosworth, Christie, Dillinghurst, Evans and Fairchild merged with the firm of Gottlieb, Heinz, Ivanhoe, Jacoby, Klein and Lamoureau.

Well, the first time Sadie tried to handle this she felt she was gargling on alphabet soup, but once again, she was determined to stick it out and she finally got to the stage where she could stick in the plug and say, "Hello! Applebaum, Bosworth, Christie, Dillinghurst, Evans, Fairchild, Gottlieb, Heinz, Ivanhoe, Jacoby, Klein and Lamoureux--Good Morning!" Sadie felt she had really begun to get somewhere.

You can imagine her dismay when after an executive conference was held, one of the partners stuck his head in the door and said, "Sadie, I think you should know that the firm of Applebaum, Bosworth, Christie, Dillinghurst, Evans, Fairchild, Gottlieb, Heinz, Ivanhoe, Jacoby, Klein and Lamoureux has just been merged with Murphy, Nottingham, Ogilvy, Pond, Ramsburger and St. Onge." Sadie threw up her hands and just then the light switched on, she stuck in the plug and said, "Hello! We, the people speaking!"

So I come to you today as a representative of "we, the people", and this talk will not be a revelation of any new tricks and techniques, but rather a review of fundamentals.

For that reason, instead of the phrase "public relations", I prefer the phrase "Human Relations", because public relations really begin with other humans. It begins at home, with our family. It spreads to include our friends and our neighbours. It is carried on to our company, our community, our city, and so on. But public relations begin with you and me. If these personal relations aren't sound, then our public relations can never be very good, no matter how hard we work to create them. If they haven't got that fundamental essence of person to person relationship, then they are founded on shifting sands.

What is the key to good public relations? Oddly enough, it seems to me it is a principle that today nations are trying to master. During the war years many of the nations of the world struggled together through hardship, privation and disaster to reach a common goal. Then, suddenly, as some one has put it, we found that the war was over but there was no peace. We have learned that the same word didn't mean the same thing to different nations. To us, the word "Democracy" means the type of government under which we operate. In England, Democracy means a constitutional monarchy. In Russia, the word "Democracy" is used to describe something entirely different. So we learned that the same word could have different conflicting meanings for different individuals. Our international debates became heated and angry because the same set of vocal cords awakened contrasting mental pictures. To put it simply, internationally, we haven't learned to speak the other fellow's language. Isn't that the essence, too, of good public relations--trying to speak the other fellow's language, and trying to see the other fellows point of view?

Just what are some of the things that prevent us, as executives, from seeing the other fellow's point of view? Generally speaking, they are attitudes--attitudes that have become so much a part of our personality that we do not even recognize them. If someone points them out to us we think they are pretty good things to have anyway. That is human nature.

What are some of these things? It seems to me that one of the original executive sins in the old days was an overbearing dictatorial attitude. We may have forgotten the day but there was a time when industry seemed to be based pretty well on the slave and master theory. Orders were barked at the worker, the boss bellowed if he made a mistake, ridiculed him when he was slow, and took delight in commenting on any worker's physical, mental or educational handicaps. We say that was a long time ago and things have certainly changed now. That is quite true. But before we dismiss it that way, let us stop and thing for a moment. Have any of us; Oh, just to a very small degree, of course-manifested a selfish disregard for the rights and opinions of others? Isn't that the foundation of dominance? There was a time when some public relations counsellors warned their clients, "Always be polite. The man you snub today may be your boss tomorrow." Perhaps there was some truth in that statement but I don't think it was a wise statement because it illustrates the fault of the very philosophy we are trying to correct. That is, it used fear as a motive for action, and that sure is one of the lowest incentives for human effort in the industrial field. If a man works hard because he is afraid. Some day he is going to find a job where he can work and be happy, and the amazing thing is that in that new environment his output may go up anywhere from ten, twenty to fifty, perhaps as high as eighty or a hundred per cent. There was a time when management men who practiced employee consideration were laughed at as idealists. Today we have found that it is simply good business to be considerate of employees.

Very closely allied with this policy of domination was the habit some executives developed of playing favourites. I suppose it is easier for me than some of you to remember back to school days, but perhaps if you strain a little bit you can remember Percy, the white-haired boy, who used to rub off the blackboard and bring apples to the teacher. During the day Percy got a lot of pats on the head, but when he got out in the schoolyard after school sometimes the other end of his spine got favoured treatment. Well, the same attitude of antagonistic resentment develops in any office or plant when it becomes apparent that one particular individual is the golden-haired boy and can do no wrong. It doesn't take very long for favouritism to become very obvious and once it has become obvious the resulting discontent will make Percy part of the overhead expense of the firm. By and by either he will be shifted or the supervisor or manager will awaken to the fact that all his employees expect the same rations of praise and criticism for equivalent effort.

