You might be aware of the fact that people differ in their attitudes and behavior. For instance, you interact daily with people who have different types of personalities. And haven’t you seen family members or friends behave in ways that prompted you to wonder: Why did they do that? Effective human beings need to understand behavior and this handout introduces several psychological factors that influence behavior. It is to be noted that the context of this handout is that of employee-management and hence various behavioral theories and their implications are studded with examples from the organized sector.

human resource development management  FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR

One of the biggest challenges in understanding human behavior is that it addresses issues that aren’t obvious. Like an iceberg, behavior has a small visible dimension and a much larger hidden portion. What we see when we look at people is their visible aspects: actions, attitudes, speech, acts, dress, language used, gait, etc. But under the surface are other elements that we need to understand – elements that influence how people behave they way they do and how they work. As we shall see, behavior provides us with considerable insights into these important, but hidden, aspects of human beings.


Attitudes are evaluative statements – either favorable or unfavorable – concerning objects, people, or events. They reflect how an individual feels about something. When a person says, “I like my job,” he or she is expressing an attitude about work. To better understand the concept of attitudes, we should look at an attitude as made up of three components: cognition, affect, and behavior. The cognitive component of an attitude is made up of the beliefs, opinions, knowledge, or information held by a person. The belief that “discrimination is wrong” illustrates cognition. The affective component of an attitude is the emotional or feeling part of an attitude. Using our earlier example, this component would be reflected by the statement, “I don’t like Ali because he discriminates against women”. Finally, affect can lead to behavioral outcomes. The behavioral component of an attitude refers to an intention to behave in a certain way toward someone or something. To continue our example, I might choose to avoid Ali because of my feelings about him. Looking at attitudes as being made up of three components – cognition, affect, and behavior – helps show the complexity of attitudes. But for the sake of clarity, keep in mind that the term attitude usually refers only to the affective component.

Attitudes and Consistency

Did you ever notice that people change what they say so it doesn’t contradict what they do? Perhaps a friend of yours has repeatedly argued that she thinks joining a sorority is an important part of college life, but then she goes through rush and doesn’t get accepted. All of a sudden, she’s saying that she thinks sororities are dumb and sorority life isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Research has generally concluded that people seek consistency among their attitudes and between their attitudes and behavior. This means that individuals try to reconcile differing attitudes and align their attitudes and behavior so they appear rational and consistent. When there is an inconsistency, individuals will take steps to make it consistent either by altering the attitudes or the behavior or by developing a rationalization for the inconsistency. For example, a campus recruiter for R & S Company, who visits college campuses, identifies qualified job candidates, and sells them on the advantage of R & S as a good place to work, would experience conflict if he personally believed that R & S had poor working conditions and few opportunities of promotion. This recruiter could, over time, find his attitudes towards R & S becoming more positive. He may, in effect, convince himself by continually articulating the merits of working for the company. Another alternative is that the recruiter could become openly negative about R & S and the opportunities within the company for prospective applicants. The original enthusiasm that the recruiter might have shown would dwindle, probably to be replaced by cynicism towards the company. Finally, the recruiter might acknowledge that R & S is an undesirable place to work but, as a professional recruiter, realize that his obligation is to present the positive aspects of working for the company. He might further rationalize that no workplace is perfect and that his job is not to present both sides of the issue but to present a favorable picture of the company.


Some people are quiet and passive; others are loud and aggressive. When we describe people using terms such as quiet, passive, loud, aggressive, ambitious, extroverted, loyal, tense, or sociable, we’re categorizing them in terms of personality traits. An individual’s personality is the unique combination of the psychological traits we use to describe that person.

Personality Traits

How would you describe your personality? There are dozens of personality traits you could use; for instance, aggressive, shy, ambitious, loyal and lazy. Over the years, researchers have attempted to focus specifically on which traits would lead to identifying one’s personality. Two of the most widely recognized efforts include the Myers-Briggs Type indicator and the five factor model of personality.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: Personality assessment tests are commonly used to reveal an individual’s personality traits. One of the most popular personality tests is the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It consists of more than a hundred questions that ask people how they usually act or feel in different situations. The way you respond to these questions puts you at one end or another of four dimensions:

