Academic journal article Adolescence

The Functionality of Conflict Behaviors and the Popularity of Those Who Engage in Them

Academic journal article Adolescence

The Functionality of Conflict Behaviors and the Popularity of Those Who Engage in Them

Article excerpt

Achieving personal goals and maintaining mutually satisfying relationships with others sometimes come into conflict. Such conflict is particularly problematic during adolescence, when the maintenance of peer relationships is an important social goal.

Two dimensions pertinent to conflict management - concern for self and concern for the other, each of which can range from low to high-have been articulated in different ways by many theorists (e.g., 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. Competing is associated with high concern for self and low concern for the other party; 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 the other party (Deutsch, 1994). Competing involves forcing the other party to acquiesce; collaborating has both parties working together to achieve a mutually satisfying outcome; compromising involves the search for a middle-ground solution; avoiding involves withdrawal from conflict situations; and accommodating involves meeting the needs of the other party at the expense of one's own needs (Thomas, 1976). The escalation or de-escalation of conflict largely depends on which behavior is employed. These conflict behaviors have been studied in relation to individual characteristics, such as attributional biases (e.g., Baron, 1985), situational constraints, such as power relationships (e.g., Tjosvold, Dann, & Wong, 1992), and conflict skill training programs and third-party intervention strategies (e.g., Zhang, 1994).

Boardman and Horowitz (1994) noted that attraction (via similarity/dissimilarity) is a factor in the process of conflict management. However, little is known about the degree to which the various conflict behaviors are associated with attraction in the realm of interpersonal relationships.

The proposition that "people tend to like those who have similar attitudes and dislike those who hold dissimilar ones" seems to be widely accepted in the attraction literature (Byrne, 1971). based on this proposition, it can be assumed that the more someone likes a person, the more eager he or she will be to associate with that person (i.e., to become a friend). This, therefore, has become a common way of measuring attraction (Berscheid & Walster, 1978).

If a conflict is accepted as the critical incident in the establishment of an interpersonal relationship, then the kinds of conflict behaviors engaged in will determine attractiveness. It may be expected that an individual, without necessarily taking part in the conflict, will evaluate another person's dual concerns (for serf, for other) based on perceived similarity and dissimilarity.

Research into the relationship between dual concerns (i.e., conflict behaviors) and attraction may provide a deeper understanding of the establishment and maintenance of interpersonal relationships. It may also contribute to an understanding of cross-cultural differences. Although there have not been many cross-cultural investigations into conflict behaviors, a distinction has been made between the Western task-oriented approach and the more relationship-oriented Eastern approach (Kimmel, 1994; Boardman & Horowitz, 1994). The present study had Turkish students evaluate (1) the extent to which individuals accomplish their goals via conflict behavior and (2) the preference for becoming friends with these individuals in light of their conflict behavior.



The sample consisted of 267 students (148 females and 119 males) enrolled in different departments at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. They ranged in age from 19 to 22, with a mean of 20.9 years.


The students were asked to read a story about a five-person group and their individual conflict behaviors. The five conflict behaviors represented were: (A) arguing until the other party gives in (forcing); (B) avoiding issues that lead to arguments or changing the subject when such issues arise (avoiding); (C) accommodating the other party even if continuing to have doubts (accommodating); (D) trying to find a middle-ground solution by giving in a little and expecting the other party to do the same (compromising); (E) trying to work out a mutually agreeable solution (collaborating). These conflict behaviors have been validated in several empirical studies (e.g., Kabanoff, 1987; Rahim, 1983; Van de Vliert & Kabanoff, 1990). The above definitions of these conflict behaviors, representing basic modes of conduct in many situations, have been used in previous studies conducted in Turkey (Tezer, 1986, 1996).

Based on the story, students were asked to respond, on a 5-point Likert-type scale, to two questions. The first question had students evaluate the effectiveness of the conflict behavior of each group member in the story (labeled "accomplishing goals"). The second question had students indicate the degree to which they would become friends with each group member (labeled "becoming friends"). Five conflict behavior scores for each question were calculated.