Obstinacy might be regarded as another frequent failing of the old-fashioned executive. I guess we have always met the type of man who is always right. Some wives are that way, too. Mine isn't here so I can say that. Now, what happens with this type of executive? Because he is always right his fellow executives, especially those under him, feel frustrated. How do they demonstrate that? They begin to behave the same way with their subordinates and so, by and by, all along the line we have a chain of closed minds-and right away the business has begun to die. Dry rot has set in from the top down.

Opening these locked mental doors isn't easy, but there is one step that would be helpful. This suggested key--the development of a changed attitude--lies in a phrase popularized by a group of spiritual pioneers several years ago. Their message was this, "Not who's right, but what's right."

Would it make much difference in your executive meetings, in your foreman meetings, in your training groups, if every time an investigation took place or a group conference was held, everyone present thought, "It's not what I think or feel that's important; it's what the facts are. It's not who's right, but what's right"? Wouldn't your whole staff soon be affected by the attitude?

Some day perhaps some industrial psychiatrist will analyze for us the scientific causes behind conference actions. At present if an investigation is under way, something has gone wrong, the tendency of us all is to 'defend ourselves. At once the conditions being analyzed become of secondary importance. We feel that it is we, personally, who are being attacked, and our reaction is to defend ourselves. Of course, the other people in the conference are human, too, and they react the same way, and in the resulting flare-up of tempers lots of heat is generated but often not much light. I believe there is an old Chinese proverb which says, "Anger, like heavy mist, makes truth invisible".

A psychiatrist might say that the cause for all this lies partly in faulty childhood upbringing. There comes a certain stage in the child's development when it wants to know, is it true? Is it real? And yet our lives are surrounded by unreality. Our Sunday School teacher tells us that the body is the temple of the spirit and that man is made in the image of God. But when we ask questions about our body our parents get tongue-tied and confused, and so we learn right away that the body functions are something the adults expect us to be ashamed of.

We are told that if we work hard we will lead our class. We work hard but we don't lead the class and we find that forty other children are told the same thing. We are told that "Mummy knows best" or that "Daddy knows best"-and by and by we hear Daddy and Mummy telling each other so-and when we grow up we learn that mothers and fathers are not necessarily well--informed, that mothers aren't necessarily 'unselfish, that fathers aren't necessarily wise, that old age does not definitely indicate wisdom.

Thus, at a very early age the child learns that it thinks one way, but that society doesn't expect it to think this way. It must be different, it must be wrong. So in the instinct of self-preservation, the sensitive little mind records all these little shocks and locks them in the secret hiding-place, called the subconscious. As we grow up we still carry these shocks with their mark within us, but by that time we have learned to present a certain social exterior.

If you think that is not so, and we don't live to a degree behind a mask, say to yourself, what would happen in nine out of ten social gatherings if everybody could read each other's mind. I don't need to elaborate. However, even though we do learn to wear a social mask, there is one very unhappy result of this childhood disillusionment, because there has been created a sense that we are different from others. We think that there is no one who really understands the working of our minds, the things that go on deep inside us, these desires--they are evil and there is no one else just like us. So deep within ourselves a great many people travel what they consider to be a very lonely road. That in turn creates an equally rotted sense of insecurity which may be masked later on by a blustering or ruthless front. To compensate for this insecurity, to show that we really do belong, that we are a part of everything around us, we grow up wanting to be right or wanting people to believe we are right, because if our subconscious tells us you are right it shows you understand them and they understand you and they belong. That is very important for the individual. You know how heart-broken an adolescent girl is if she comes home and she is the only one who hasn't got the "New Look". Her whole world falls in ruins if everybody else in the class has it.

We don't really change so very much. That is one of the reasons why you will find very few people who can calmly and dispassionately discuss religion or politics or the things closest to our hearts. How hard it is to discuss those in an atmosphere of quiet reasonableness. If we are Liberals we tend to read the Liberal press. If we are Socialists, we read the Socialist press. If we are Conservatives--well, I am told the Conservatives don't read at all. That is what I have heard. But you notice in every case the same pattern of defence mechanism. Instead of welcoming the opposite opinion, instead of gladly investigating our beliefs so we will learn more, we surround ourselves with friends, facts and fiction that tend to make us more mentally secure. And so, when someone challenges a statement, or when someone finds us responsible for an error, immediately this sense of security is jarred, and alarmed and angry we rush to our defence, and our staff, being human, act the same way.

Some day perhaps we will be able to teach industrial psychology to our staffs, for understanding ourselves helps us to understand others. I understand there are firms in Toronto who have either part or full time psychologists consultants on their staff, and, of course, with our returning veterans in the Department of Veterans. Affairs a great deal of work was done in rehabilitation and in the mater of personal adjustment.

