Academic journal article Communication Studies

"As Ugly and Painful as It Was, It Was Effective:" Individuals' Unique Assessment of Communication Competence during Aggressive Conflict Episodes

Academic journal article Communication Studies

"As Ugly and Painful as It Was, It Was Effective:" Individuals' Unique Assessment of Communication Competence during Aggressive Conflict Episodes

Article excerpt

Conflict is a natural and inevitable part of all close relationships (Cahn, 1992; Canary, Cupach, & Messman, 1995; Hocker & Wilmot, 1995). Inextricably linked to people's management of conflict is their (in)ability to communicate effectively. For example, Canary and Spitzberg (1989) found that integrative, or cooperative conflict strategies that promote relational outcomes (e.g., seeking information or commonality, attempting to understand the other, compromising) were positively related to communication competence. In contrast, distributive, or competitive strategies (e.g., shouting, blaming, threatening) and avoidant behaviors (e.g., evading topic, denying knowledge or involvement) were viewed as less competent. In general, conflict strategies and communication competence significantly affect relational outcomes, such as trust, control mutuality, intimacy, and satisfaction.

Additionally, researchers have examined the relationship between communication incompetence and destructive behaviors such as relational violence. Specifically, past studies identified connections between the use of verbal aggression and violence (deTurck, 1987; Carey & Mongeau, 1996; Infante, Chandler, & Rudd, 1989; Infante, Sabourin, Rudd, & Shannon, 1990; Sabourin, Infante, & Rudd, 1993) and the tendency for violent couples' to reciprocate negative behaviors (e.g., Cordova, Jacobson, Gottman, Rushe, & Cox, 1993; Sabourin & Stamp, 1995), suggesting that these couples are less communicatively competent.

Without minimizing the importance of these studies, the understanding of violent couples' communication is limited in scope because many of these studies drew participants from mental health professionals (e.g., Infante et al., 1989; Sabourin, 1995; Sabourin et al., 1993; Sabourin & Stamp, 1995; Stamp & Sabourin, 1995) and social service agencies (e.g., Hegde, 1996; Infante et al., 1990; Rudd, Beatty, & Burant, 1994; Rudd, Dobos, Vogl-Bauer, & Beatty, 1997). Consequently, the understanding of the relationship between interpersonal aggression and communication competence is limited to the more severe cases of domestic violence. Therefore, because of the minimal amount of research drawn from a community sample, there is a need to better understand how individuals within the general population experience various forms of aggression during conflicts.

Furthermore, many of the past studies examining communication patterns of violent couples inferred that existence of unhealthy patterns constitutes a sign of communication incompetence. However, because other researchers (e.g., Greenblat, 1983; Sebastian, 1983; Sabourin & Stamp, 1995) have noted differences in relational cultures toward violence, more research that directly examines the relationship between communication competence and aggression and that which is grounded in the lived experiences of the individuals is necessary. In other words, generating more knowledge about how the individuals themselves feel about their communication competence as it relates to use of aggression during conflicts is needed. Thus, combining the aforementioned gaps in the extant literature, the present study examines how individuals from the general population evaluate their own and their partner's communication competence during aggressive conflict episodes.

This study has important theoretical and practical implications for the study of interpersonal aggression. Theoretically, it can advance our understanding of the "dark side" of interpersonal relationships (Spitzberg & Cupach, 1994) and communication competence by broadening our knowledge of communication patterns within violent relationships, an under-studied interpersonal communication phenomenon. Moreover, a better understanding of aggressive couples' assessment of communication competence also has important practical applications. …

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