The questionnaire was administered to students in a classroom setting. The purpose of the study was explained before students read the story.

Statistical Analysis

One-way analysis of variance was carried out for each question. SPSS/PC+ (Norusis, 1991) was used to analyze the data.


Table 1 presents the mean scores and standard deviations for students' evaluations regarding the extent to which group members accomplish their goals via particular conflict behaviors. Compromising had the highest mean score and avoiding had the lowest.

One-way analysis of variance revealed significant differences between mean scores (F = 90.451,p [less than] .001). The Tukey test showed that avoiding was significantly different from compromising and collaborating, and accommodating was significantly different from compromising (Tukey value = 1.22, p [less than] .05). These results indicated that students evaluated avoiding as less goal-oriented conflict behavior when compared with compromising and collaborating, and accommodating as less goal-oriented when compared with compromising.

Table 2 presents the mean scores and standard deviations regarding students' preferences for becoming friends with group members in the story, considering their conflict behaviors. In terms of friendship, forcing was the least preferred conflict behavior, while compromising was most preferred.

Table 1 Means and Standard Deviations of the Scores Related to
Accomplishing Goals

Group Members                     M             SD

A (Forcing)                      2.7           1.38
B (Avoiding)                     2.0           1.06
C (Accommodating)                2.4           0.99
D (Compromising)                 3.6           0.98
E (Collaborating)                3.3           1.16
Table 2. Means and Standard Deviations of the Scores Related to
Becoming Friends

Group Members                     M             SD

A (Forcing)                      1.6           1.03
B (Avoiding)                     2.7           1.14
C (Accommodating)                2.9           1.04
D (Compromising)                 4.0           1.00
E (Collaborating)                3.6           1.19

One-way analysis of variance revealed significant differences between mean scores (F = 205.569,p [less than] .001). The Tukey test showed that forcing was significantly different from accommodating, compromising, and collaborating, and avoiding was significantly different from compromising (Tukey value = 1.11, p [less than] .05). These results indicated that forcing, when compared with all the other conflict behaviors except avoiding, was a less preferred conflict behavior in potential friends, and that compromising was preferred over avoiding.


Results revealed that students evaluated collaborating and compromising as more goal-oriented behaviors when compared with avoiding. Similarly, compromising, when compared with accommodating, was evaluated as more effective for accomplishing goals. Thus, students believed that one best achieves goals by demonstrating concern for both self and the other party. Results regarding students' friendship preferences revealed that forcing was the least preferred behavior and compromising was the most preferred behavior.

In conclusion, the findings for both of the research questions appeared consistent. Students believed that an individual who exhibits conflict behavior that does not take into consideration the concerns of other people would not be effective in accomplishing goals. They were also reluctant to choose such an individual as a friend. They preferred to become friends with individuals who reached agreement by mutual concession rather than those who employed coercion (forcing behavior). In other words, compromising is a conflict behavior that makes the individual interpersonally attractive. Thus, the findings of the present study indicated that those who engage in compromise to resolve conflicts are most successful both in accomplishing goals and in establishing friendships.

The popularity of compromise among students in the sample might be related to the "social-cultural context" as described by Deutsch (1994), which in the case of Turkish students emphasizes cooperation (Cileli, 1990). Their responses may be representative of the relationship-oriented nature of Turkish culture, as reflected in the findings of other studies conducted in Turkey.

In Turkey, conflict studies have generally concentrated on examining the behaviors between couples (Tezer, 1986), attributions of the couples related to conflict as well as demographic characteristics, such as gender, educational level, and work status (Tezer, 1994a, 1994b), behaviors toward spouses and supervisors (Tezer, 1996), and classroom management (Onur, 1994). Conflict management strategies were found to be associated with relationship satisfaction (Tezer, 1986) and power differences (Tezer, 1996). In the present sociometric investigation, which used a story to place conflict in a natural setting, the relationship between attraction and conflict behaviors was found to conform to the general trend in Turkish society. Collaboration and compromise were important not only in achieving goals, but also in terms of attracting friends.

The author is grateful to Professor Orhan Aydin and Professor Gul Aydin for their valuable contributions and comments.


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