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Deconstructing context-sensitive nature of Indians' behaviour: a preliminary attempt to develop a taxonomy for three work contexts


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Indians are perceived to be highly contradictory and inconsistent in their manifested behavioural patterns. Findings of various research studies have indicated that at the core of perceived ‘contradictions’ in the manifested behavioural patterns of the Indians lies in the fact that Indian behaviour is determined more by the situation or the context rather than the personality. Sinha and Kanungo (1997) mentioned that ‘context sensitivity among Indians manifests itself in relation to three components of the environment, which are desh (place), kal (time) and patra (person). Sinha et al. (2002) have urged scholars to attempt a more systematic taxonomy of situations to develop generalised cultural modes of behaviour. This paper is at best a baby step in that direction. In this paper, we have attempted to deconstruct the context sensitive behaviour of Indians using an ‘interactional’ framework and subsequently presented a behavioural taxonomy, which would help understand how Indians with different worldviews would behave in different work contexts. We have identified three ideal types of Indians, who are the products of their early socialisations. The three work contexts, we have identified in this paper are three different kinds of business organisations
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nt. J. Indian Culture and Business Management, Vol. x, No. x, xxxx 1
Copyright © 20xx Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Deconstructing context-sensitive nature of Indians’
behaviour: a preliminary attempt to develop a
taxonomy for three work contexts
Abinash Panda*
Talent Management and Leadership Development,
Suzlon Energy Limited,
Suzlon One Earth,
Hadapsar, Pune 411 028, Maharashtra, India
Fax: +91 20 40122100
*Corresponding author
Rajen K. Gupta
Human Behaviour and Organizational Development,
Management Development Institute,
Gurgaon, Haryana, India
Abstract: Indians are perceived to be highly contradictory and inconsistent in
their manifested behavioural patterns. Findings of various research studies have
indicated that at the core of perceived ‘contradictions’ in the manifested
behavioural patterns of the Indians lies in the fact that Indian behaviour is
determined more by the situation or the context rather than the personality.
Sinha and Kanungo (1997) mentioned that ‘context sensitivity among Indians
manifests itself in relation to three components of the environment, which are
desh (place), kal (time) and patra (person). Sinha et al. (2002) have urged
scholars to attempt a more systematic taxonomy of situations to develop
generalised cultural modes of behaviour. This paper is at best a baby step in
that direction. In this paper, we have attempted to deconstruct the context
sensitive behaviour of Indians using an ‘interactional’ framework and
subsequently presented a behavioural taxonomy, which would help understand
how Indians with different worldviews would behave in different work
contexts. We have identified three ideal types of Indians, who are the products
of their early socialisations. The three work contexts, we have identified in this
paper are three different kinds of business organisations namely family owned,
government and Western multinational organisations.
Keywords: context-sensitive behaviour; Indian way of thinking; cultural
characteristics of Indians; multi-minded Indians; familial Hindu worldview;
Anglo-Saxon worldview.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Panda, A. and Gupta, R.K.
(xxxx) ‘Deconstructing context-sensitive nature of Indians’ behaviour: a
preliminary attempt to develop a taxonomy for three work contexts’, Int. J.
Indian Culture and Business Management, Vol. x, No. x, pp.xx–xx.
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
Biographical notes: Abinash Panda is the General Manager and Head of
Talent Management and Leadership Development working with Suzlon Energy
Limited, Pune, India. He is a Fellow of Management from Management
Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon and an alumnus of International
University of Japan (IUJ) where he is specialised in Comparative Business and
Management. Prior to this current assignment, he held the position of Post-
Doctoral Research Fellow with Tata Management Training Centre (TMTC),
Pune. He has published around 27 research papers in various international and
national journals such as Int. J. Indian Culture and Business Management,
Asian Case Research Journal, Int. J. Diversity in Organizations, Communities
and Nations Global Business Review, Indian Journal of Industrial Relations,
Vikalpa, Management Review, Psychology and Developing Societies, etc. He
has also presented several papers in various national and international
conferences including Academy of Management (2007) and Asia Pacific
Researchers in Organization Studies (APROS 12).
Rajen K. Gupta is a Professor in the area of Human Behaviour and
Organisational Development and area at the Management Development
Institute, Gurgaon. He is on the international editorial boards of journals titled
Int. J. Cross Cultural Management and Journal of Research Practice. He has
published around 60 papers in various national and international journals such
as Asian Case Research Journal, Int. J. Indian Culture and Business
Management, Global Business Review, Economic and Political Weekly,
Vikalpa, Management Review, etc. He has authored two books titled
Implementing Human Resource Development (Rawat, Jaipur) and Towards the
Optimal Organisation: Integrating Culture and Management (Excel Books,
Delhi) and co-edited Designing and Developing Organisations for Tomorrow
(Response). He has co-authored a text book titled Organizational Behaviour.
“The most difficult thing is that the Indians will tell you one thing, think
another, and do third thing, which is not what a Dane would do.” A Danish
Manager (Hughes, 2002).
1 The background
“We live in a global environment.” (Tsui et al., 2007). Organisations have no choice but
to operate in a multicultural and multinational context, which tends to be complex and a
bit fuzzy, if the managerial and leadership challenges inherent in the environment are not
understood. In recent past, developing countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China
(BRIC economic bloc) are being targeted by multinationals from developed countries. An
increasing number of organisations from the developed world have been exporting work
to developing countries. Metaphors of a ‘flat world’ (Friedman, 2005) or a ‘global
village’ (Ger, 1999) are being used by scholars to describe the contemporary business
world. Though physical distance or time difference ceases to be barriers for foreign
investment, ‘cultural distance’ due to the heterogeneity in the way employees from
different nations/societies behave, could possibly pose a serious challenge to
multinational organisations (MNOs) to become optimally effective. Hence, corporate
leaders see the value in understanding and appreciating employees’ behaviour in a cross-
cultural and global context. It makes a business sense, for corporate leaders to understand
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
and appreciate cultural differences between societies and develop strategies to deal with
the dysfunctional manifestations and leverage the productive and functional aspects of
such differences.
2 Emergence of India as a major economic power
The first quarter of 2010 saw Indian companies involved in a total of 134 mergers and
acquisitions (M&A) deals. The largest deal during the period was executed by Bharti
Airtel Ltd which acquired Zain Africa, the African arm of Kuwaiti telecom group Zain,
for $10.7 billion. Out of the total 134 transactions, transaction sizes were known for 72
deals and the median value stood at $25 million and this was very higher than the median
value of $10 million seen during Q1, 2009.1 Outbound M&A investments in India
quadrupled in the first half of 2010. According to Thomson Reuters M&A report, about
$40 billion was spent in M&A by Indian firms in the first six months of 2010, by far the
best performing half ever since 2007. On the overall, about a sixth of the total business
deals, at about $242.1 billion, undertaken in Asia, were done by Indian companies,
marking a sixth of the 5,078 deals.
On the other hand, inbound M&As into India saw the purchase of Indian companies
with Abbot investing a whopping $3.72 billion for the takeover of Piramal Healthcare’s
formulations business. On sector basis, the Indian telecoms sector led in the deals with a
cumulative $13.8 billion worth of investments, both inbound and outbound.2
With the increasing trend of globalisation, the impact of globalisation has led to a fast
changing environment the boundaries for business diminishing day by day so is the
movement of people between different countries and cultures. The requirement of MNOs
like expansion plans in international market has continually increased the need to
understand the cultural dimensions of different countries to achieve better results.
Along with the rapid development of technology, increasing social mobility,
globalisation of economy and the emergence of cultural diversity, intercultural human
contact at both individual and organisational levels is increasing (Brislin and Yoshida,
1994; Chen, 2007). On the one hand, the wide-ranged expansion of human contacts calls
for people’s sensitivity to cultural diversity as well as understanding the behaviour of the
people socialised in different cultures.
2.1 India: a difficult country to relocate to
The economic activities suggest an increased presence of international managers in India,
resulting in greater interaction between Indian and non-Indian ‘expatriate’ (particularly
Western) managers/executives. Cross-cultural researchers have long emphasised the
importance of gaining an understanding of a host country’s national culture for
managerial success in overseas business operations. Multinational corporations (MNCs)
recruit manpower from the host country, who are socialised to their native culture, and
thereby, develop work-related values, beliefs, behaviours and practices unique and
specific to the country (Adler and Jelinek, 1986; Hofstede, 1993; Laurent, 1983). Such
work-related values, attitudes and practices prevalent in the ‘country of operation’ or
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
‘host’ country might be different from the ‘country of origin’ of the MNCs. Such
differences tend to create problems of adjustment for the expatriates in the ‘host’ country,
which tend to contribute to the sub-optimal performance of the organisation in delivering
business results.
The understanding of organisational behaviour in different cultural contexts has been
a formidable challenge for academics and practitioners.
Understanding the behaviour of Indians has always been a challenge for both
expatriates and Indians.
A recent survey released by Brookfield Global Relocation Services Company3 points
out that India is the second most difficult country to relocate after China. Among all the
respondents of the survey, China was cited by 16% of respondents, followed by India
(14%) and Russia (7%). China and India always have been among the top seven
destinations presenting the greatest assignment challenges. With one exception (when it
was ranked in second place), China has always been cited as the most challenging
destination for expatriates.
In spite of being considered the second most difficult country to relocate, India is one
of the most attractive countries for non-Indians. “Indian companies are becoming
global...and very attractive (to work for),” said Ulrich Dade, chairman of Amrop, a
leading global executive search firm.4 According to the research study by the firm, based
on a survey of chief executives and expatriates, the demand for foreign talent has
accelerated because of the rise of so-called sunrise industries such as organised retail and,
M&A besides the global expansion plans of Indian companies seeking to sharpen their
competitive edge through foreign expertise and leadership culture. For expatriates, the
attractions of working for Indian employers include the ‘India experience’, a larger
playing field and a challenging business agenda.
Mahindra Navistar Ltd, a joint venture between Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd and
Navistar Inc. of the US to make commercial vehicles, has two expatriates in leadership
roles. Vodafone Essar Ltd is headed by Dutchman Marten Pieters. Bharti Airtel Ltd’s
director of customer service delivery is Canadian Carol Borghesi, Airtel’s enterprise
services division is headed by an American, David Nishball, who oversees all business-
to-business activities, including wholesale carrier and corporate markets both within
India and globally. Prof Liam Maxwell of Eton College mentioned in his interview to the
Time magazine “I tell the boys that 30 per cent of them are going to work for Chinese and
Indian companies.”5
2.2 Challenges of working in India and with Indians
Till now, there has been limited interest amongst the academic scholars to explore and
articulate how the expatriates adjust to the socio-cultural realities of India. Arora (2005)
refers to the findings of various studies carried out by scholars such as Sperling (1969)
and Gabeler (1996), who have explored how German expatriates adjusted and adapted in
Indian work context. He also mentions that Kim (2003), in her study on expatriates, has
focused on the Koreans.
