Interpersonal Assertive Communication Behavior of Indian Millennials.

AuthorRaina, Reeta


India is predicted to be the youngest country in the world by 2022 with an average age of 29 (Nayar, 2013). It becomes obvious that this new huge, powerful, and overwhelming force of millennials will dominate the business scene in India and they can wield immense influence on the way businesses are run. Thus, it becomes imperative to have a more nuanced understanding of Indian millennials in order to deal with them more effectively and productively.

Post globalization, India, witnessed some changes at social, economic and cultural levels. A new generation of Indian millennial youth is emerging who are seen to be different in their habits, choices, mindsets, expectations etc. from the older generations (Mahajan, 2017). Strauss and Howe (1991) in their Generational Theory explain that the era in which a person was born affects the development of his view about the world and his value systems are shaped by observing the working pattern of his immediate previous generation. Thus, the radical change that we witness today in New Indian Millennials could be attributed to the technological revolution that occurred throughout their youth and helped them to connect with the wider world and are exposed to better education and more new opportunities. Indian millennials share many common traits with the millennials from other parts of the world. They too, are assumed to be more evolved, more liberal and unlike their predecessors are not driven by older values. They are also seen to be gender sensitive. They treat women at par, have no hassles in working with women colleagues, share a comfort level with women employees and are ready to acknowledge their contribution at workplace. This set of millennials are open to the idea of double income at home, and also very supportive of their wives pushing their careers. Gupta (2016) in his analysis based on the recent Morgan Stanley report on its Alpha Wise survey, commented, "The youth of this generation are better educated, better connected to information, and better connected to the world than their predecessors in prior generations. Indian Millennials could become the largest disruptive force in India for years to come, and this trend is still in its nascent stages."

Different Styles of Communication

There is a stereotypical view of millennials that characterizes them as technologically sophisticated multitaskers, capable of significant contributions to tomorrow's organizations, yet deficient in communication skills (Hartman & McCambridge, 2011). Indian corporations have been increasingly, expressing their concern on poor communication skills in English among the fresh recruits whom they feel have become as 'corporate burdens' (Agarwal & Chitranshi, 2013). Their responses could vary from avoidance and accommodation to competition and aggression in various events. When people are seen to display courage to stand up and speak out for their own positions against the other person's view, he is defined as an assertive person. Similarly when a person let others dominate him/her, impose their will on them, they are labelled as submissive and the person who intrudes into the personal space of others is defined as aggressive. Thus, the interpersonal communication style is categorized into three: aggressive, passive and assertive with each behavior having its own characteristic behavioral and verbal signs. Generally, people converse in one or a combination of these three types of communication. The effectiveness of interpersonal relations depends to a great extent on the effectiveness of our interpersonal communication behavior which is supposedly known to play a role in stress management, conflict resolution and developing a positive self-concept. It can be used as an instrument for initiating and maintaining socially supportive relationships and hence enjoying better emotional well-being (Eskin, 2003; Ames & Wazlawek, 2014). Having the right touch with interpersonal assertiveness is not only meaningful but it is a big challenge to acquire this skill (Ames, 2008; Ames & Wazlawek, 2014).

Influence of National Culture

India is a high power distance culture where powerful people receive disproportionately larger gains than the less powerful persons (Hofsteade, 1980). "A boss, a father, and a teacher are not to be questioned and their authority is not to be challenged" (Sinha, 2008: 40). Juniors and subordinates go the extra mile to show their submissiveness and loyalty to their seniors and superiors (Sinha, 1990). They are not supposed to retort to a senior even if they are wrong, or try to undermine the senior's authority. It is generally a norm for the Gen. X and the baby boomers in India to accept the power differentials and submit to the authority of people who are seniors in position or status. Thus, in view of the new millennials in India, who have an exposure to the Western world which thrives on the principles of equanimity, liberalism and transparency, it is observed that they have taken a departure from the traditional mindset of sub servility. Nilekani (2008) anticipates that the Indians growing up in post -liberalization India would not be interested in living with the legacy of the past and they will rather forge new paths. Kalpathi (2016), too, admits to the changes happening amongst the new Indian millennials but the change is gradual. According to him, internet has limited penetration in India, hence, its benefits could not have reached and been availed by the rural youth as well. Besides, he opines that the Indian students are not as yet, willing to take the big leap out of the comfort of their parental support system. They, according to him continue to be the prisoners to the expectations of their parents. Thus, there is a change but it is gradual and not radical.

Relevance & Objective of the Study

It is obvious that there has been a generational swap /shift in India, but the question arises: has this generational shift impacted their interpersonal communication behavior as well. Has the new life experiences impacted their choice of communication style? Has the new generation of millennials broken away from their traditional role models who were majorly from their large families, or replaced by role models from their workplace and professional world? Do they stand up for their rights and privileges like their counterparts in the West or do they continue to follow the model behavior of their predecessors? Does it lead to some kind of generational diversity characterizing Indian organizations? There is a need to seek answers to these queries as it has been established that interpersonal communication assertive behavior of people leads to effective working relationships of employees as the wellbeing of the self. Thus, the objective of the present study is primarily, to investigate the generational differences (between the older generation and the new Millennials) with respect to their interpersonal assertive communication behavior.

Concept of Generations & the Generational Classification

"A generation is defined as an 'identifiable group that shares birth years, age location, and significant life events at critical developmental stages" (Kupperschmidt, 2000: 66). This implies that generations are classified into different categories based on their socio-cultural beliefs and attitudes, and the historical events that individuals witness in their growing-up years. Earlier, approximately around twenty years were considered as a difference in age for the generation shift, but now, this gap is reduced further as these days, one can get to taste difference of opinion within generations which are as less as five years apart. There have been many attempts made by researchers and, practioners etc. to identify these generations like silent generation; generation baby boomer, Gen.X or gen. Y etc. (Cekada, 2012; Dwyer, 2009; Lester et al., 2012). There have been studies specific to Indian context also, related to classification of generations (Ghosh & Chaudhari, 2009; Ericson, 2009; Singh, 2013). Some have used the historical context and others economic liberalization as the base point. The present study uses the concept of generation as identified by Dokadia (2015) who categorized the generations into three broad categories including senior (born in 1969 or earlier), middle (born in 1970-1984) and young (born in 1985or later). The present study chose to use Dokadia's (2015) study as the base for classifying the generations in India since this study is the most recent classification of generations in India.

Assertiveness as a Concept

Assertiveness, broadly speaking, is defined as standing up for one 's personal rights and communicating thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a sincere, straightforward, and appropriate manner without violating others' rights (Lange & Jakubowski, 1976). Assertive communication involves respect for the boundaries of oneself and others. It also presumes an interest in the fulfillment of needs and wants through cooperation (Gottman, 2000).

Vagos and Pereira (2010) attributes people's assertive and non-assertive behavior to their cognitive filters or emotions that interprets social cues differently. For instance, non-assertive behavior is linked to certain affective personality variables such as low-self-esteem; inhibitory anxiety; social anxiety or fear of disapproval; self-depreciation; low sense of worth, excessive interpersonal anxiety, fear of negative evaluation or shyness (Wolpe,1976; Rich & Schroeder,1976; Galassi et al., 1974; Lefevre & West, 1981; Orenstein, Orenstein & Carr, 1975; Watson & Friend,1969; Kirk, 2011). Simultaneously, other studies have revealed direct and positive relationship between assertiveness and high self-esteem...

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