Foundations of individual behavior

Organizational behavior is the study of both group and individual performance and action within an enterprise. This field of study scans human behavior in the working atmosphere.

It determines its effect on job structure, performance, communication, motivation, leadership, decision making abilities etc. The way an individual behaves and behavior as a group have two perspectives − internal and external.

Behavior Analysis at Different Levels

Behavior as an individual or in a group is always analyzed by everyone in the organization. It is analyzed at three different levels −

  • Individual level of analysis
  • Group level of analysis
  • Organizational level of analysis

Individual Level of Analysis

Organizational behavior, at this level of analysis massively draws upon psychology, engineering, and medicine. At the individual level of analysis, organizational behavior includes the study of learning, perception, creativity, motivation, and personality.

In addition, it also includes the study of turnover, task performance and evaluation, coordinated behavior, deviant work behavior, ethics, and cognition.

For example: Ram joins a company as an intern and is very open to learning new things but as time passes and he gets promoted his attitude towards his interns becomes rude. This is a fine example of individual level of analysis.

Group Level of Analysis

Organizational behavior, at this level of analysis, draws upon the sociological and socio-psychological discipline. At the group level of analysis, organizational behavior includes the study of group gesture, intra-group and intergroup dispute and attachment.

It is further extended to the study of leadership, power, norms, interpersonal communication, networks, and roles.

An example of this level of analysis − Board of directors of company X decide to give bonus to their workers as they have really worked hard on a certain project.

Organizational Level of Analysis

Organizational behavior, at this level of analysis draws upon sociology and political science. At this level of analysis, organizational behavior includes the study of organizational culture, structure, cultural diversity, inter-organizational cooperation and coordination.

It further includes the study of dispute, change, technology, and external environmental forces. Some other fields of study that adds to the interest of organizational behavior are ergonomics, statistics, and psychometrics.

To have a clear understanding on the topic and avoid any kind of confusion let’s look at an example at different levels and try to analyze it.

Rohit is interested in becoming a singer as he is interested in music and feels he can do better in this field. While his parents force him to pursue his job as a software engineer, as according to his father’s perception a software job pays well and is far better than struggling to become a singer.

In this case, we see Rohit and his father have a clash of opinions, hence this is a case of individual level of analysis.

Extending this example further, if Rohit seeks help from his friends on this matter his friends will support him as they have the same mindset support the idea of following their own dreams, struggling and achieving their goal. Meanwhile Rohit’s father’s friend circle might find the idea of pursuing singing as a career insane and support his father’s decision of opting for a software.

Here we see two different groups of people with contradicting ideologies, this becomes a case of group level of analysis.

Individual behavior can be defined as a mix of responses to external and internal stimuli. It is the way a person reacts in different situations and the way someone expresses different emotions like anger, happiness, love, etc.

To get a brief idea about the individual behavior let us learn about the individual behavior framework and other key elements related to it.

Individual Behavior Framework

On the basis of these elements, psychologist Kurt Lewin stated the Field theory and outlined the behavior framework. This psychological theory studies the patterns of interaction between an individual and the environment. The theory is expressed using the formula

B = F(P,E)

where, B – Behavior, F – Behavior Function, P – Person, and E – Environment around the person.

Say for example, a well payed person who loses his job in recession may behave differently when unemployed.

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Causes of Individual Behavior

Certain individual characteristics are responsible for the way a person behaves in daily life situations as well as reacts to any emergency situations. These characteristics are categorized as:

  • Inherited characteristics
  • Learned characteristics

Inherited Characteristics

The features individuals acquire from their parents or from our forefathers are the inherited characteristics. In other words, the gifted features an individual possesses by birth is considered as inherited characteristics.

Following features are considered as inherited characteristics:

  • Color of a person’s eye
  • Religion/Race of a person
  • Shape of the nose
  • Shape of earlobes

Learned Characteristics

Nobody learns everything by birth. First our school is our home, then our society followed by our educational institutions. The characteristics an individual acquires by observing, practicing and learning from others and the surroundings is known as learned characteristics.

It consists of the following features:

  • Perception: Result of different senses like feeling, hearing etc.
  • Values: Influences perception of a situation, decision making process.
  • Personality: Patterns of thinking, feeling, understanding and behaving.
  • Attitude: Positive or negative attitude like expressing one’s thought.