Dowling (1999) discovered that most Westerners perceive India to be ‘culturally
distant’. Boston Consultancy Group admitted that India is essentially a multicultural
society and most of the MNCs do not understand the diversity and multiplural nature of
society and the different stakeholders in this country.
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
The findings of a limited number of research studies (Arora, 2005) have indicated that
Indians tend to view expatriates as highly professional with high- and well-
articulated aspirations, tend to use ‘delegation’ as a leadership tool, friendly, willing
to understand India.
Expatriates are also perceived to be a bit rigid and not willing to adapt, tend to
remain aloof, look down upon Indians with limited trust for the Indians.
Expatriates view Indian employees as hard working, loyal to the company and highly
motivated to do new things. They are also perceived as intelligent, well-educated,
willing to develop others, friendly, positive and open towards outsiders.
They are also perceived to be ‘non-committal to result’, ‘unreliable’, ‘poor team
players’ and ‘job hoppers’.
Working in India and with Indians has its own challenges. It is never easy. Kumar (2004)
mentioned that expatriates generally find it tough and wooly to negotiate with the Indian
negotiation team. Indians are perceived to behave in a highly inconsistent manner.
Indians rarely present a unified face to the negotiators across the table. Hence, the
foreigners find it difficult to devise and articulate a negotiating strategy for any
negotiation with Indians. Further, ‘it makes it less worthwhile for the other negotiator to
continue to negotiate in this uncertain environment because it is unclear to him or her
whether the negotiation will bear fruit at all’ (Kumar, 2004, p.51) (Italics added). When
Enron was only a pipeline company, it lost a major contract in India because local
authorities felt that it was pushing negotiations too fast. In fact, the loss of the contract
underlines the important role that cultural differences play in international negotiation.
International business deals not only cross borders, but also cross cultures. Culture
profoundly influences how people think, communicate and behave. It also affects
the kinds of transactions they make and the way they negotiate them. Differences in
culture between business executives can possibly create barriers that impede or
completely stymie the negotiating process.
Why is it so tough to understand an Indian? The comment made by Prof H. Azuma
during one of his interactions with Dr J.B.P. Sinha probably captures the challenge. His
comment was, ‘You Indians always have at least three theories whatever I say’ (Sinha,
2005a). As the Western expatriate manager, Silvio Napoli, once put it, “To succeed in
India you have to be one-half monk and one-half warrior. So far, I have learnt to develop
my monk part.” (cited by Kumar, 2005, p.6).
Indians have been experienced differently by different groups of people, which have
been articulated by Sinha (2005b). He presents the evolving phases in the understanding
of Indian mindset historically in the ever evolving cultural and social contexts. The
colonial perspective was based on the assumption that Indians were ‘half devil half child’
(Kipling, 1920) and hence were considered to be authoritarian (Lewis, 1962), narcissistic
with weak super ego (Spratt, 1966) having an inner sense of instability and insecurity to
the extent that “nothing and nobody can be relied upon, not even one’s own self”
(Carstairs, 1971, p.54). Consequently, they have poor emotional involvement, callousness
towards others especially lesser men, mock hospitality, supremely self-centred attitude,
utter collapse of self-control in the face of strong emotions (Carstairs, 1971, p.46),
absence of commitment to keep promises that they freely make, lack of sustained efforts
for realising collective objectives, low masculine qualities, high dependence, high distrust
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
of authority and inability to handle emotions that are either suppressed or burst into
uncontrolled temper tantrum, and above all contradictory behaviours reflecting
‘tremendous gap between ideals and performance’ (Narain, 1957).
Truth is extolled, but all kinds of falsehood are practiced; honesty is valued, but
dishonesty is rampant; kindness is virtue, but Indians laugh at others’ physical
deformity or discomfiture…Indians are spiritual but their greed for material
things is insatiable (Narain, 1957, p.130).
Nakamura (1964) reported that Indians do not separate the actual from the ideal and
engage in fantasising, i.e. “….free, boundless, and extravagant, and often goes to
extreme” (p.142).
Even the findings of many cross-national comparative studies have not helped. The
research findings have been at times contradictory in nature. Contradictions in research
findings led Sinha and Kanungo (1997, p.94) to acknowledge that ‘studies of Indian
culture and behaviour often yield inconsistent and contradictory findings’ (Sinha and
Kanungo, 1997, p.94).
In comparative perspective, Hsu (1963) posited that while Chinese are situation
centred, Americans individual centred, Indians are supernatural centred. Nakane (1964)
compared Indians with Japanese symbolically in terms of ‘logic and smile’. She observed
The Indian, who loves talking in logic, takes up an opposing stand without
hesitation and tries to impose oneself upon the other, regardless of the situation,
the statuses of the two parties…Most Japanese become irritated when they talk
with Indians, because they [Japanese] are not understood by them [Indians] and
are not used to following Indian logic. In most cases, they [Japanese] are
defeated ….and end up frustrated, while Indians remain perfectly unruffled
The behavioural patterns of Indians are perceived to be situational and context sensitive,
which seems to be at the core of the variability in behavioural patterns.
2.3 Scope and organisation of this paper
Sinha et al. (2002) suggested that Sinha and Kanungo’s (1997) conceptualisation of
‘context-sensitive behaviour’ of the Indians needed to be further investigated and
researchers should ‘attempt a more systematic taxonomy of situations pertaining to
different life roles (e.g. work, social, family, religion, community, leisure, etc.) and
stratified for various demographic, socio-economic and psychological factors’. A review
of literature indicates that not much progress has been made in that direction.
In this paper, we have attempted to deconstruct the context-sensitive behaviour of
Indians using an ‘interactional’ framework and subsequently presented a behavioural
taxonomy, which would help to understand how Indians with different worldviews would
behave in different work contexts. We have identified three ideal types of Indians, who
are the products of their early socialisations. The three work contexts, we have identified
in this paper, are three different kinds of business organisations namely family-owned,
government and foreign (mainly Western) multinational business organisations. We have
not included social and other non-work contexts.
This paper is organised into five sections. Section 2 attempts to summarise the
findings of various cross-national comparative and India-specific studies to brief the
readers on the contradictory nature of research findings on India. Section 3 deals with
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
the findings of various research studies focusing on the context-sensitive nature of Indian
behaviour, including the probable reasons why an Indian might possibly behave in such
an unpredictable way.
Section 4 has elaborated how three ideal types of Indians are the products of their
early socialisations in family and educational institutions, followed by Section 5, where
we have presented the taxonomy of behavioural patterns by three-way mapping of five
behavioural patterns, three ideal types of Indians and three work contexts. Section 6
summarises the central thesis of our argument.
2.3.1 The ‘interactional’ framework for deconstructing Indian behaviour
In the debate over what determines an individual’s behaviour – the situation or the person
herself/himself there are three strands of argument. The first strand of argument
indicates that behaviour lies within the person (dispositional); the second strand, known
as ‘situationalist’ perspective, counter-argues to indicate that the situation is salient in
influencing behaviour (situational) (Mischel, 1968). The third strand of argument
integrates both, known as ‘interactionist’ approach, to say that behaviour is the result of
the interaction between person and situation (interactional). The individuals do manifest
stable differences in their general behavioural trends, if behavioural observations are
aggregated across situations (Epstein, 1979). Funder’s personality triad (2005) draws on
all three approaches and expresses the same through the following equation:
Behaviour person situation
Behaviour (person, situation)f
We tend to agree with Funder’s argument that the ‘manifested’/demonstrated behaviour
of a person is the result of interaction between ‘who’ is behaving and in which situation.
This would be the basis for ‘deconstructing’ the context-sensitive nature of Indian
behavioural pattern. It is a two step process. In the first step, we will unravel how the
‘person’ is a product of socialisation process. In the second step, we would attempt to
deconstruct how a person would behave in different work contexts. We have identified
three work contexts and three ideal types of Indians.
3 Findings on the cultural characteristics of Indian society
India is a unique nation with diversity and inherent contradictions. A brief overview of
India’s place in various country clusters in various cross-national comparative studies
reveals that the Indian cultural profile is too complex to be easily pigeonholed.
Researchers have placed India in Anglo, Latin American, Far Eastern, South Asian and
even as an unclassifiable culture! This makes understanding India and Indians equally
challenging for expatriates and academic scholars.
Findings of many cross-national comparative studies have indicated the following:
1 India is one of the most diverse nations in existence with religious and geographic
diversity (Gannon, 1994, 2004).
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
2 India is a tradition bound society (Gannon, 1994, 2004; Schwartz, 1999) and
conservative in nature (Schwartz, 1999).
3 India is a highly status conscious society attaching saliency to hierarchy orientation
(Gannon, 1994, 2004; The GLOBE study, 2002; Trompenaars, 1993) with high
power distance (Hofstede, 1980). Saliency is attached to perceived social status
(Gannon, 1994, 2004), which is accorded on the basis of ‘who’ and ‘what’ the person
is (Trompenaars, 1993).
4 Indian society is moderately collectivist (Hofstede, 1980) that attaches saliency to
the group orientation (The GLOBE study, 2002). The society is also found to be
particularistic (Trompenaars, 1993).
5 People in India tend to behave as dictated by circumstances (Trompenaars, 1993).
In work domain, managerial actions and decisions are guided by what are judged to
be ‘right’ vis-à-vis what is considered ‘wrong’ in ethico-moral evaluative
framework. They are less pragmatic and more moralistic in their managerial
behaviour and actions (England, 1975, 1978).
6 Gender inequality exists in Indian society (Hofstede, 1980; Inglehart, 2000; The
GLOBE Study, 2002).
Gopalan and Rivera (1997) have used the five-dimensional Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck
(1961) framework to mention that Indian society is past-oriented, accepting a subjugated
relationship with nature, where salvation is the ultimate goal of human being and human
nature is generally accepted to be evil and unchangeable. Indians are socialised to attach
saliency to hierarchy as well as collectivistic orientations.
A series of studies conducted by Sinha and his colleagues (Sinha, 1980, 1982,
1990a,b, 1993, 1997, 2005a; Sinha and Kanungo, 1997; Sinha and Sinha, 1995; Sinha
and Verma, 1987; Sinha et al., 1994, 2001b, 2002, 2003) have indicated the following:
1 Indians tend to attach saliency to hierarchy and power and status
2 Indians tend to prefer personalised relationship marked with emotional affinity
3 they tend to be collectivistic and particularistic (in-group vs. out-group orientation)
4 Indians tend to attach saliency to family
5 Indians are perceived corrupt, hypocrites and are less action-oriented
6 the behaviour of the Indians is situational and context sensitive.
