Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Taking Conflict Personally and the Use of the Demand/withdraw Pattern in Intraethnic Serial Arguments

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Taking Conflict Personally and the Use of the Demand/withdraw Pattern in Intraethnic Serial Arguments

Article excerpt

Trapp and Hoff (1985) proposed the term serial arguments to characterize continuing discussions of the same topic that occur over time (at least twice) within a dyad in which the two individuals try to resolve some incompatibility between them through arguing. Trapp and Hoff found that interpersonal arguments often remained unresolved, which made them resurface later. Research about this topic has examined perceived resolvability, relational satisfaction (e.g., K. Johnson & Roloff, 1998), well-being (e.g., Malis & Roloff, 2006), and goals and tactics used in serial arguments (e.g., Bevan, Finan, & Kaminsky, 2008).

Demand/withdraw (DM/W) is a behavioral pattern in which "one partner pressures the other through emotional demands, criticism, and complaints while the other retreats through withdrawal, defensiveness, and passive inaction" (Christensen & Heavey, 1993, p. 73). This strategy is particularly important to examine in serial arguments because it "represents one of the most destructive interaction patterns in interpersonal relationships" (Schrodt, Witt, & Shimkowski, 2013, p. 2). It has been associated, for example, with lower relationship satisfaction (Caughlin & Huston, 2002) and depression (Byrne, Carr, & Clark, 2004). The present study seeks to identify possible antecedents that may trigger the use of this pattern in serial arguments. We propose that the trait of taking conflict personally [(TCP), "the feeling of being personally engaged in a punishing life event" that makes a person feel devalued, threatened, anxious, and insulted while engaging in conflict (Hample & Dallinger, 1995, p. 306)] may predict the use of the DM/W pattern.

A second goal of this study is to examine whether ethnicity is associated with serial argument behaviors. The majority of research on this topic has relied mainly on Caucasian samples. Other ethnic, racial, or cultural groups have not been studied closely [for exceptions, see Cionea & Hopartean (2011) and Radanielina-Hita (2010)]. However, ethnicity can no longer be a simple demographic variable in the study of communication phenomena, particularly in the United States, where ethnic and racial minorities account for 91.7% of the overall population growth since 2000 (Pew Research Center, 2011). Ethnic group membership matters because ethnic identity affects communication (Betancourt & Lopez, 1993; Stephan & Stephan, 2000a). Particularly, how individuals are socialized and enculturated may result in different patterns of communication in serial arguments. Identifying and examining such possibilities is necessary if research is to explain this phenomenon thoroughly. Our investigation is thus useful as it enhances knowledge about serial arguments in different contexts and has practical applications for argumentation, conflict management, and interethnic communication.


Ethnicity is a multifaceted construct. It captures the social construction of identity (Light & Lee, 1987; Stephan & Stephan, 2000b) and the subjective experience of negotiating ascribed and avowed characteristics within society (Collier, 1998; Collier & Thomas, 1988; Hecht, Collier & Ribeau, 1993). According to Ting-Toomey, Yee-Jung, Shapiro, Garcia, Wright, and Oetzel (2000), the study of ethnicity entails two important aspects: (1) the content (i.e., ethnic values adopted and practiced) and (2) the salience (i.e., importance for a person) of ethnic identity. This study proceeds along these two dimensions. Ethnicity is used to refer to ethnic group membership, capturing the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that a group sanctions and values. Strength of one's ethnic identity refers to salience, the degree to which one identifies with one's ethnic group (Phinney, 1992), or embodies "ethnic values associated with their ethnic group memberships" (Ting-Toomey et al., 2000, p. 50).

Ethnic identity is important because it functions as a "source of socialization" (Collier, 1991, p. …

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