Once we do learn to be honest with ourselves, and can impartially look facts in the face, we will soon discover another very valuable key in creating good public relations. That is the Power of an Apology. What a refreshing experiene to hear someone say, "I'm sorry. That was my fault", and to say it not grudingly or belligerently, but quickly and spontaneously. You will find it is one of the most contagious habits in human relations. The first time it happens your associates may be a little puzzled and baffled. Everybody around looks astonished, but by and by it begins to catch on and a new atmosphere of trust and confidence is created. Once the atmosphere of trust is established that particular business is founded on a rock.

So far as we have been studying character defects arising chiefly from a too dominant personality. Some faults lie at the other end of the scale as, for example, Indecision. As executives, you realize the importance of getting the facts, weighing them, sifting out the important and unimportant factors, and yet the process can be carried too far. There are a great many people who don't like making a decision. So you find some people will spend their lifetime just gathering more facts and they don't do anything about them. Once we find the facts, let us face them and then follow through. Indecision and procrastination soon breed a host of problems.

A similar type of executive sin is evasion. We can be evasive with our employees. Their work habits may be unsatisfactory. The quality of their output may be below standard or they may have developed certain unfortunate traits of character. But instead of having a frank and honest discussion with them, we beat around the bush and drop vague hints which we imagine are an adequate explanation. By and by the matter comes to a head and we are forced to take drastic action and the employee complains and justly so-='Why didn't you tell me?" There are times when it is hard to tell people the truth, but you will find that your staff appreciate sincere discussions. It is sometimes essential, a doctor will tell you, to hurt in order to heal. If we are to help our staff improve in efficiency and attitudes, we will often have to bring into the open matters we might otherwise prefer to overlook.

There is one type of evasion that is not deliberate perhaps, but unconscious. That is indefiniteness. I remember once seeing a comp. foreman telling a new man how to mount a copper electro. After completing his instruction he asked the trainee to mount one. But almost immediately he snatched the hammer back. "No, no", he cried, "don't hold the nail at the top. You place your fingers down here so that if the hammer slips it will hit your fingers, not the type."

But he hadn't explained that to the employee when he was teaching. How often when we become impatient with new staff, do we stop to analyze our own instruction? Have we given them all the necessary details? Do we tell them what, why and how? It takes time, your supervisors will say. Yes, it does. It probably means five minutes more--and it may result in saving a customer or preventing damaged stock. The next time you hear that song, "Give me Five Minutes More", think of your new staff. I think that song should be dedicated to the new employee. Let us make sure we make him feel at home and make clear what should be done.

Today we are in an era when employee training is perhaps more important than it ever has been. In business and in industry we--have a whole new generation who have come into the field, and, quite frankly, as you know, so many of them don't seem to have the proper concept of job responsibility. Things like promptness, courtesy, neatness, diligence, initiative, dependability--those words to them represent a foreign language. And while the condition prevails in almost every type of industrial and business activity, the results may prove more harmful in the sales field than anywhere else. For improved methods and equipment will help make up for an inefficient workforce, but what can make up for alienated customers?

And while this apathy on the part of junior staff may cause us to beat our brows and bewail our management troubles, let us remember there is an element of tragedy in this for the incompetents too. They have never known the impetus of competition--they are unaware of the demands of a buyer's market--they have no basis of comparison for their own conduct. Their tragedy is ignorance--they don't know the score.

And unless you and I and senior personnel take the time to tell them, they will never know. If we don't pass on the experience we have accumulated personally and that has been passed on to us from others, the channel is cut off at that point. While it is true we must be patient and considerate it is equally true there must be a degree of firmness as well. We are not doing anyone a favour if we let him or her develop into a second rater. Let us set the standard high and demand that standard high, and constantly, persistently demand the best a person has. It may be necessary-and I am afraid it may be often necessary-to discharge employees just to jolt them into a realization of what job requirements really are. That may seem a little ruthless, but in the ultimate analysis it is much kinder than letting someone degenerate into a confirmed incompetent. They may have established a habit pattern that will last them through life.

However, the subject of training is one that we might spend perhaps a little too much time on.

Closely allied to the evasive temperament is the habit of snooping, or gum-shoeing as they call it. Some executives always use the back-door to find out the facts. If we cannot get the facts from the individual concerned, then there is some fault either with us or with the individual. Employees appreciate your coming to them for their side of the story. The direct route inhuman relationships avoids considerable discontent.

Executives who insist that snooping is necessary may find their own temperament is responsible-they are probably too impetuous and also possess a quick temper. Here we have the opposite fault of indecision. In this latter case snap judgments are made. Employees are dealt with abruptly, plans are made quickly and then changed or laid aside, and so the employees never know just where they stand. Some people live on such a constant hair trigger than others involuntarily become nervous in their ,presence. Remember that peace is catching. If we will control our own impulses we can radiate an atmosphere that will affect all those that approach us. Automatically others will feel relaxed and comfortable in our presence. In such an atmosphere, discussion comes naturally and petty viewpoints are reduced to a minimum. The next time some one comes to us with a problem let us watch ourselves and see whether our attitude helps to put him or her at ease. The more we can create that environment, the easier will be the solution of the many problems that occur from day to day.