3.1 Contradictions in the findings of studies on behavioural pattern of the
Scholars have discovered three areas of contradictions with respect to the behavioural
patterns of the Indians.
First, although India has been characterised as a collectivist society (Hofstede, 1980)
in which the family is central, Indians have also an individualistic streak which is most
evident in interaction with out-group members (e.g. Derné, 2000; Kakar, 1981;
Paranjape, 1988; Roland, 1988; Sinha, 1979, 2000). Paranjape (1988) has argued that
spiritual pursuits have always been individualistic in nature. Research on the valence and
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
psychological proximity to family among the older and younger generations has revealed
that there is a mix of both individualist and collectivist orientations in family life (Sinha,
Secondly, findings of studies conducted by Roland (1988), Gannon (2004) and Panda
(2004) have indicated the religious and spiritualistic orientations of the Indians. However,
these findings are in stark contrast to findings of a series of studies conducted by Sinha
and his colleagues. None of their studies could discover religious orientation of Indians.
This led Sinha et al. (2003) to admit that, ‘though Indians are believed to be fatalist,
religious and spiritualistic’, none of their studies ‘could capture those orientations despite
the presence of items on the questionnaire’.
Sinha and Pandey (2007), on the basis of the findings of two empirical studies that
covered 47 social scientists and 176 managers, identified four mindsets namely
materialistic, dependence prone, holistic and collectivistic. They also uncovered the
conditions that evoked different mindsets. The findings indicated that Indians tend to
demonstrate materialistic mindset in international organisations, whereas they tend to
demonstrate dependence prone or collectivistic mindset in family-owned, bureaucratic
and or traditional organisations, depending on whether they value easy going life or
stable relationship, respectively. They tend to be holistic by integrating work excellence
and people orientation in organisations that attach saliency to both performance and
people. Materialistic mindset is associated with manipulative behaviour. Holistic mindset,
which is associated with proactive stance, is manifested in innovative and extraordinary
performance under inspiring leadership.
Finally, interestingly some studies have even reported that Indian managers hold
beliefs and values similar to their Western counterparts (e.g. Kumar, 1996; Sinha, 1990a;
Srinivas, 1994).
3.2 Perceived inconsistency in the behavioural patterns of the Indians
At the core of perceived ‘contradictions’ in the manifested behavioural patterns of the
Indians, lies the fact that Indian behaviour is determined more by the situation or the
context rather than by the personality. Research findings have indicated that Indians tend
to behave in a complex manner by dynamically shifting from primary mode to secondary
mode and vice versa with ease in different contexts/situations. Hence, Indians are
perceived to be high on context sensitivity and balancing disposition. Consequent to dual
socialisation, they tend to develop ‘radar like sensitivity’ to adapt their behaviour to
different situations (Roland, 1988; Sinha and Kanungo, 1997).
Scholars such as Marriott (1976), Kedia and Bhagat (1988), Ramanujan (1989), Sinha
and Sinha (1995), and Sinha and Kanungo (1997) have conducted a series of studies to
understand how people from different locations in India tend to behave differently.
It has been consistently discovered that same individual tends to behave differently
with different persons in same situations or behave differently towards the same person
on different occasions. Also, she/he may behave contrary to her/his professed values and
intentions or hold mutually exclusive values and behavioural intentions.
Sinha et al. (2002, p.318) mentioned that
“Indians are believed to be collectivists in some situations, mix collectivism
and individualism in other situations, but rarely manifest a pattern purely
individualistic with individualist intention even in the most affluent places or in
the face of the most compelling personal needs and interests.”
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
Because Indians are context-oriented (Sinha and Kanungo, 1997), the changing socio-
economic scenario of the country is probably largely responsible for this shift towards
individualist influence without pushing people to the extreme.
In an earlier study, Sinha et al. (2001b) found that family as a place and family
members as an in-group were reported to induce Indians to behave in a collectivist way to
serve collectivist goals. Compelling personal needs and goals, juxtaposed on the interests
of family and friends, were predicted to cause a shift towards individualist behaviour and
intention, resulting in various combinations of collectivist and individualist behaviours
and intentions (C&I, IC and CI). Purely individualist behaviour and intention was
believed to occur rarely.
For instance, Singh and Das (1977a,b) found out that Indian managers profess to
value freedom, autonomy, etc. but behave in an autocratic way. Sinha et al. (2003)
conducted a comparative study on perceived beliefs and behaviour of Indians across
seven locations in India to find that across all locations, people’s beliefs and practices are
perceived to be ‘cynical’ and ‘hypocritical’ in nature.
‘Context sensitivity’, as Sinha and Kanungo (1997, p.96) mention is a ‘thinking
principle or a mindset that is cognitive in nature and it determines the adaptive nature of
an idea, behaviour and context’.
It is a process of balancing one’s behavioural responses in such a manner that one
avoids extreme responses in terms of behaviour and action by combining seemingly
contradictory behaviour in a complex way that would address both their short-term and
long-term goals in a most effective manner. Indians generally perceive a situation and
then respond to it as one episode in an ongoing flow of interactive relationships between
situations and responses (Sinha and Sinha, 1995).
‘Context sensitivity and balancing’, as Sinha and Kanungo (1997, p.96) argued, ‘are
inter-related, because the persons who are sensitive to their contexts are also aware of
their diverse demands and, therefore, have to balance them by adapting their behaviour to
cope with the environment’.
Indians tend to balance their responses by avoiding extremes in action and thought or
by incorporating seemingly opposite ideas in a complex way (Roland, 1988; Sinha and
Kanungo, 1997). They also tend to avoid confrontation and prefer a middle path, which is
a balancing strategy for resolving conflicts (Sinha, 2008, p.178). Sinha (2005a) mentions
that confluence of two-traditional Indian and Western cultures created a composite Indian
culture that contributed to the coexistence of inconsistent and contradictory values,
beliefs and action orientation in the minds of Indians, which they can evoke selectively
depending on the nature of a context and their interests and goals.
Verma (2011) has identified the following four cultural characteristics of an Indian
1 adaptability and ability to learn
2 context sensitivity
3 relationship orientation
4 balancing disposition.
The balancing disposition leads Indians to use avoidance, accommodation and
compromise as the most preferred modes of conflict resolution rather than other modes
such as competing and collaborating (refer to Lather et al., 2011 for details).
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
4 Understanding context-sensitive nature of Indian behaviour: findings of
some select studies
Findings of a number of studies have indicated that, whereas the cultures of various
countries differ on context sensitivity, many Eastern countries including India are high on
this dimension (Gudykunst et al., 1985; Shweder and Bourne, 1984; Triandis, 1994).
Trompenaars (1993) reported that North Americans and most North Europeans behave in
a rule-governed manner, whereas people from Eastern countries such as South Korea,
India and China behave in a context-sensitive manner. Similarly, Hall (1976) reported
that Western people apply abstract principles and generalised norms to their behaviour
because they presume that their social and physical environment is stable and governed
by universal laws and principles.
As Berry (1994, p.78) has pointed out “…human populations are considered to be
adapted (both culturally and biologically) to their ecological contexts, and individual
psychological characteristics are considered to be developed as a function of these
ecological …variables.”
Ramanujan (1989) in his thought provoking essay Is There an Indian way of
Thinking? mentions the following to capture what many Indian intellectuals agreed on
when asked to describe the ‘Indian character’: “Indians do not mean what they say, and
say different things at different times.” It essentially points towards Indian trait of
‘hypocrisy’. He further asserts that the observed behavioural inconsistencies are
essentially to do with context-sensitive nature of Indian behaviour. Different societal
cultures prefer either context-sensitive or context-free rules in their thought processes.
Indians tend to operate on the basis of context sensitivity rather than context freedom.
Extreme views are generally discouraged in any context. Consequently, behaviour may
appear inconsistent across situations.
Individual members in the organisation tend to ‘behave differently with different
persons in the same situation or behave differently towards the same person on different
occasions’ (Sinha and Kanungo, 1997, p.94).
Kakar and Kakar (2007) also argue that what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ depends on the
situation for an Indian. A behaviour/action which is right in one situation may be wrong
in another situation. The same person needs to change her/his behaviour depending on the
situation. This is what is called context-sensitive behaviour, which is ‘not just a feature of
traditional moral law but extends to many areas of contemporary Indian life and thought’
(Kakar and Kakar, 2007, p.189).
Sinha and Kanungo (1997, p.96) also mentioned that context sensitivity amongst
Indians manifests itself in relation to three components of the environment, which are
desh (place), kal (time) and patra (person). A person’s values, beliefs and actions are
judged on the basis of the nature of three components. Some behaviour that is judged
appropriate for a given place, time and person(s) may not be appropriate for other times,
places and persons.”
Indians are known to be context-sensitive people as they look upon norms as
accommodative rules for meeting the demands of the situation (Verma, 2011). They are
known to use ‘flexibility in ethics’ as ‘rightness or wrongness appears to be determined
by the context in which behaviour takes place’ (Sinha and Tripathi, 1994, p.29).
Roland (1984, p.114) mentioned that correct behaviour is expected in specific
contexts of variety of roles and relationships rather than any unchanging norms for all
situations. By showing differential sensitivity to their context, Indian can bring forth new
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
pattern of thoughts, feelings and actions for dealing favourably with the structural aspects
of the context, i.e. place, person and time (Sinha, in press, pp.25–30). He further notes
that the structural dimension of the context contains varying degrees of enabling and
debilitating potentials. This helps Indians survive and deal with both the conditions. In
crisis, they might deviate from the code of conduct or put in extraordinary effort.
However, in an enabling situation, they can excel and shine.
To sum up, context-sensitive nature makes Indians keep a close watch on time,
person and place, and hence, can shift their position or approach. This cultural
characteristic helps them deal with any circumstance with ease.
Sinha et al. (2002, pp.317–318) mentioned that
“Indians are believed to combine collectivist and individualist behaviour
and intentions in a complex way depending on the structure and the meaning
of the situation. They are primarily collectivists while dealing with family
members…. In most other situations, they tend to combine collectivist and
individualist behaviour and intentions in different ways.”
They empirically studied the normative behavioural pattern of Indians in 20 situations.
The five behavioural responses they had identified are:
1 collectivist behaviour with collectivist intention (CC)
2 individualist behaviour with individualist intention (II)
3 collectivist behaviour with individualist intention to behave subsequently in an
individualist way (CI)
4 individualist behaviour with collectivist intention to behave subsequently in a
collectivist way (IC)
5 a mix of collectivist and individualist intention and behaviour (C&I).
