Conflict Behaviors toward Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Peers among Male and Female Late Adolescents

Article excerpt


Differences between males and females in regard to conflict behaviors toward same-sex and opposite-sex peers were examined in a sample of 501 undergraduate university students (326 males, 175 females). They completed a one-page questionnaire containing the theoretical definitions of five conflict behaviors identified by Thomas (1976): competing, avoiding, accommodating, compromising, and collaborating. Students were asked to rate the extent to which they exhibit each of these conflict behaviors, on a 5-point Likert-type scale, separately for same-sex and opposite-sex peers. Results revealed that males reported more competing behavior toward same-sex peers than toward opposite-sex peers, and more avoiding behavior toward opposite-sex peers than toward same-sex peers. Males, compared to females, reported more accommodating behavior toward both same-sex and opposite-sex peers. These findings support the view that preferences regarding conflict behaviors are different for males and females, particularly as exhibi ted toward same-sex and opposite-sex peers.

Adolescence is characterized by both the salience of maintaining peer relationships (Wagner, 1996) and the experience of heightened peer conflicts (Van Slyck, Stem, & Zak-Place, 1996). Conflict, when managed constructively, promotes development, since it may help young people move into deeper, more meaningful relationships with others (Johnson & Johnson, 1996). When managed destructively, however, there may be 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).

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). 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 is an attempt to force one's viewpoint on the other party; collaborating seeks to have all parties engage in problem-solving activities to bring the dispute to a mu tually satisfying conclusion; compromising involves the search for a middle-ground solution; avoiding is an attempt to withdraw from the conflict; and accommodating involves giving up one's own needs for the sake of meeting the needs of the other party (Thomas, 1976). It has been proposed that the constructive and destructive consequences of a given conflict are strongly influenced by the behaviors of the participants (Deutsch, 1994; Thomas, 1976).

In exploring adolescents' preferences regarding conflict behaviors, researchers have argued that there is variation by type of relationship (Haar & Krahe, 1999; Laursen & Collins, 1994; Laursen, Hartup, & Koplas, 1996). In other words, conflict resolution strategies differ depending on whether parents, siblings, or peers are involved. For example, a meta-analysis of twelve studies on adolescent conflict management found a high level of submission and disengagement, and a low level of compromise, in parent-adolescent conflict (Larsen, 1993). However, there was considerable compromise and little disengagement with close peers. In general, researchers have found, regardless of methodology, that there are relationship differences in conflict resolution; adolescents and young adults have been found to report more compromising with friends (and less coercion within peer relationships) than with family members and nonfriends in both hypothetical and actual disputes (Laursen, Hartup, & Koplas, 1996). …