Instructor Conflict Management Style

This study looked at three potential relationships: 1) student motivation and perceived instructor immediacy behaviors, 2) student motivation and perceived instructor conflict management style, and 3) perceived instructor conflict management style and perceived instructor immediacy behaviors. With regard to the first relationship, non-confrontation and control were negatively related to perceived instructor immediacy while solution-orientation was positively related to perceived instructor immediacy.
For the second relationship, both non-confrontation and control were negatively related to student motivation while solution-orientation was positively related to student motivation. With the third relationship, perceived instructor immediacy was positively related to student motivation. Instructor gender was found to have no influence on perceived instructor conflict management style. To truly understand the nature of the aforementioned relationships, further research is needed into the potential moderating influences and interaction effects between the independent variables
Introduction Educators are always looking for ways to increase student motivation, and both instructor immediacy behaviors and instructor conflict management styles could have an impact on student motivation. Researchers who focus on the educational sphere are interested in what students learn, how students learn, and what motivates students (Gorham, 1988; Keller, 1983; Plax, Kearney, McCroskey, & Richmond, 1986; Richmond, Gorham, & McCroskey, 1987; Rodriguez, Plax, & Kearney, 1996).

Communication research investigating student motivation within post-secondary educational settings has been extensive, and the college classroom is a natural setting for studying how students develop enlightened self-interest and become self-actuated learners (Frymier, Shulman, & Houser, 1996). The fostering of student motivation is important in higher education because the impetus for learning shifts to the students.
There is a need to investigate the role of instructor in developing environments where “students feel intrinsically motivated to learn” (Frymier, et al. , pg. 181). Two instructor behaviors that may impact this motivational setting are instructor immediacy and instructor conflict management style. The link between instructor immediacy and student motivation is well established (Brophy, 1987; Keller, 1983; Wlodkowksi, 1978), but research into the relationship between instructor conflict management style and student motivation is lacking.
In addition, there is a need to understanding the relationship, if any, between instructor conflict management style and instructor immediacy, In this study, I chose to build from the ideas of Wheeless and Reichel (1990) because their study addressed my interest in supervisor conflict management style and subordinate willingness work with and for supervisors (task attraction). I initially wanted to apply the study’s principles within an educational setting as opposed to the business setting studied by Wheeless and Reichel.
Upon correspondence with Dr.Wheeless (see Appendix A), I found that one of his key scales was a proprietary scale owned by a company no longer in business. This revelation helped me understand why two weeks of searching the literature had not uncovered the scale, and it also helped change the focus of this study. Given that a close replication was now impossible, I took Wheeless and Reichel’s idea of studying supervisor conflict management style and task attraction, and I transformed it into studying instructor conflict management style and student motivation.
I further transformed Wheeless and Reichel’s focus on comparing supervisor conflict management style with supervisor general communication style as measured by the 1978 proprietary Lashbrook, Lashbrook, ; Buchholz’s Social Style scale (cited in Wheeless & Reichel) into focus on comparing instructor conflict management style with instructor immediacy, an important measure of instructor communication style (Christophel, 1990). The goal of this quasi-replication of Wheeless and Reichel is to provide insight into the potential relationships between student motivation, instructor conflict management style, and instructor immediacy behaviors.
Literature Review There are several relevant variables and concepts that need to be defined. In the following literature review, non-verbal and verbal instructor immediacy, conflict management styles, and student motivation will be defined, and existing research will be reviewed as the case is made for the importance of studying these three variables together. Perceived Instructor Immediacy Because the students reported on the immediacy behaviors of the instructor, this variable is labeled perceived instructor immediacy. Immediacy can be described as psychological and physical closeness to another human (Gorham, 1988).
Immediacy has been much studied in the classroom (Frymier & Thompson, 1992; Gorham; Keller, 1983; Richmond, 1990; Rodriquez et al. , 1996), and traditionally, immediacy has two components, non verbal and verbal (Christophel, 1990; Frymier, 1994). Non-verbal immediacy behaviors have been categorized into items such at smiles, eye contact, communicating at short distances, body positions that are forward leaning and/or relaxed, positive gestures, touch, and variety in vocalizations (Christophel; Kearney, Plax, Smith, & Sorenson, 1988).
Verbal immediacy would include self-disclosure, use of “we,” calling on students by name, and humor (Gorham; Kearney et al. ). Instructor immediacy behaviors impact a wide variety of student behaviors. Research has shown that instructor immediacy behaviors impact student time on task (Kearney et al. , 1988), instructor credibility (Frymier & Thompson, 1992), and instructor effectiveness (Frymier & Thompson; Gorham, 1988).
It is also clear that instructor immediacy behaviors positively correlate with student learning (Gorham; Gorham & Zakahi, 1990; Plax et al., 1986; Richmond et al. , 1987; Rodriguez et al. , 1996) and with student motivation (Brophy, 1987; Gorham & Millette, 1997; Keller, 1983; Wlodkowsi, 1978). What is unclear is the relationship between instructor immediacy and instructor conflict management style and what impact this relationship, if any, has on student motivation. Perceived conflict management styles Students will report on the conflict management styles of the instructor, so this variable is labeled perceived conflict management style.
Conflict management styles are often broken into five distinct categories: Contending (pursuing own outcomes strongly and showing little concern for the other party’s outcomes), Yielding (showing little concern whether the individual attains his/her own outcomes yet quite interested in the other party’s outcomes), Inaction (showing little interest in either outcome), Problem Solving (showing high concern for both outcomes), and Compromising (showing moderate concern for both outcomes) (Lewicki, Barry, Saunders, & Minton, 2002; Richmond & McCroskey, 1979) (see Figure 1).

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