They found that out of 20 situations, Indians prefer CC mode in seven situations, II in one
situation only, IC in one situation only, C&I in six situations and CI mode in five
Sinha et al. (2002, p.314) summarise their finding as follows:
“Whereas seven modal responses were reported to be purely collectivist (CC),
only one was purely individualist (II). Collectivist behaviour intended to realize
an individualist goal (CI) was the modal response predicted in five situations
whereas individualist behaviour intended to serve collectivist interest (IC) was
predicted only in one situation.”
On the whole, there were seven CC (collectivist behaviour with collectivist intention), six
C&I (a mix of both collectivist and individualist behaviour and intention) and five CI
(collectivist behaviour with individualist intention to behave subsequently in an
individualist way) modal responses. In one situation, the percentage of respondents
predicting C&I was quite close to the modal response CC. IC (individualist behaviour
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
with collectivist intention to behave subsequently in a collectivist way) and II
(individualist behaviour with individualist intention) were the modal responses predicted
in one situation each.
Affluence and infrastructural adequacy tend to induce Indians to shift towards
combining individualistic and collectivist orientations, employing to a lesser extent
collectivist behaviour to serve individualist interests and opting in a few situations for
individualistic responses intended to serve individualistic purposes. This was borne out of
the mean scores in different locations within India.
…Samastipur had the highest and New Delhi and Ahmedabad had the lowest
mean scores on the prediction of purely collectivist behaviour (CC), whereas
the reverse was true for purely individualist behaviour (II), and somewhat
similar for C&I and CI response combinations. New Delhi stood first,
Ahmedabad second, and Samastipur fourth on C&I. Ahmedabad had the
highest, New Delhi the second highest, and Samastipur the lowest mean scores
on the prediction of CI. Tirupati and Bhubaneswar had neither the highest nor
lowest mean scores on CC, CI, and II. Only on C&I did Tirupati have the
lowest mean score (Sinha et al., 2002, p.317).
People who grow up in affluent and urban places may less likely to depend on others for
day-to-day needs and hence more likely to cultivate individualism in their intentions and
behaviour (Sinha et al., 2001a).
While dealing with family members and friends, Indians tend to be more collectivist
than individualist. Education had a significant effect and other background variables had
intermediate effects on the choice of either purely collectivist or a mix of collectivist and
individualist behaviour and intentions. People with little education and living in less
developed and urbanised locations (places) tend to behave in a collectivist manner (Daab,
1991; Mishra, 1994; Triandis, 1995).
Compelling and urgent personal needs and goals in conflict with the interests of
family or friends lead to a mix of individualist and collectivist behaviour and intentions.
In a recent study, Sinha et al. (2010) explored Indian mindset by investigating the
joint effects of Indians’ discrepant mindset, context sensitivity and quality of
environment on their modes of behaviour. Respondents also predicted how a person is
likely to change her/his behaviour when the conditions in which she/he works change
from disabling to enabling. The findings of the study indicated that the two most
dominant modes of behaviour, self-serving calculative and achieving high positive goal
coexisted, but were differently triggered. Context sensitivity facilitated both modes of
behaviour. Adequate infrastructure, friendly and helpful people in the neighbourhood
ensured only achieving high positive goal behaviour. On the contrary, duplicity in
professing desirable but acting under realistic compulsions, poor quality of environment
and low levels of development were conducive to self-serving calculative behaviour.
4.1 Explaining context sensitivity – Why individual’s behaviour is sensitive to a
Why do the Indians tend to demonstrate seemingly ‘inconsistent’ pattern of behaviour,
which is believed to be context-driven? Let us mention some of the plausible reasons.
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
4.1.1 Role-bounded collectivist nature of Indian society
Indian society has been a rigid role-bounded society (Garg and Parikh, 1995). Indians’
desire to be embedded in their preferred in-groups also encourages them to take their role
in various collectives as sacrosanct and hence accept without questioning. Indian society
has been described as ‘the society of role absolutism’ (Garg and Parikh, 1995, p.92),
which means surrendering the individual and self to the expectations of the collectives.
Individualistic behaviour like explicitly mentioning one’s intent which runs counter to
group norms is discouraged. Ideally, one’s behaviour and action should be guided by his
role as prescribed by different collectives.
Traditional Indian agrarian society discouraged moving away into the peer culture,
which requires voluntary definition of one’s belonging. The most significant aspects of
Indian agrarian society were the rigidly defined and bounded systems of exclusion and
inclusion defining an individual’s belonging. The caste system facilitated and reinforced
the process. It fostered closeness, dependency, cohesiveness and role rigidity. It also
nurtured parochialism with the socio-psychological community (made up of blood
relations and extended kinship) and encouraged distance from socio-temporal community
(made up of population of a village or a cluster of contiguously located villages).
Kakar and Kakar (2007) substantiate the above thesis while they mention that there is
no clear difference between self and non-self amongst the Indians, which tends to
contribute to behavioural inconsistency. It has always been regarded as puzzling. As
Kakar and Kakar (2007, p.188) mention:
How can a reputed astronomer, working at a well known institute of
fundamental sciences, also be a practicing astrologer? How can the Western
educated executive of a MNC consult horoscopes and holy men for family
decisions? How does Oxford educated cabinet minister postpone an important
meeting because the hour is astrologically inauspicious for a meeting?
Shweder and Bourne (1984), who have compared descriptive phrases used by Oriyas
from eastern Indian and mid-Westerners from the USA, have shown that the two describe
persons differently. Americans characterise a person with abstract, generic word such as
‘good’, ‘nice’, while Oriyas tend to use more concrete, contextual descriptions such as
‘he helps me’, ‘brings sweet’, etc. Kakar and Kakar (2007, p.191) substantiate this
finding by adding that ‘this tendency to supply context when providing a description
characterises the description of Indians regardless of social class, education or level of
Roland (1988) observed that the traditional Indian society provides few social options
and autonomy to Indian adolescents, which hinders the individuation process of the
Indians. Compared to the US society, relatively weak individuation process in Indian
society makes Indians closer and submissive to familial pressures.
Indians, as claimed by Kedia and Bhagat (1988), tend to have ‘associative thinking’
rather than ‘abstract thinking’. Indians, using associative thinking frame, tend to utilise
associations among events that may not have much logical basis to justify their beliefs
and actions. In contrast, the Westerners, using abstract thinking frame, tend to justify
beliefs and behaviours based on logical cause and effect or principle guided thinking.
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
4.1.2 Fuzzy notion of ‘universalism’ in Indian context
The Indian way of thinking does not seem to have developed the concept of universality.
Since the society is traditional and conservative in nature, the approach towards the entire
society does not seem to be secular. Indians are yet to develop the notion of ‘data’ or
‘objective facts’. According to Kissinger,6 India is not influenced by Newtonian ideas.
Zimmer, an acclaimed indologist, echoes Kissinger to mention that Indians can imagine a
time in history without man. West cannot do that as it is egoistic in nature.
While the west has universality, in India there are subjective positions. The
understanding of reality in India is always context sensitive and not context-free. In India,
even the perception of truth is not a universal concept.
Carl Jung (as quoted by Sinha and Tripathi, 1994, p.125) mentions:
It is true that the logical processes of India are funny and it is bewildering to
see how fragments of Western science live peacefully side by side with, what
we short-sightedly, would call superstition. Indians do not mind seemingly
intolerable contradictions.
In the West ‘man shall not kill’ is a universal statement, but in India punishments are
meted out owing to a person’s social status. Even in the Manusmriti, we find that moral
codes need not be adhered to under all circumstances.
In India, all additions are in fact a subtraction from any universal law. Stories get
their context with reference to the frame in which they have been placed. Indian texts are
historically dateless, but their contexts, uses and efficacies are explicit.
Even when we look at Indian epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, we find that
there are several episodes each story is encased in a meta-story. And within the text,
one story is the context for another within it the outer-frame story as well as the inner
sub-story provides relevant contexts for the other’s existence. Aristotle’s theory of unity
of time, place and action cannot be applied to these Indian narratives.
All Western societies generally have context-sensitive behaviour and rules but the
dominant idea is always context-free. In contrast, as Indian society is so heavily context
sensitive, all Indians aspire to be free of context as a counterpoint but in a state of
transcendence – this gives rise to the concept ofrasa’ in aesthetics, ‘moksha’ in the aims
of life and ‘sanyasa’ in the end of life-stages.7
4.1.3 Unique perception about a ‘situation’
Indians’ perception of situations tends to be episodic. It means that the Indians perceive a
situation as an episode in an ongoing chain of interactive events of situations and
responses over a period of time (Singh and Sinha, 1992). They respond to a situation in
terms of their long-term interests. Secondly, Indians tend to separate precepts from
practices. Finally, though disparity between intention and behaviour are universal, the
degree to which the Indians tolerate this disparity is strikingly phenomenal. Indians seem
to have learnt to live with a dissonance between a particular behaviour and intention
behind it (Bharati, 1985).
Sinha and Tripathi (1994, p.128) quote Kapp observing “…the paradoxical
coexistence in one culture system (i.e. India) of contradictory value orientation and actual
behavioural pattern.” They conducted a study in which majority of respondents endorsed
alternatives that were not consistent. For example, the respondents felt that they should
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
choose their career according to their own inclination and also go by the advice of parents
or friends; should seek their own happiness and also care for others’ happiness at the cost
of their own; should aspire to be successful and also compromise their success to be
helpful to others; should be independent and also be dependent; and should solve
problem on their own while looking for guidance and support from others. It seems that
respondents were attempting to strike a balance between opposing ways of dealing with
various day-to-day issues.
Braasch (1999) provided an interesting distinction between core (values, beliefs and
assumptions) and surface (styles, fads, foods, symbols, etc.) culture in India. Whereas the
core part of Indian culture is characterised as particularly fixed, the surface part is quite
flexible. Whether an Indian chooses to exhibit a behaviour based on core or surface, part
of the culture depends on the context of the situation, which in turn may be influenced by
place (desh), time (kal) and person (patra). It can be suggested that Indians have
the ability to keep the fixed core of their behaviour to the private sphere and use the
more flexible surface part at the workplace. This ‘flexible’ nature of behaviour at
workplace tends to contribute to the inconsistencies in the managerial and work
behaviour of the Indians. This was further substantiated by Sinha’s (2004) study of five
multinationals operating in India. He found that Indians being context-oriented tended to
suppress their cultural preferences and habits to mobilise themselves to meet the
expectations of expatriate superiors.
4.1.4 Ethical relativism at the core of Indian society
Dharma plays the most pivotal role in shaping the Indian ethical sensibility (Kakar and
Kakar, 2007, p.186). Ethical relativism is at the core of this sensibility, which shapes the
traditional Hindu worldview. This tends to shape the Indian way of thinking to a great
extent. ‘Right action depends on the culture of the country (desa), the historical era in
which he lives (kala), on the efforts required of him at his particular stage of life
(ashrama) and lastly on the innate character (guna)’ (Kakar and Kakar, 2007, p.186).