Another weakness of executives might be called the pendulum temperament. I remember a long time ago reading a child's story in which someone was described as always up in the sky playing with the sunshine or down in the cellar drinking ink. Many of us have, to a lesser degree perhaps that tendency to alternate between gloom and gladness. In time the gloom usually degenerates into self-pity and we begin to imagine all sorts of slights and insults. We reflect on the many injustices that the world and our fellowmen have inflicted upon us and we get to the state where we actually enjoy being unhappy.

The unfortunate thing about this emotional self-indulgence is that its gets us nowhere. It does not solve any immediate problems and it destroys our daily effectiveness. It has a further unfortunate effect on all our employees. They realize that if they make a mistake one day they will be treated as ignoramuses, but another day the same error will be overlooked. They learn that on certain days there is no use coming to us because we will regard all proposals unfavourably. On days when we arrive in a good mood, the glad news goes round and everybody brings up suggestions they have been holding for two or three days. This temperamental inconsistency is very trying on the staff, the result is the executive instead of being in the superior tactical position where he handles temperamental weaknesses of his staff, is in a negative position where they adjust their habits to his and take advantage of them.

There are many other executive sins. There is the sin of bluffing, and pretending to know what we do not know, of being afraid to admit lack of knowledge, or being ashamed to ask questions, or resenting the comments of someone who could teach us something. Then there is the executive who receives frequent promotions, but neglects to improve his own education. We grow old only when we cease to learn; and as our environment changes, it may be necessary to improve upon knowledge that once was adequate.

Finally, there is the sin of judging all people by mass standards, of failing to regard them as individuals with varying backgrounds and homes and experiences, with various patterns of life which make it essential to know each one as an individual on the staff.

That is not so easy to do under today's industrial conditions. And yet employee surveys almost invariably indicate that what employees want most is not job security, not pay increases, but "recognition". The reason so many workers regard management as cold, distant, and unconcerned over employee welfare is because they have no personal contact and have never known their executive personnel to be warm, friendly, and interested. We can become so entangled with policies that we have no time for people; but it is only people who can make policies successful. Just as the bloom fades from marriage when a husband becomes too busy to be thoughtful, so lack of personal interest and consideration can effect a divorce between men and Management.

Socrates said that the beginning of wisdom was to "know thyself". That may be so. But the second step for Management wisdom is "know thy staff".

And that thought, the importance of human beings, is perhaps a good note on which to end this talk. Man has travelled a long, long way during the past few thousand years. Out of the caves, and swamps we have come, out of the forest darkness into the sunlight of civilization. We have outwitted the seasons by developing special houses and clothing, or buying a home in Florida. We have learned to improve seeds and enrich the soil so that it bears a hundredfold instead of tenfold. We have trained animals stronger than we to carry our burdens. We have harnessed the power of tide and waterfall to light our homes, to cook our meals, to do our work. On July 16, 1945, at the air base of Alamogordo in New Mexico was fulfilled the dream that tantalized scientists for centuries--one basic substance was changed into another, and in this particular miracle matter became energy. A world of limitless power opened up before our eyes. Time and space became trivial terms. Yet, as the first atomic bomb blasted Hiroshima, no one rejoiced. The whole world sat still in terror. Soon thinking men predicted that man would return to the caves and underground darkness in order to live in safety. The great wheel of civilization had swung in a complete circle.

Why was this? Because mankind suddenly realized that the philosophers were right. Man had spent too much time improving the world and not enough improving himself. His own intelligence had made the world unsafe.

Thomas Edison, perhaps the greatest practical scientist of the last generation once said, "The 19th century was the period of scientific advancement; the 20th century will be noted for spiritual advancement."

The time has come to make that prophecy come true. We cannot all take the responsibility for the world, but each of us can take responsibility for one individual. That is a challenge to me--I hope it is a challenge to you.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


Human Relations and You

Some introductory remarks on the growing importance of human or public relations. A great deal of exploration remaining to be done in the field of public and customer relations. The key of good public relations. A principle that today nations are trying to master. How the same word has different meanings to different nations, such as the word "Democracy." Things that prevent us from seeing the other fellow's point of view. A policy of domination. Playing favourites. Obstinacy. The key of the development of a changed attitude, lying in the phrase "Not who's right, but what's right." Learning to wear a social mask: some childhood psychology. Understanding ourselves helping us to understand others. Learning to be honest with ourselves. Some faults lying at the other end of the dominant personality: indecision, evasion, snooping, a pendulum temperament. Other executive sins: bluffing, pretending, judging. The importance of human beings. Some concluding quotes.