The Relationship between Perceived Instructor Communicative Characteristics and College Students' Conflict-Handling Styles

By Zigarovich, Karissa L.; Myers, Scott A. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2011 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Perceived Instructor Communicative Characteristics and College Students' Conflict-Handling Styles


Zigarovich, Karissa L., Myers, Scott A., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The purpose of this study was to examine student use of conflict-handling styles in regard to four perceived instructor communicative characteristics: clarity, relevance, caring, and verbal aggressiveness. Participants were 286 undergraduate students who (a) completed a series of four instruments in reference to a course instructor and (b) indicated the likelihood of using each of the five conflict-handling styles with the same instructor if a conflict arose. The results indicated that students who perceive their instructors as engaging in clarity, relevance, and caring, but not verbal aggressiveness, are likely to use the collaborating and compromising conflict-handling styles with them. Moreover, it was found that students who perceive their instructors as engaging in verbal aggressiveness and, to a much lesser extent, relevance are likely to use the competing and, to a lesser extent, the accommodating and avoiding conflict-handling styles with them. Future research should consider examining the link between students' communicative characteristics and their conflict-handling styles.

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When student-instructor conflict occurs in the college classroom, students often respond by using one of five conflict-handling styles: competing, accommodating, avoiding, compromising, and collaborating (Jamison & Thomas, 1974).These five styles differ in their amounts of assertiveness and cooperativeness (Thomas, 1976); consequently, the use of each style presents a unique way in which students handle a conflict situation (Jones, 1976; Kabanoff, 1987; Womack, 1988). Students who use the competing conflict-handling style (high assertiveness, low cooperativeness) pursue their own concerns, try to win their own position, and handle situations their own way. Students who use the accommodating conflict-handling (low assertiveness, high cooperativeness) neglect their own concerns by attempting to satisfy others and agreeing with others. Students who use the avoiding conflict-handing style (low assertiveness, low cooperativeness) avoid or delay conflict, do not address their concerns or the concerns of others, place the conflict aside, and fail to take a position. Students who use the compromising conflict-handling style (moderate assertiveness, moderate cooperativeness) negotiate and bargain with others as a way to satisfy the needs of both individuals. Students who use the collaborating conflict-handling style (high assertiveness, high cooperativeness) strive to resolve conflict and attempt to satisfy the needs of all the individuals involved in the conflict.

Because researchers have not examined how students use conflict-handling styles in response to perceived instructor communicative characteristics, the purpose of this study was to examine student use of conflict-handling styles in regard to four perceived instructor communicative characteristics: clarity, relevance, caring, and verbal aggressiveness. Clarity is the process through which instructors stimulate the desired meaning of course content through the use of appropriately-structured verbal and nonverbal messages (Chesebro, 2003) and is achieved by structuring information; providing previews, reviews, and summaries; speaking fluently; and staying on task (Chesebro & McCroskey, 2000, 2001). Relevance consists of explicit instructor behaviors that indicate whether the instructional content satisfies students' personal goals, career goals, or personal needs (Keller, 1983) and can take the form of examples and illustrations, the integration of student experiences to demonstrate course concepts, and the inclusion of current events into course lecture and discussion (Frymier & Shulman, 1995). Caring involves the perception students hold about whether instructors are concerned with students' welfare (Teven & McCroskey, 1997) and consists of instructor empathy, understanding, and responsiveness (McCroskey, 1992). Verbal aggressiveness is a message behavior that attacks a person's self-concept in order to deliver psychological pain (Infante & Wigley, 1986) and can take the form of character and competence attacks, teasing, ridicule, threats, and swearing (Infante, 1987). …

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