For instance, as Sinha and Kanungo (1997, p.97) have pointed out ‘Dharma (i.e.
religion)’, e.g. also means ‘that which holds’ people in face of the fluid and changing
environment around them. But there are many kinds of dharma. One is spontaneous
expression of biologically determined temperament (swa-dharma), which is different
from the social code of conduct (jati-dharma), which may yet be different from the
superstructure of a universally highly desirable set of obligations to self and others
(sanatana dharma). But, then there is a fourth type: apad dharma, which is the required
conduct during the emergency. Any one of the four can be resorted to for deciding on or
justifying behaviours unspecific circumstances. And yet there is an order among them.
The universally desirable set of do’s and do not’s certainly have a higher position than
the emergency measures, which can be taken only in exceptional conditions.
In Hindu religious tradition, there are six major and several minor systems of
philosophical thoughts acknowledged to be valid from their own perspectives (Paranjape,
1984). They create a worldview, in which diverse thoughts are conceptualised to
coexist and can be justified depending on the context or situation (Sinha and Kanungo,
1997, p.97).
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
Kakar and Kakar (2007, p.187) also agreed with Sinha and Kanungo to mention that
An individual can never know the configuration of all these factors in an
absolute sense, nor even significantly influence them. Nor is there a book, or its
authoritative interpreters like Church, which can help by removing doubts on
how an individual must act in each conceivable situation. ‘Right’ or ‘wrong’,
then, are relative; depending on its specific context, every action can be right –
or wrong.
4.1.5 A case of dual socialisation and hybrid self
Indian society, historically and culturally, has been internally tempered by external
influences, contributing to the coexistence of two worldviews, and hence, two ways of
life! India has been a target of external influences. A large part of India was under British
rule during the period of colonisation. The modernisation process in India has been
heavily moulded by British influence.
An influx of influences coming from outside, instead of being integrated into a
‘melting pot’, were ‘engulfed’ by Indian culture (Schulberg, 1968) retaining their
uniqueness and yet forming a part of the host culture. The process has resulted in the
development of an ‘encompassing system’ (Dumont, 1970), where seemingly
inconsistent and contradictory beliefs and actions are accommodated, balanced,
integrated and allowed to coexist (Marriott, 1976). These beliefs and actions are activated
differently in the different contexts.
Tripathi (1990) argues that both social and work values in India are a set of mixed
values of both Western and non-Western influences. Tripathi (1988) has used the concept
of variable boundary to explain Indian self. Depending on the situation and
characteristics of the person, the boundaries of ‘self’ can get extended so as to reduce the
saliency of in-group. Under such situations, an individual acts more on the basis of
individualistic orientation. In another situation, the same individual may display a
collectivistic orientation, wherein the self-boundaries may get completely submerged in
the in-group boundaries.
Sinha (2002) elaborated how dual socialisation impacts the work organisations in
India. Indian work organisations are subjected to both traditional Indian and Western
cultural influences. Because of its historicity and oral tradition, the former leads to
primary while the latter to secondary modes of expressing values. The choice of either of
the modes or their combinations depends on a context. Many of the seemingly
contradictory and inconsistent organisational behaviour and managerial practices can be
meaningfully explained by employing this cultural framework of two modes of
expressing values and three components of a context.
Fusilier and Durlabhji (2001) claim that Indians form an understanding of Indian
culture through their upbringing, but when they get educated under Western ethos, then
an element of contradiction and complexity creeps into the behavioural pattern of the
A person socialised in an Indian family tends to inculcate the values and beliefs that
1 authority of the eldest member of the family over other family members is
legitimate, unquestionable and unchallenged
2 the relationship amongst family members is hierarchical in nature (elder–younger)
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
3 each of the family members is duty bound to act according to the prescribed family
role, which is sanctioned by the society
4 family members are encouraged to withhold individual feelings.
All relationships in the family are one-dimensional and are characteristically superior-
subordinate. There is no concept of equality in the traditional family system. The
superior-subordinate dimension is so ingrained in the society of role identities that
equality of selves can rarely be achieved.
Such an attitude fosters the tendency to withhold feelings.
The family serves as a value generating and conserving unit (Gustavsson, 1997, p.19)
in Indian context, which tends to instil values like having close personalised relationship
with others, not being self-centred and caring for the whole family. The family
environment creates a sense of social commitment and dependence. Each of the family
members is socialised to have a cordial inter-personal relationship with others by being
concerned about others’ feelings.
The parent–child relationship in the family system in a collectivist culture like India
tends to be marked with ‘subordination’ and ‘emotional dependence’. Emotional
intimacy, dependency and symbiotic reciprocity are imbibed into the members through
in-family socialisation process. Ramanujan (1989) mentions that Indians are constantly
gauging and testing the level of ‘intimacy’ they may have with anyone. Indians tend to
expect ‘emotional connectedness’ from every relationship in most of the situations.
The nature of Indian family is primarily either ‘interdependent’ or ‘emotionally
dependent’ (Kagitcibasi’s categorisation of family, 1994). Even families in urban
locations are not ‘independent’ in nature unlike in Western societies. In India financial or
economic dependence decrease with socio-economic development but emotional
dependence still remains quite strong.
Scholars such as Dumont (1970), Marriott and Inden (1974) and Ramanujan (1989,
1990) describe the self in the Asian context as socio-centric, interdependent and context-
dependent, ostensibly placing community and family interest at the centre of their
universe rather than the individual (Erikson, 1979; Kakar, 1981). In this context, identity
is seen as an outcome of adjustment within and identification with multiple social groups
such as the family, caste group, clan or class (Ramanujan, 1989).
On the basis of psychotherapeutic treatment of 12 English speaking, middle-upper
class Indian patients from five religious communities, Roland (1988) reported that to an
Indian psyche relationship is usually far more important than issues. He has further stated
that the desire for emotionally close, well-defined hierarchical familial relationship is a
manifestation of their traditional collectivistic familial self.
The modal Hindu personality is characterised by obedience and conformity rather
than personal initiative (Asthana, 1956; Carstairs, 1957). Sinha (1988) has found
mildness, passivity, dependency and non-materialistic orientation amongst others to be
the ‘basic Indian values’, which Narain (1957) has also found to be the part of ‘Indian
psyche’. Scholars have attributed this to the hierarchical structure of Indian society
(Dumont, 1970; Kakar, 1971a,b).
One the whole, the in-family socialisation of Indians tends to imbibe the saliency and
need for ‘intimate personalised relationship’, suppress one’s own feelings, to demonstrate
expected behaviour as defined by the role. These are at the core of ‘familial Hindu
worldview’. However, if a person is exposed to urban/modern lifestyles, which are
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
guided by Western ethos, she/he tends to develop a tendency to give a bit more saliency
to individual interests than what she/he would have normally attached.
While contrasting between the American ‘individualised self’ and Indian ‘familial
self’, Roland (1987) mentions that the ego boundaries of Indian self-encompass others of
the extended family, a self less separate and differentiated intraphysically than the self of
most Americans. The Indian self develops to be ‘far more deeply identified with family
and jati (community) than a contemporary American’.
The second stage of socialisation takes place in educational institutions. If a person is
exposed to an educational system based on Western ethos, she/he is encouraged to
develop ‘independence’, ‘autonomy’, and be guided by personal interests. Such an
exposure leads to the development of ‘autonomous’/‘independent’ self concept, which is
at the core of Anglo-Saxon worldview. The exposure to Western value system and ethos
contribute to the development of behavioural pattern that can be viewed as autonomous,
egocentric, context-independent and reflexive (Johnson, 1985).
On the other hand, if a person is exposed to an educational system based on
indigenous ethos, she/he tends to give higher saliency to relationship, become collectivist
in thinking and worldview.
Kagitcibasi (1996a,b) proposes that such individuals, who are exposed to two kinds of
worldviews at different phases of life through different socialising institutions, tend to
have the elements of both relational (interdependent) and autonomous (independent)
selves. The coexistence of these selves, within individuals, implies the individuals can
demonstrate both individualist and collectivist tendencies depending on the situation
(Kagitcibasi, 1996a,b).
Many Indians tend to fall under the above-mentioned group, who are socialised into
two worldviews: traditional familial ‘Hindu’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon’. This makes Indian
societal culture a composite culture marked by the interplay of both traditional,
indigenous Hindu worldview and the Anglo-Saxon (Western) worldview.
Such a ‘hybrid worldview’ allows Indians to express two seemingly opposite modes
of behaviour depending on the context. The demonstration of contradictory behavioural
patterns by the Indians in different situations led Marriott (1990) to view them as
‘dividuals’ rather than ‘individuals’. The person in Indian context is not an indivisible
entity but as the sum of his or her shifting relationships. Marriott’s (1990) concept of
‘dividuals’ complements Dumontian view that holism characterises non-Western
societies where, ‘the stress is placed on the society as a whole, a collective man’, whereas
the case of individualism ‘ontologically, the society no longer exists’ (Dumont,
1970, p.8).
Gupta and Panda’s (2003) study indicated the existence of individualistic as well as
collectivistic tendencies amongst the educated professionals, which are the manifestations
of ‘individualised familial self’ – a blend of individualist and collectivist selves.
Sinha and Kanungo (1997, p.99), while summarising their argument for Indians
demonstrating context-sensitive behaviour, mentioned that
“the traditional system of Hinduism, castes, and agricultural mode of
production have interacted with the events of invasions, alien rules, and the
exposure to the West to create a context sensitivity which takes into
consideration the person-related (patra) and temporal (kal) aspects and the
ecology (desh) of the environment while responding to a given situation.”
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
Sinha (2002) observed that Indians oscillate in a triangular psychological space where
their collectivist familial and individualistic-private selves tend to balance each other or
just coexist without creating any cognitive dissonance. Inconsistency and contextual
nature of the behaviour of Indians, Kumar (2004) argues, to be the manifestations of the
interplay of brahmanical idealism and anarchical individualism.
Table 1 delineates the characteristics of dichotomous nature of Indian psyche in terms
of place of socialisation, socialising institutions, internalised values, behaviour and
attitudes, focus of identity, nature of sub-identity and finally displayed cultural values.