The way an individual addresses a situation single-handedly or say in a group is influenced by many factors. The key factors influencing an individual’s attitude in personal as well as social life are:

  • Abilities
  • Gender
  • Race and culture
  • Attribution
  • Perception
  • Attitude

Let’s take a quick look over these major elements that imprints a person’s behavior inside and outside of the organization.


Abilities are the traits a person learns from the environment around as well as the traits a person is gifted with by birth. These traits are broadly classified as:

  • Intellectual abilities
  • Physical abilities
  • Self-awareness abilities

In order to understand how these affect a person’s behavior, we need to know what these abilities are.

  • Intellectual Abilities: It personifies a person’s intelligence, verbal and analytical reasoning abilities, memory as well as verbal comprehension.
  • Physical Abilities: It personifies a person’s physical strength, stamina, body coordination as well as motor skills.
  • Self-awareness Abilities: It symbolizes how a person feels about the task, while a manager’s perception of his abilities decides the kind of work that needs to be allotted to an individual.

Thus the psychological, physical, self-assurance traits owned by a person defines the behavior of a person in social and personal life. For ex: Ram has a high IQ level, whereas Rahul can lift a bike and is a strong guy.


Research proves that men and women both stand equal in terms of job performance and mental abilities; however, society still emphasizes differences between the two genders. Absenteeism is one area in an organization where differences are found as women are considered to be the primary caregiver for children. A factor that might influence work allocation and evaluation in an organization is the manager’s perception and personal values.

For example: An organization encourages both genders to work efficiently towards the company’s goal and no special promotion or demotion is given or tolerated for any specific gender.

Race & Culture

Race is a group of people sharing similar physical features. It is used to define types of persons according to perceived traits. For example: Indian, African. On the other hand, culture can be defined as the traits, ideas, customs and traditions one follows either as a person or in a group. For example: Celebrating a festival.

Race & culture have always exerted an important influence both at the workplace as well as in the society. The common mistakes such as attributing behavior and stereotyping according to individual’s race & culture basically influences an individual’s behavior.

In today’s diverse work culture, the management as well as staff should learn and accept different cultures, values, and common protocols to create more comfortable corporate culture.

For example: A company invites candidates for a job post and hires one on the basis of eligibility criteria and not on the basis of the country a person belongs to or the customs one follows.


Perception is an intellectual process of transforming sensory stimuli into meaningful information. It is the process of interpreting something that we see or hear in our mind and use it later to judge and give a verdict on a situation, person, group, etc.

It can be divided into six types namely:

  • Of sound: The ability to receive sound by identifying vibrations.
  • Of speech: The competence of interpreting and understanding the sounds of language heard.
  • Touch: Identifying objects through patterns of its surface by touching it.
  • Taste: The ability to detect flavor of substances by tasting it through sensory organs known as taste buds.
  • Other senses: Other senses include balance, acceleration, pain, time, sensation felt in throat and lungs etc.
  • Of the social world: It permits people to understand other individuals and groups of their social world.

For example − Priya goes to a restaurant and likes their customer service, so she will perceive that it is a good place to hang out and will recommend it to her friends, who may or may not like it. However, Priya’s perception about the restaurant remains good.


Attribution is the course of observing behavior followed by determining its cause based on individual’s personality or situation.

Attribution framework uses the following three criteria −

  • Consensus: The extent to which people in the same situation might react similarly.
  • Distinctiveness: The extent to which a person’s behavior can be associated to situations or personality.
  • Consistency: The frequency measurement of the observed behavior, that is, how often does this behavior occur.

The framework mentioned says it is all about how an individual behaves in different situations.

For example − Rohit invites Anisha and two more friends for a movie and they agree to bunk and watch the movie, this is consensus. Bunking of class says that they are not interested in their lectures, this is distinctiveness. A little change in the situation, like if Rohit frequently starts bunking the class then his friends may or may not support him. The frequency of their support and their rejection decides consistency.


Attitude is the abstract learnt reaction or say response of a person’s entire cognitive process over a time span.

For example: A person who has worked with different companies might develop an attitude of indifference towards organizational citizenship.

Now we have a clear idea about what are the factors responsible for the way we behave. We never think about these elements and how they affect our daily life but we can’t ignore the fact that they are responsible for the way we walk, talk, eat, socialize, etc.

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