Conflict Behaviors and Their Relationship to Popularity

Article excerpt

Conflict is an inescapable feature of every human relationship and can lead to constructive as well as destructive outcomes (Deutsch, 1994). Conflict, when managed constructively, is a necessary and positive condition for the development and growth of children and adolescents, since it may help them move into deeper, more meaningful relationships with others (Johnson & Johnson, 1996). When managed destructively, however, there are numerous negative outcomes, such as detachment from school and lower grades (Berndt & Keefe, 1992), lower self-concept (Mild, 1990), undermined self-esteem and self-confidence (Opotow, 1991), and low agreeableness (Graziano, Jensen-Campbell, & Hair, 1996). These negative outcomes may lead to social isolation, loss of status among peers, and psychological maladjustment (Johnson & Johnson, 1996).

Conflict as a relationship variable has generally been defined as a state of incompatible behaviors (Deutsch, 1994). Two dimensions pertinent to conflict management--concern for self and concern for other, each of which can range from low to high--have been articulated by many theorists (Blake & Mouton, 1964; Deutsch, 1994; Johnson & Johnson, 1987; Thomas, 1976). Based on these dimensions, five conflict behaviors have been identified: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating (Thomas, 1976; Johnson & Johnson, 1987). Competing is associated with high concern for self and low concern for other; collaborating with high concern for self and other; compromising with intermediate concern for self and other; avoiding with low concern for self and other; and accommodating with low concern for self and high concern for other (Deutsch, 1994). Competing forces one's viewpoint at the expense of others'; collaborating seeks effective problem-solving activities, so that all parties can achieve a m utually satisfying conclusion to the dispute; compromising searches for a middle-ground solution; avoiding involves withdrawal from conflict situations; and accommodating entails sacrificing one's own needs for the sake of another (Thomas, 1976). The constructive and destructive courses of conflict largely depend on which of these conflict behaviors is used.

Although conflict behaviors have been extensively studied from different vantage points, two issues are the focus of the present study. One is to examine the individual's self-reported conflict behaviors along with the opponent's behaviors as perceived by the individual. The other issue is to understand the role of the individual's sociometric status in the perception of these behaviors in self and other.

Conflict scholars (Deutsch, 1994; Thomas, 1976) have emphasized that, during conflict, each party's behavior is a reaction to the other's behavior. Stated differently, a party's behavior may change along with his/her perception of the other's behavior. In an early study, Thomas and Walton (1971) found that managers reported using tactics similar to those they saw the other party using. Cooperation tended to be compatible with cooperation, competition was inclined to be compatible with competition, and each was liable to be incompatible with the other. On the other hand, Thomas and Pondy (1977) have drawn attention to attributions, which play a crucial mediating role in shaping each party's reactions to the other's behaviors. They found that individuals tend to see themselves as cooperative but others as competitive.

Issues related to compatibility and incompatibility of conflict behaviors have received less attention in the literature on adolescent conflict. However, understanding the compatibility or incompatibility of conflict behaviors is important, since an individual's choice of conflict behavior will affect whether a conflict will take a constructive or destructive course. Examination of the characteristics of constructive and destructive conflicts (Deutsch, 1994; Thomas, 1976) has suggested that constructive conflict is characterized by perceived similarity in beliefs and attitudes, openness in communication, and trust and friendliness. …