Table 1 Dichotomous nature of Indian psyche: dual socialisation
spects Traditional familial Hindu worldview
ndustrial Anglo-Saxon worldview
Place of socialisation Family in a traditional society (primary
Educational institutions,
organisations inspired or
influenced by Western industrial
ethos (secondary socialisation)
Institutions Traditional jajmani system based on task
interdependence; allocation of tasks based
on the caste system reinforcing
‘hierarchical orientation’ and
Professional organisations and
institutions based on Anglo-Saxon
ethos of equality, equity and
positional authority (and hence,
Internalised values,
attitudes and behaviours
Saliency of social role, rigid role hierarchy,
familial affiliative orientation, interpersonal
interdependence (public/community/
societal level)
Cosmic collectivism, ‘cosmic’ hierarchy,
individual pursuit for self-realisation and
‘salvation’; law of karma, spirituality
(individual psychological level), religious
Logical thought, rationality,
aspiration (leading to
individualism, achievement
orientation); enlightenment,
scientific rationalism
Focus of identity Emotive and spiritual maps (emotional
affinity, interdependence and religio-
spiritual orientation)
Rational cognitive map
ature of sub-identity Traditional with the centrality of ‘family’,
‘socially prescribed roles’ with a tinge of
religious and spiritualistic orientation
Westernised with the centrality of
scientific rationalism and progress
Displayed cultural values Hierarchy orientation, collectivistic
orientation with a streak of individualism,
parochialism (in-group–outgroup
orientation), saliency of family, role
rigidity and role boundedness of Indian
society, authority is unquestionable, hence,
complying with the authority without
expressing individual feelings is the desired
cultural norm, religious orientation
(ritualistic society) with a streak of
‘dormant’ or ‘inactive’ spiritualism
Egalitarianism based on social
ustice; individualistic orientation
with the explicit expression of
one’s rational thought,
professionalism, hierarchy based
on ‘positional and professional’
Displayed work values Collectivist/group orientation, saliency to
personalised relationship, ascribed
hierarchy. Dependence on others,
‘chalta hai’ (‘everything goes’) attitude,
tends to be emotional, subjective
Individualist, guided by personal
goals and self-interests,
transactional in approach, saliency
to professional/contractual
relationship vis-à-vis personalised
relationship, achievement-oriented,
competitive and rational, objective
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
5 The multi-minded Indian
A person is the product of the socialisation process. Consequent to dual socialisation in
two institutions (family and educational system), Indians tend to develop three distinct
worldviews with distinct self concept and identity. This is what we call ‘multi-minded
5.1 Three Indians: products of dual socialisation
Depending on how and where one has been brought up (traditional joint family vs.
urbanised nuclear family) and how and where she/he has been educated, extent and kind
of exposure to urban/modern context help to develop a particular ‘worldview’.
Indians have been socialised to two conflicting as well as contradictory worldviews:
1 traditional agrarian familial Hindu worldview
2 industrial Western Anglo-Saxon worldview,
which encourage two distinct life styles and modes of relationship with others.
They seem to get caught between an agrarian, traditional ethos and the industrial,
Western ethos and seem to become victims of ‘double bind’ (Garg and Parikh, 1995,
p.14), which implies a process where contradictory messages converge on the individual
from either of the two distinct sources. The traditional familial ethos is rooted in familial
and relational notion, whereas Western industrial ethos is rooted in logical and rational
notion. It provides a dichotomous hybrid self to the Indians with two seemingly
contradictory cognitive maps coexisting:
1 familial religious affective
2 logico-rational.
Most of the Indians in the third category – hybrid Indians – tend to behave in accordance
with Western logical and rational forms in formal work context though remain rooted in
the emotional and relational agrarian ethos in informal context.
The traditional focus of identity draws them towards the emotive map of Indian
culture which emphasises familial affiliative processes and inter-personal
interdependence. The industrial focus of identity impels them to seek an individualistic,
achievement centred stance. The emotive map requires the individual to do his duty as
prescribed by the society, considered socially desirable, and according to the demand of
the older generation. The other is the cognitive map of logical thought and rationality
which creates a worldview quite in tune with the modern context but out of harmony with
the emotive map. This forces the individual to either conform or rebel or just walk away.
The Indian identity thus often remains elusive.
It can be useful to cluster Indians into three ideal types based on their socialisation in
early childhood in family and later in the educational institutions. The Indians who are
socialised in rural/non-urban and non-cosmopolitan and are educated in a system that is
based on indigenous traditional ethos tend to develop a strong and deeply in-grained
‘relational’ worldview. They tend to value personalised relationship, highly collectivistic
in orientation and highly conservative and traditional in mindset and thinking. We have
labelled these Indians as ‘traditional collectivist Indian’, with a predominantly relational
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
self, with a collectivist worldview that attaches primacy to relationship. Such a self is
similar to Roland’s conceptualisation of ‘familial self’.
Indians in other category, who are socialised in urban/cosmopolitan/metro location
and are educated in a system that is based on Western ethos and value orientation, tend to
develop a strong ‘Anglo-Saxon (individualistic) worldview’. They tend to give
importance to independence, autonomy and individualism. They tend to be objective,
rational and may not value ‘personalised relationship’. We have labelled these Indians as
‘Westernised individualist Indian’, possessing an autonomous self that attaches primacy
to individual autonomy and independence.
Finally, Indians in the third category, who are exposed to two worldviews and value
orientations in two stages of socialisation, tend to develop hybrid self, demonstrating both
‘collectivist’ and ‘individualist’ behavioural patterns. We have labelled these Indians as
hybrid Indian’. Indians in this group possess a hybrid self, which is a blend of relational
and autonomous selves with hybrid worldview (Table 2).
Table 2 Three ideal types of Indians
lace of in-family
(primary) socialisation
ure of secondary
ature of self
Education system with Western
ethos and value orientation
individualist Indian
Rural/non-urban locations Education system with Western
ethos and value orientation
Hybrid self Hybrid Indian
Education system with
indigenous traditional ethos
Hybrid self Hybrid Indian
Rural/non-urban locations Education system with
indigenous traditional ethos
Familial self Traditional
collectivist Indian
6 Three Indians in three work contexts
6.1 Elaborating the concepts of ‘person’ and ‘situation’
Sinha and Kanungo’s (1997) conceptualisation of context includes
1 the place (where the person is interacting-formal setting like organisation or in an
informal setting like home; place where she/he feels secure/insecure)
2 the person (whether the person with whom one is interacting belongs to one’s in-
group and one’s position in group hierarchy, vis-à-vis with who she/he is interacting-
senior, peer or junior)
3 the time (short-term vs. long-term perspective).
In this paper, we have only considered the ‘place’ for the following reasons:
1 Firstly, the space limit of an academic paper would not allow us to cover all three
2 Secondly, our attempt is to develop a generic taxonomy that would help us to
understand how three ideal types of Indians (consequence of early socialisations)
would ‘generally’ behave in different places. We believe that there would be a minor
variation when we include person and time.
econstructing context-
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
The work situations could be segregated into work and non-work situations. We have
further limited the scope of this paper to work contexts in India, which could be three,
1 foreign MNO
2 government-owned organisation
3 family-owned organisation.
Scholars such as Virmani and Guptan (1991) and Virmani (2000) have identified four
types of business organisations in India, namely
1 multinational
2 public sector
3 government
4 family-owned.
We have merged both ‘public sector’ and ‘government’ into one category ‘government-
owned’. Secondly, we make a distinction between Indian multinational and non-Indian
multinational. Our focus in this paper is limited to foreign (non-Indian) MNOs (primarily
Western MNOs).
The template would be given as shown in Table 3.
Table 3 The operational template
Non-Indian MNO (WS1) Government-owned
organisation (WS2)
organisation (WS3)
Westernised individualist
Indian (I1)
B1 B
2 B
Hybrid Indian (I2) B4 B
5 B
Traditional collectivist
Indian (I3)
B7 B
8 B
An instance of behaviour (Bn) is the consequence of the interaction of the person (It) and
the work situation (WSs). The behaviour as demonstrated by a person depends on the
person’s worldview and the context. This can be formally represented in the following
nt s
We will be deconstructing the context-sensitive behaviour of Indians in Section 5.2.
6.2 Five generic behavioural patterns and behavioural continuum
What would be the possible range of behavioural pattern? A traditional Indian tends to
exhibit collectivist behavioural pattern that would attach saliency to relationship. For a
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
traditional collectivist Indian, relationship is the key, which needs to be nurtured and
sustained. This tendency gets manifested in work behaviour, which makes work
behaviour highly personalised. Depending on the degree of saliency attached to
relationship, it would be gross personalised work behaviour (GPWB) or subtle
personalised work behaviour (SPWB).
‘GPWB’ and ‘SPWB’ tend to differ in terms of the saliency attached to ‘personalised
relationship’. In the former work behaviour, the nature and intensity of inter-personal
relationship (e.g. member of in-group or out-group) primarily dictates one’s work
behaviour. This tendency amongst the employees can be felt and observed by even the
outsiders. However, in the later case, the attempt would be to balance the demands of
‘personalised relationship’ and work. In such a scenario, personalised relationship,
though considered to be salient, rarely solely influences one’s work behaviour, unlike in
the former.
On the other end of the continuum, Westernised individualised Indian tends to
demonstrate individualist behavioural pattern that would attach saliency to personal
goals. Personal goals need to be achieved even at the expense of relationship. This
tendency gets manifested in work behaviour, which makes work behaviour highly
impersonal. Depending on the extent of ‘impersonal’ nature of work behaviour, it would
be gross impersonal work behaviour (GIWB) or subtle impersonal work behaviour
Similar to above, ‘GIWB’ and ‘SIWB’ tend to differ in terms of the saliency attached
to ‘impersonal’ or ‘non-relational’ aspects of work behaviour. In the case of the former,
the compliance to the systems and processes is considered primary and sacrosanct.
However, in the later case, similar to SPWB, the attempt would be to strike a balance
between the demands of relationship and process.
At the middle of the continuum, a large chunk of Indians who could be viewed as
hybrid Indians, possessing hybrid self, tend to exhibit a mix of both collectivist and
individualist behavioural patterns, exhibiting mixed work behaviour (MWB). Scholars
like Sinha and Verma (1987) have found Indians to be collectivist, whereas many others
have found them to be highly individualistic, especially in achievement situations
(Tripathi, 1988). Thus, both kinds of orientations seem to exist amongst the largest group
of Indians. Their expression depends on the nature of the situation. Sinha et al. (2001b)
have found that Indians are both collectivists and individualists and that they combine the
two orientations in a complex way. The same Indian can be interdependent in one domain
and independent in another.
The core behavioural tendencies under each of five behavioural patterns are described
1 Gross personalised work behaviour (GPWB)
a Relationship is salient in work behaviour.
b Compliance to system and process is minimal.
c Espoused systems and processes are compromised for relationship.
d Demonstrates personal loyalty to others.
e Work relationship is rarely a professional relationship, it is viewed as an
extension of personal relationship.
econstructing contex
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
2 Subtle personalised work behaviour (SPWB)
a Personalised relationship is valued.
b Systems and processes are followed to the extent possible.
c An attempt is made to strike a balance between relationship and system
d At times, espoused systems and processes are compromised for relationship.
e Work relationship is a blend of personal and professional relationships.