  1. Social interactions: Extrovert or Introvert (E or I). An extrovert is someone who is outgoing, dominant, and often aggressive and who wants to change the world. Extroverts need a work environment that is varied and action oriented, that lets them be with others, and that gives them a variety of experiences. An individual who’s shy and withdrawn and focuses on understanding the world is described as an introvert. Introverts prefer a work environment that is quiet and concentrated, that lets them be alone, and that gives them a chance to explore in depth a limited set of experiences.
  2. Preference for gathering data: Sensing or Intuitive (S or N). Sensing types dislike new problems unless there are standard ways to solve them; they like an established routine, have a high need for closure, show patience with routine details, and tend be good at precise work. On the other hand, intuitive types are individuals who like solving new problems, dislike doing the same thing over and over again, jump to conclusions, are impatient with routine details, and dislike taking time for precision.
  3. Preference for decision making: Feeling or Thinking (F or T). Individuals who are feeling type are aware of other people and their feelings, like harmony, need occasional praise, dislike telling people unpleasant things, tend to be sympathetic, and relate well to most people. Thinking type are unemotional and uninterested in people’s feelings, like analysis and putting things into logical order, are able to reprimand people and fire them when necessary, may seem hard-hearted, and tend to relate well only to other thinking types.
  4. Style of making decision: Perceptive or Judgmental (P or J). Perceptive types are curious, spontaneous, flexible, adaptable, and tolerant. They focus on starting a task, postpone decisions, and want to find out all about the task before starting it. Judgmental types are decisive, good planners, purposeful, and exacting. They focus on completing a task, make decisions quickly, and want only the information necessary to get a task done.
Combining these preferences provide descriptions of 16 personality types.

It is said that these personality types influence the way people interact and solve problems. For instance, if your boss is an intuitive type and you’re sensing type, you’ll gather information in different ways. An intuitive type prefers gut reactions, whereas a sensor prefers facts. To work well with your boss, you would have to present more than just facts about a situation and bring out how you feel about it. The MBTI has been used to help managers select employees who are well matched to certain types of jobs. All in all, The MBTI can be a useful tool for understanding personality and predicting people’s behavior.

The Big-Five Model of Personality

Although the MBTI is very popular, it suffers from one major criticism. It lacks evidence to support its validity. That same criticism cannot be applied to the five-factor model of personality, more often called the big-five model. The big-five personality traits are:

  1. Extraversion: The degree to which one is sociable, talkative, and assertive.
  2. Agreeableness: The degree to which someone is good natured, cooperative, and trusting.
  3. Conscientiousness: The degree to which someone is responsible, dependable, persistent, and achievement oriented.
  4. Emotional stability: The degree to which someone is calm, enthusiastic, and secure (positive)or tense, nervous, depressed, and insecure (negative).
  5. Openness to experience: The degree to which someone is imaginative, artistically sensitive, and intellectual.

The big five provide more than just a personality framework. Research has shown that important relationship exist between these personality dimensions and job performance. For example, one study examined five categories of occupations: professionals (such as engineers, architects, and attorneys), police managers, salespeople, and semiskilled and skilled employees. Job performance was defined in terms of employee performance ratings, training competence, and personnel data such as salary level. The result of the study showed that conscientiousness predicted job performance for all five occupational groups. Predictions for the other personality dimensions depended on the situation and on the occupational group. For example, extroversion predicted performance in managerial and sales positions – occupations in which high social interaction is necessary. Openness to experience was found to be important in predicting training competency. Ironically, emotional security wasn’t positively related to job performance. Although one might expect calm and secure workers to perform better than nervous ones, that wasn’t the case. Perhaps that result is the function of the likelihood that emotionally stable workers often keep their jobs while emotionally unstable workers often do not. Given that all the people who participated in the study were employed, the variance on that dimension was small and insignificant.

Emotional Intelligence

Research into the area of emotional intelligence has offered some new insights into personality. Emotional intelligence (EI) is an assortment of non-cognitive skills, capabilities, and competencies that influence a person’s ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures. It’s composed of five dimensions: Self-awareness: The ability to be aware of what you’re feeling Self-management: The ability to manage one’s own emotions and impulses Self-motivation: The ability to persist in the face of setbacks and failures Empathy: The ability to sense how others are feeling Social skills: The ability to handle the emotions of others. EI has been shown to be positively related to job performance at all levels. For instance, one study looked at the characteristics of Bell Lab engineers who were rated as stars of their peers. The researchers concluded that stars were better at relating to others. That is, it was EI, not academic intelligence that characterized high performers. A second study of Air Force recruiter generated similar findings. Top-performing recruiters exhibited high levels of EI. What can we conclude from these results? EI appears to be especially relevant to success in jobs that demand a high degree of social interaction.

