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Volume 3, Number 1, Oct 2002

Leadership Development: Conflict Management for College Student Leaders (page 2 of 3)

In an analysis of the literature about college student organizations, Street (1997) found that little research had been reported on student organizations. He found that most of the literature involving student organizations dealt with the role organizations play in student involvement and student development. Most of the research examined the efforts that elements in the college environment, such as student organizations, had on college students. The challenge is for student affairs staff to assume their appropriate role as equal partners in the educational training and development of student leaders (McIntire, 1989). Many colleges and universities have set leadership training as a high priority goal (Newton, 1975; Faulkner, 1997). Sogunro (1997) cautions, however, that when training does occur, program providers lack the assessment of training impacts on program participants. Street (1997) specifically proposes that student affairs professionals perform research on student organizations and the effectiveness of various interventions on student organization development. He found that reported research on the use of organization development in college student organizations described new practices, programs, and techniques for working with student organizations but did not reflect attempts to measure the effectiveness of interventions.

Just as managing conflict is one of the aims of group leaders (Kormanski, 1982), one of the major challenges facing student affairs administration is student conflict. Conflict in any organization, especially those as volatile as student organizations (Franck, 1983), cannot be eliminated, but students can be trained to better manage conflict, while gaining invaluable life skills. Morton Deutsch (1994), renowned author of literature in conflict principles, training, and research, points out that mediation, conciliation, arbitration, problem-solving workshops and other forms of intervention are in widespread demand and use. Hugenberg & Moyer (1996) suggested that leaders, and as a result groups, who avail themselves to information on negotiation and mediation techniques will be more prepared to effectively facilitate outcomes of group conflict, enhance group satisfaction, and build quality interpersonal relationships.

The Research Study

Our study explored the influence of conflict managment skills training on members of the Council of Student Organizational Presidents. From the larger group of 159 members, 30 student presidents were randomly assigned to the experimental group and 30 student presidents to the control group. A pretest/posttest experimental design was used in administering a self-reporting conflict management style survey to both groups. A 10-hour conflict management skills intervention was designed by the researcher to enhance participants' organizational leadership behaviors in the areas of understanding the nature of conflict, conflict management styles, communication, and the conflict management models of negotiation and mediation. This training was provided to the experimental group but not the control group.

Our research hypotheses explored the difference in the self-reported pretest conflict management survey scores of the experimental group and control groups; comparative group gains on posttest scores between the experimental group and control group; differences in the self-reported conflict management pretest and posttest survey scores of the experimental group; and the perceived usefulness of the intervention by the experimental group. Demographic characteristics of both groups were obtained.

The Results

Comparison of pretest and posttest scores revealed a significant increase in the Integrating Style score and approaching a significant decrease in the Obliging Style score for the experimental group who received the treatment. An increase in the Integrating Style is advocated as the only true and most effective approach for all concerned parties in resolving interpersonal conflict, so this can be taken as good news.

The control group, who received no treatment, showed no change from pre to posttest. There were no significant differences in the group gains on posttest scores between the two groups. Additional analysis revealed no relationship between gender or student classification and conflict management style. The post assessment survey revealed that a very high percentage of the experimental respondents agree or strongly agree that conflict management skills intervention increases a leader's capability to promote a collaborative instead of a competitive conflict management style, increases confidence to use conflict constructively, and helps to establish group process understanding within student organizations.

On the basis of these findings, the researcher concluded that conflict management style might be improved through conflict management skills intervention. In an effort to aid in leadership development, student retention, campus community building, and reduction in campus violence and expulsion, further investigation of the use of conflict management intervention with various groups on the college campus is clearly warranted.

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

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(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
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Wayne State University
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