3 Gross impersonal work behaviour (GIWB)
a System and process orientation is high.
b Relationship rarely matters to employees in this group.
c Work relationship is viewed as professional/contractual relationship with limited
person to person interaction.
d Each person is expected to play a role.
e Espoused systems and processes are followed in letter and spirit.
4 Subtle impersonal work behaviour (SIWB)
a Systems and processes are valued.
b Systems and processes are followed to the extent what key relationships allow.
c An attempt is made to strike a balance between system and process compliance
and key/salient relationship.
d At times, relationship is sacrificed for complying with system and process
e Work relationship is primarily a professional relationship though with a tinge of
personalised relation.
5 Mixed work behaviour (MWB)
a It is a mixed behavioural pattern that attempts to blend both relationship
orientation and compliance with systems and processes.
b The manifested/demonstrated behaviour is highly situation specific.
c One may behave differently in similar situations in two different contexts. In
one situation, the person may sacrifice relationship and in another similar
situation, the person may comprise on the system and process requirements.
d Tends to demonstrate high level of flexibility/adaptability, though perceived by
others as ‘inconsistent’ and unpredictable.
6.2.1 Similarities with Sinha’s conceptualisation of ‘soft’ and ‘synergetic’ work
A closer look to the above-mentioned behavioural patterns would reveal its similarity
with Sinha’s conceptualisation ‘soft’ and ‘synergetic’ work cultures (Sinha, 1990a). Both
kinds of work culture would be at both poles of the bipolar behavioural continuum
presented below. The soft work culture, where ‘profit and productivity yield to familial
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
ethic and in-group considerations’ (Sinha and Kanungo, 1997, p.102), seems to foster
‘GPWB pattern’, whereas the synergistic work culture, where “the organizations have
been able to set up the objective of self-reliance, developed strong work-related norms,
unequivocal performance standards and a generous reward system-all supported by
people-oriented management” (Sinha and Kanungo, 1997, p.102), may foster ‘GIWB
The soft work culture is marked with behavioural pattern with the following
1 primacy of personalised relationship over organisational needs and requirements
2 desire to be embedded in one’s preferred in-group
3 demonstrating personal loyalty to organisational members who matter rather than
organisational processes and systems
4 primacy of personal and social obligations compared to work obligations.
However, the synergetic work culture is characterised by following behavioural patterns:
1 saliency of work ethics
2 primacy of organisational systems and processes
3 saliency of objectivity and eliminating any scope for subjectivity.
Different Indians can make a shift from one behavioural pattern to another one in a
seamless manner depending on the context/situation.
Let us now look at the dominant work culture in three work contexts in India considered
in this paper, which Western MNOs, government organisations and family-owned
6.3 Distinct work cultures in three work contexts
The Western MNOs have been guided by Western value system/processes and make their
formal systems and processes work more effectively. The organisational processes and
systems are considered sacrosanct, and are rarely compromised for subjective
considerations. Professional competence is valued more than personal loyalty.
The government organisations (including public sector entities) are characterised by
politicisation and bureaucratisation. In such an organisation, the way things are
conducted would be perceived as ‘confusing’ and ‘unpredictable’ by outsiders. It
becomes a choice for the organisation members whether to be process centric or person
centric depending on the situation.
In contrast, the family-owned organisations tend to be run and managed in an ad-hoc
manner. Loyalty seems to be given more salience than competence. Secondly,
relationship is given more salience in this kind of set-up. The spirit of organisational
processes and systems may be compromised or bypassed to meet the demands arising out
of a need to nurture and maintain relationships.
econstructing contex
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
6.4 Probable patterns of behaviour
Many managers internalise both traditional and Western values (Sinha, 1990b), which
has resulted in ‘a strange dualism in Indian management practices’ (Virmani, 1997, p.30).
Both are seemingly incongruent, yet continuously interacting like ‘drops of oil on water’.
Indian business system and practices, hence, tend to present a very confused picture
(Virmani and Guptan, 1991) to both organisation theorists as well as practitioners. Also,
many of the Western concepts and frameworks tend to succeed only partially in
explaining work behaviour of Indian employees.
Virmani (2005) studied over 40 organisations of various types in India. Not
surprisingly, he found that
There is a distinct hiatus between the professed and actual practices followed in
most Indian organizations. This is due to conflict that arises from having alien
Western system thrust upon local Indian practices and expectations. Professed
policies and procedures are not followed within the organization. It appears
that, on the face of it, the entire management is not working. Yet, organizations
do move and, by and large, produce substantial results. This is because, as
many have said, management in an organization is effected ‘somehow’. The
dualism lies here.
Organisation is an artificial entity created to achieve a set of goals. It has its own set of
processes and systems and more importantly a culture, a way of doing business. The
organisational culture, through its explicit rules and unspelt norms allow certain kinds of
behaviour and discourage other kinds of behaviour.
Organisational members tend to adapt their behaviour according to work contexts.
Individuals, though, tend to restrain their natural behaviour in organisational context, yet
have the tendency to behave in a manner, which is similar to their behaviour in other
societal contexts.
6.5 Context-specific behavioural patterns
We have elaborated the five generic behavioural patterns in Section 5.2. In this section,
we are presenting the probable behavioural patterns as exhibited by the three ideal types
of Indians in three distinct work contexts. Some of these behavioural patterns are variants
of generic behavioural patterns mentioned above (Table 4).
Figure 1 depicts how socialisation process influences the development of worldviews,
which dictates the behavioural patterns in different work contexts.
Table 4 The taxonomy of Indian behaviour
Western MNOs
collectivist Indian
Covert parochial/
paternalistic (subtle
personalised) work
MWB Parochial/paternalistic/
ingratiating (gross
personalised) work
Hybrid Indian MWB MWB MWB
individualist Indian
GIWB Judicious/cautious
(subtle) impersonal
work behaviour
Judicious/cautious (subtle)
impersonal work behaviour
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
Figure 1 Deconstructing the ‘person’ and the ‘work context’ to develop the taxonomy of work
a Primary socialisation takes place within a family. The nature of in-family socialisation
depends on where the person lives in (urban/cosmopolitan/metro vs. non-
urban/rural/traditional setting). It happens in the early part of life usually before one
turns 12.
b Secondary socialisation takes place in educational institutions at secondary and higher
level. It includes one’s exposure to education system with Western/indigenous ethos.
c As conceptualised by Sinha et al. (2002).
6.5.1 Traditional collectivist Indians in three work contexts
Traditional collectivist Indians tend to have dominant familial worldview with a possible
awareness of Anglo-Saxon worldview. Their natural work behaviour pattern is guided by
the saliency they tend to attach to personalised relationship. For them, building and
nurturing relationship is considered salient in every situation and context. The demand
arising out of maintaining a relationship is considered more important than getting things
done. The saliency that is attached to personalised relationship leads in ‘parochial’,
‘paternalistic’ and at times ‘ingratiating’ relationship. Such behaviour comes naturally to
The work context of family-owned organisations seems to be the most conducive one
for organisational members to express such behaviour spontaneously. In contrast, the
Western MNOs may not be the right context for such behaviour, where system and
process orientation remains at the core of organisational culture. How does a traditional
collectivist Indian behave in three work contexts?
She/he would demonstrate work behaviour marked with ‘ingratiation’, ‘parochialism’
and ‘paternalism’ in family-owned organisations. She/he would form cliques with co-
employees from the same caste, community and location. Such parochial behaviour, as
econstructing contex
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
Roland argues, is a manifestation of ‘familial community self, marked with emotional
reciprocity’. Such work behaviour tends to be predominant and overt in family-owned
entities. System and process orientation seems to be largely absent in such organisations.
Attrition of this kind of Indians would probably be low, as they may be comfortable with
a work culture, which is marked with ‘ingratiation’ and ‘parochialism’.
However, such work behaviour is rarely encouraged by the Western multinational or
professionally managed organisations. System and process orientation tends to be salient.
Hence, traditional collectivist Indian would covertly attempt to form and maintain cliques
to the extent the work culture would allow in a covert manner, in spite of the fact that
such work behaviour may be construed as unprofessional and political. Traditionally,
collectivist Indians might find themselves out of place in professionally managed
(multinational) organisations. Or else, they may engage themselves in forming cliques
with the people belonging to same caste, community and speaking the same language and
survive as long as they can.
However, such Indians tend to express both kinds of behaviour in government
organisations, depending on the context. They would follow or bypass the systems and
processes depending on the situation. The situation is determined primarily by the
persons they are dealing with, whether they are part of the ‘in-group’ or ‘out-group’.
While dealing with people who are the part of their ‘in-group’, they may bypass the
systems and processes with ease, whereas when they are dealing with people who are not
part of their in-group, they may mechanistically follow the systems and processes.
6.5.2 Westernised individualist Indians in three work contexts
The Westernised individualist Indians, as mentioned earlier, is socialised to have a
dominant Anglo-Saxon worldview, with a streak of familial Hindu worldview. They tend
to be highly ‘impersonal’ and system and process oriented in their interactions with
people and task performance, respectively. Such a predisposition tends to influence their
work behaviour in different work contexts.
In Western MNOs, this type of Indians tends to be more natural compared to the two
other work contexts, namely family-owned and public sector organisations, where they
need to be more judicious and cautious. They cannot be as impersonal as they might
naturally like to be. They have to strike a balance between the demands necessary to
maintain personalised relationship and demands emanating from getting work done
systematically leveraging the systems and processes. For which, they tend to assess
various implications of demonstrating one kind of behaviour. However, they would not
be highly influenced by the need to maintain a relationship. Most often they would
sacrifice relationship for systems and processes.
6.5.3 Hybrid Indians in three work contexts
Hybrid Indians possess hybrid selves, with a blend of two worldviews familial Hindu
and Anglo-Saxon. Such Indians are comfortable in behaving in both ways. Both kinds of
behavioural patterns come naturally to them. They can follow systems and processes with
ease in one situation, whereas can bypass them in another situation. The nature of the
situation is determined by the person they are dealing. They adapt themselves easily to
different situations.
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
This type of Indian is the most adaptable of the three types. They could behave in
both individualistic and collectivistic way depending on the situation. It is very difficult
to decipher the intention and manifested behavioural pattern of this group of Indians.
We present the taxonomy of the context-sensitive behavioural pattern of the Indians
in Figure 2.
Figure 2 The taxonomy of context-sensitive behavioural patterns of the Indians
econstructing contex
ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
The proposed taxonomy mentioned above has attempted to conjecture the link between
five patterns of behaviour as demonstrated by three ideal types of Indians in three
different work contexts, with different work cultures. We have identified five patterns of
behaviour in nine work situations. The manifested behavioural patterns are triggered by
the situation and the worldviews of the three types of the Indians. In Section 5.6, we have
attempted to associate five behavioural dispositions as conceptualised by Sinha et al.