Predicting behavior from personality traits

Five personality traits have proved to be the most powerful in explaining individual behavior in organizations. They are locus of control, Machiavellianism, self-esteem, self- monitoring, and risk propensity.

Locus of control: Some people believe that they control their own fate. Others see themselves as pawns, believing that what happens to them in their lives is due to luck or chance. The locus of control in the first case is internal; these people believe that they control their own destiny. The locus of control in the second case is external; these people believe that their lives are controlled by outside forces. Research evidence indicates that employees who rate high on externality are less satisfied with their jobs, more alienated from the work setting, and less involved in their jobs than are those who are high on internality. A manager might also expect externals to blame a poor performance evaluation on their boss’s prejudice, their co-workers, or other events outside their control; internals would explain in terms of their own actions.

Machiavellianism: The second characteristic is called Machiavellianism (Mach) named after Niccolo Machiavelli, who wrote in the 16th century on how to gain and manipulate power. An individual who is high in Machiavellianism is pragmatic, maintains emotional distance, and believes that ends can justify means. “If it works, use it” is consistent with a high Mach perspective. Do high Machs make good employees? That depends on the type of job and whether you consider ethical factors in evaluating performance. In jobs that require bargaining kills (such as a purchasing manager) or that have substantial rewards for winning (such as a salesperson working on commission), high Machs are productive. In jobs in which ends do not justify the means or that lack absolute measure of performance, it’s difficult to predict the performance of high Machs.

Self-Esteem: People differ in the degree to which they like or dislike themselves. This trait is called self-esteem. The research on self-esteem (SE), offers some interesting insights into the study of human behavior. For example, self-esteem is directly related to expectations for success. High SEs believe that they posses the ability they need in order to succeed at work. They will take more risk in job selection and are more likely to choose unconventional jobs than are people with low self-esteem. The most common finding on self-esteem is that low SEs are more susceptible to external influence than are high SEs. Low SEs are dependent on receiving positive evaluation from others. As a result, they are more likely to seek approval from other and are more prone to conform to the beliefs and behaviors of those they respect than are high SEs. Low SEs will tend to be concerned with pleasing others and, therefore, will be less likely to take unpopular stands than are high SEs. Not surprisingly, self-esteem has also been found to be related to job satisfaction. A number of studies confirm that high SEs are more satisfied with their jobs than are low SEs.

Self-Monitoring: Another personnel trait that has received increased attention is called self-monitoring. It refers to an individual’s ability to adjust his or her behavior to external, situational factors. Individuals high in self-monitoring show considerable adaptability in adjusting their behavior. They’re highly sensitive to external cues and can behave differently in different situations. High self-monitors are capable of presenting striking contradictions between their personnel persona and their private selves. Low self-monitors cannot adjust their behavior. They tend to display their true dispositions and attitudes in every situation, and there’s high behavioral consistency between who they are and what they do. Research on self-monitoring is fairly new; thus, predictions are hard to make. However, preliminary evidence suggests that high self-monitors pay closer attention to the behavior of others and are more flexible than are low self-monitors. We might also hypothesize that high self-monitors are successful in managerial positions that require them to play multiple, and even contradictory, roles. The high self-monitor is capable of putting on different ‘faces’ for the audience.

Risk Taking: People differ in their willingness to take chances. Differences in the propensity to assume or to avoid risk have been shown to affect how long it takes managers to make a decision and how much information they require before making their choice. For instance, in one study, a group of managers worked on simulated exercises that required them to make hiring decisions. High risk-taking managers took less time to make decisions and used less information in making their choices than did low risk-taking managers. Interestingly, the decision accuracy of the two groups was the same. To maximize organizational effectiveness, managers should try to align employee risk-taking propensity with specific job demands. For instance, high risk-propensity may lead to effective performance for a commodities trader in brokerage firm because this type of job demands rapid decision making. On the other hand, high risk-taking propensity might prove a major obstacle to accountants auditing financial statements.

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