(2002) with three ideal types of Indians in terms of their dominant behavioural patterns.
6.6 Mapping Sinha et al.’s (2002) five behavioural dispositions to three types of
Sinha et al. (2002) have identified five behavioural patterns (CC, IC, II, CI and C&I).
Can we map these five behavioural patterns to the three types of Indians identified on the
basis of early socialisation?
It is safe to conjecture that traditional collectivist Indians would primarily be
collectivist (CC and IC) in their behavioural orientation because of their ‘familial self’
and relational worldview. By the same logic, the Westernised individualist Indians might
be primarily demonstrating ‘individualist’ (II and CI) behavioural pattern as they posses
‘autonomous’ and independent self with Anglo-Saxon worldview. The hybrid Indian
would be exhibiting a blend of both kinds of behavioural patterns (C&I) as their early
socialisation has helped developed a hybrid self. Based on the above conjectures, we
hypothesise that:
H1: The traditional collectivist Indian is collectivist (CC, IC) in his or her behaviour
(irrespective of the intention that triggers such behaviour), whereas the Westernised
individualist Indian would be behaving in an individualist (II, CI) manner (irrespective of
her/his intention). The hybrid Indian would demonstrate mixed behavioural pattern
H2: The hybrid Indian would be perceived as more unpredictable compared to other two
types, Westernised individualist and traditional collectivist.
6.7 Person organisation fitment and human resources implications
The traditional collectivist Indians would be spontaneous in terms of their work
behaviour in family-owned businesses, whereas the Westernised individualist Indians
would be spontaneous in MNOs. This understanding leads us to conjecture that
H3: The attrition rate of the traditional collectivist Indians in family-owned organisation
would be less MNOs.
H4: The attrition rate of the Westernised individualist Indians in the family-owned
organisations would be higher compared to government-owned organisations as well as
. Panda and R.K. Gupta
6.8 Will there be a shift in context-sensitive behavioural pattern with
Ramanujan argues that with modernisation of Indian society, there has been a movement
from context-sensitive to context-free thinking at least in principle. For instance, today,
people can listen to any raga at any time rather than strictly sticking to the time
prescribed. However, new thoughts and behaviours borrowed from the West do not
completely replace the traditional ideas. They get incorporated with the existing tradition.
In ‘ayudha puja’, even computers and type-writers are worshipped instead of weapons.
Therefore, no matter how hard we try to move to become a context-free society, the result
is that we end up creating a new Indian context. As Ramanujan (1990, p.57) himself
When Indians learn, quite expertly, modern science, business or technology,
they ‘compartmentalize’ these interests…; the new ways of thought and
behaviour do not replace, but live along with the older religious ways…. The
modern, the context-free becomes one more context.
7 Summary and conclusion
We have attempted to deconstruct the context-sensitive nature of Indian behaviour in a
systematic manner based on the findings of earlier studies. We operationalised context as
an interaction of person and situation. We identified three ideal types of Indians and three
work contexts. There are five unique patterns of behaviour as demonstrated by these three
ideal types of Indians in three work contexts. We presented the taxonomy of behavioural
pattern that would help us to understand how three ideal types of Indians would behave in
three work contexts. We have also proposed a set of hypotheses to be empirically tested
to validate the applicability of the proposed taxonomy.
This would help practitioners and expatriates understand and predict how different
kinds of Indians would behave in three different work contexts namely family-owned
organisations, government organisations and MNCs. It would also help human resources
practitioners address fitment issues (person-role fitment), and also, design and deploy
right kind of people practices that would motivate employees to excel in their roles.
The taxonomy presented here, however, tentative and conjectural in nature, which
needs to be further empirically validated and tested. In spite of this limitation, the
taxonomy, we believe, would contribute to the understanding of Indians’ behaviour in a
significant manner.
We have not included non-work (social) contexts in this taxonomy due to the space
constraint, which would be taken up in another paper.
The authors are grateful to the reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.
Moreover, they would like to acknowledge the assistance with English language editing
provided by Ms Ruby Dash.
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ensitive nature of Indians’ behaviou
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... This aspect is probed in depth in subsequent studies under different contexts. For example, in their detailed taxonomy, Panda and Gupta (2012) offered novel insights on culture-context interaction and resulting behavioural patterns. Under their scheme, we can place most of the Indian IT organisations into subtle personalised work behaviour (SPWB) category where substantial consideration for personalised relationships is made and, at the same time, systems and processes are followed to the extent possible. ...
... Procedural justice turned out to be the strongest predictor of ownership as well. This result can be explained on the basis of the fact that employees in India are influenced more by personalised relationships rather than professional work attitudes (Panda and Gupta, 2012;Saini and Budhwar, 2008;Sinha and Sinha, 1990). It is empirically demonstrated that the East Asians have stronger tendency to protect and maintain interpersonal harmony and in-group cohesion more than their self-concept as compared to their Western counterparts (Li and Cropanzano, 2009). ...
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The present study intends to explain the relationship between justice and organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB) by assessing the role of psychological ownership as a mediator. It also responds to the call from scholars for conducting more research towards antecedents of psychological ownership. It is proposed (and later empirically tested) that perceived fairness (perception) in organisation leads to development of ownership feeling (attitude) for the organisation which, in turn, results in demonstration of OCB (behaviour). Impact of different dimensions of justice on psychological ownership and organisation-based and individual-based citizenship behaviour (OCB-O and OCB-I respectively) is investigated. Employees from a major Indian IT company participated in the study and both online and paper-based questionnaire survey methods were used to minimise common method variance. Subsequent analyses revealed differential nature of relationship of different justice dimensions with ownership and OCB-O and OCB-I. Also relationship between justice dimensions and OCB dimensions were variously mediated by psychological ownership. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed and directions for future research are suggested.
... It also equips people to judge time and place, understand other's mindset, and look for situations to turn them for their advantage. Panda and Gupta (2012) also endorsed that Indians are able to put together time, place, and person, and act accordingly. Sinha and Srivastava (2015) pointed out that contextual sensitivity promotes innovative behaviour at workplace. ...
The purpose of this exploratory study is to explore worldview of budding Indian management professionals. Taking an interpretivist epistemological position, this paper attempt to address the ontological perspective of Indians. Respondents were asked to write their views on ‘What is reality according to people around you?’ Followed by one 90-minute focus group discussion (FGD) and two in-depth interviews were conducted. Four types of analyses were conducted to minimise researcher bias and touch deeper layer of meaning. Based on Schein’s layers of culture, the paper ends by proposing multiple layers in Indian culture namely, basic assumptions, values and artefacts. Paper conjecture ‘go with the flow’ or samarpan (devotion) as the deep-rooted philosophy or basic assumption that influences Indian values and practices. Typical Indian values: faith in God, paradoxical mindset, family orientation, contextual sensitivity, and tolerance. The physical artefacts: jugaad, adaptability, visit to temples, prayers, fasting, yoga, meditation and tolerance for ambiguity.
... It also equips people to judge time and place, understand other's mindset, and look for situations to turn them for their advantage. Panda and Gupta (2012) also endorsed that Indians are able to put together time, place, and person, and act accordingly. Sinha and Srivastava (2015) pointed out that contextual sensitivity promotes innovative behaviour at workplace. ...
... Context sensitivity stands apart from other studies being situational relating to financial settings. Behaviour of Indians were examined by Panda and Rajen (2012) on the basis of their early socialization in the work place. They found out three basic kind of organizational behaviour among the employees. ...
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Investors around the world often fail to succeed in the stock market due to shortcomings in their personalattributes and approach to investment. There are numerous studies on the personal attribute of the investor but only few studies have looked into the approaches to investment in market situations. This is an empirical study which aims to classify retail investors based on their Pre Investing and Post investing approaches. We have used Exploratory Factor Analysis to identify various investor types on the basis of their approach and categorize them as Market-driven, Planning-driven, Safety-driven, Advice-driven, Time-driven, Caution-driven investors. Further, we check how the contributing approaches lead to expected return for each investor type. We find Market, Planning, and Caution-driven investors are able to achieve their expected return, whereas Advice-driven investors are not able to do so. Our study indicates that planning at individual level, market driven strategy and ability to book loss are useful in fetching desired return by the investor. Both time-driven long term investors, investing on the advice of friends and safety driven investors, who display safe approach by choosing good broker/good advisors and tangible companies, are found not to achieve expected return. Investors depending fully on brokers' advice may end up making loss in the market. The study will help in providing investor specific education by identifying their behavioral weakness.
... In fact, Panda and Gupta (2012) Such behavioural patterns are exhibited by three ideal types of Indians (westernised individualist Indian, traditional collectivist Indian and hybrid Indian) depending on the nature of work contexts, which could be a multinational organisation, family owned organisation or a government organisation. ...
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Mintzberg (2004) in his book Managers not MBAs has noted that an MBA course tends to focus on analytical skills, and hence, prepares students for nothing. Ghosal (2005) has noted that bad management theories were destroying good management practices. Bennis and O'Toole (2005) have attributed the failure to produce relevant research to business schools' obsession for scientific research and hiring professors with limited organisational experience, who end up producing research and teaching that is not relevant to managers and organisations outside. The issue of 'irrelevance' of management education is more acutely experienced in India as business schools in India tend to rely on the Western world even for the text books. It is high time to revitalise management education in India by contextualising both course curriculum and andragogy. This paper has made a serious attempt and offered a few suggestions to re-engineer the management education in India. The author has argued and presents a case for educators and educational administrators to take a fresh look at the course curriculum, andragogy, and students' learning outcomes of management education in India.
Culture and Organizational Behaviour is a modular textbook that highlights the effect of the confluence of western and Indian cultural influences. This book presents the basic knowledge of organizational behavior as developed in the west, adds the latest global research findings, and situates them in the Indian cultural perspective. The book also highlights new issues that emanate from the interface of Indian culture and organizational behavior. Key Features: Simple and relatively jargon-free language, accompanied by an Instructor's Manual; Measures and questionnaires for illustrations, discussions, and further explorations of researchable ideas; and Attempts to create enough space for the students, faculty, researchers, and policy makers to address theoretical as well as practical issues.
Mind represents intellect while mind set determines a person's attitude and approach. Identity conceptualized as 'aspects of individuality', 'self-sameness' and 'unique way of going through life and relationships' is also envisaged as 'national character' and 'mentality'. Global identity requires restructuring of personal, emotional and behavioral domains and working with one's mind set. Behind the global face of Indians is an Indian mind set featuring differential sensitivity to the context, nearness and distance in relationships, belief in power distance, and long term perspective, hope and balancing disposition. These cultural features contribute in making of the global Indian. Moreover, knowing the harsh social reality motivates Indians towards sensible economic behavior while their entrepreneurial spirit and spiritual orientation help them become successful and manage difficulties.