THE EFFECT OF A CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROGRAM ON THE SKILLS OF TURKISH SECONDARY STUDENTS
NURAY TASTAN, Ph.D.
Kirikkale University, Kirikkale Turkey
Increased violence at schools in Turkey necessitates research on the reasons for, and solutions to, such violence. Prior research has found that students in conflict with their peers are unable to control their anger and display verbal or physical aggression to others—particularly adolescent students dealing with their peer conflicts. Using a questionnaire, this study examined how adolescents may be helped to form healthy relations with their peers and use positive conflict resolution by applying the skills learned in the Conflict Resolution Education Program. This research used a pretest-posttest control group with 68 adolescent students (31 girls, 37 boys) along with a wait-list control group and a placebo control group. The findings indicated an increase in the positive conflict resolution skills among students in the experimental group. Follow-up with the same populations indicated sustained and increased positive scores.
In the past, behaviors such as chewing gum, running in school corridors, and talking loudly were major disciplinary problems facing teachers. However, today’s problems range from physical and verbal aggression to brutal behaviors including weapon use and homicide. Such problems require significant time and effort from teachers implementing conflict resolution in classrooms (Johnson & Johnson, 1995). Conflict is a normal and inevitable part of not only daily life, but also school life. When students are unsuccessful at resolving their conflicts with each other and their teachers, they may become aggressive. Students’ conflicts with their peers generally stem from situations such as determining who sits where in the cafeteria, what game to play during recess, when to study and play, when to speak or listen, and who cleans up the mess in the classroom. The importance of such situations is not the existence of the conflict itself, but the ability to resolve it in a constructive manner (Newman, Murray & Lussier, 2001).
Managing conflicts constructively is one of the most important competencies that children and adolescents need to master, particularly because the frequency and destructiveness of such interpersonal conflicts among students have become serious issues facing schools (Johnson and Johnson, 1996). Students’ conflicts have been increasingly characterized by physical and verbal aggression, incivility, and property damage. When conflicts are resolved destructively, little effort is made, learning and teaching desires are lessened, studies are interrupted, and relationships are broken. In the case of destructive resolution, one party reaches its goals while the other does not; both feel anger at and distrust for the other, and the possibility to solve conflicts constructively decreases (Coleman & Fisher-Yoshida, 2004).
Students’ Inadequate Conflict Resolution Skills
Cross-cultural studies on the increased aggression at schools have shown that students’ inadequate conflict resolution skills increase aggression at schools. Trusting their physical advantage, some students behave aggressively and violently. Others attack verbally, maintain interpersonal distance, or isolate peers by organizing others to act on their behalf. During the conflict process, students follow different courses, which may lead to distorted relationships in the school setting (Brinson, Kottler & Fisher, 2004; Desivilya, 2004). Thus, school counselors must develop and implement educational programs that teach conflict resolution processes, methods of cooperation, and reconciliation (Barsky, 2000; Brinson, Kottler & Fisher, 2004).
Increased school violence has necessitated examination of the reasons for and possible solutions to this situation. Research findings have indicated that students in conflict with their peers are not able to control their anger; they display verbal or physical aggression to one another (Stevahn, 2004). Adolescents’ perception of physical and verbal attacks as effective coping strategies in dealing with conflicts with others destroys their peer relations. Students who are taught positive conflict resolution strategies that effectively protect the interests of all parties have a better opportunity to develop more efficient and healthier educational environments. For example, Johnson and Johnson’s (2000) research indicated that, after conflict resolution training, 92 percent of the experimental group students changed their conflict resolution strategies and acquired more constructive strategies for dealing with conflicts.
In response to human violence, numerous school-based conflict resolution and peer mediation programs have been created and adopted (Daunic, Smith, Robinson, Landry & Miller, 2000; Smith, Daunic, Miller & Robinson, 2002). Although the programs differ in origin, philosophy and design, their basic intent is to help students learn to constructively manage interpersonal conflicts. Constructive conflict resolution helps both parties see the problem more clearly, produce new ideas, develop and maintain a respecting and trusting relationship with others, reach prosocial goals, and increase the potential to positively transform and resolve future conflicts (Deutsch & Coleman, 2000). However, despite the abundance of school-based conflict training programs, most are not linked to conflict resolution theory or research and do not provide sound empirical evidence on effectiveness (Johnson & Johnson, 2000; Stevahn, 2004).
Some researchers have found that, prior to conflict resolution and peer mediation training in school, students preferred using force, withdrawal, and compromising strategies to resolve conflicts. After the training, the results revealed that students used integrative negotiation procedures for resolving conflicts (Johnson & Johnson, 1994; Chen, 2003; Lane-Garon & Richardson, 2003). Additional studies have also indicated that such training leads to significant increases in win-win outcomes and decreases in the number of conflicts observed by teachers (Gerber & Terry-Day, 1999).
The Conflict Resolution Education Program
The Conflict Resolution Education Program was created for use with groups to provide information on the nature of conflict, factors causing conflict, and the continuation of conflict as well as to foster awareness and skills for constructively transforming and resolving conflicts. The program is oriented to facilitate prosocial interaction.
The development of the Conflict Resolution Education Program (CRP) incorporated various techniques, activities, and experiences to ensure content was applicable; the training was planned and tested for effectiveness in increasing positive conflict resolution skills within the context of the study. Perspectives and studies for improving positive conflict resolution skills among students using peer mediation were examined including the following the techniques listed below:
- informing participants about and educating them on the nature of conflict (Shure, 2001);
- realizing reactions to conflict (Carrell, 2000);
- practicing enhancing the abilities of active listening and constructive conversation (Teolis, 1998; Jones, 1998; Carrell, 2000);
- utilizing techniques to improve the ability to differentiate between emotions and events (Jones, 1998, Shure, 2001);
- using “I-language” and empathizing (Gordon & Mandell, 2003);
- informing participants about the importance of creating a positive environment and physical setting for conflict resolution (Stevens, 2003);
- training participants to realize the importance of focusing on the future rather than the past for conflict resolution (Shure, 2001);
- informing participants about the importance of clarifying perceptions regarding a situation (Johnson, Johnson, Dudley, Mitchell & Fredrickson, 1997);
- attaining the skills to think of alternatives (Gillespie & Chick, 2001; Shure, 2001);
- practicing to acquire such skills and understand the information (Schrumpf and et.al, 1997; Ronnie, 1998);
- mastering techniques to learn the roles and rules of peer mediation process (Humphries, 1999; Carrell, 2000);
- practicing peer mediation methods (Meyer & Northup, 1997; Johnson and Johnson, 2000); and
- utilizing cognitive-behavioral and social-relational approaches to acquiring positive conflict resolution and peer mediation skills (Lulofs & Cahn, 2000).
The CRP was designed in a way to teach positive conflict resolution and communication skills and help students successfully apply them. The goal of the CRP was to have students understand the nature of interpersonal conflicts, acquire positive attitudes toward conflicts and gain skills to resolve their conflicts with their peers. Since its aim was educating adolescents on cooperative conflict resolution techniques, all theoretical points of view were taken into consideration at some point; however, cognitive behavior theories and theories of social relations were addressed more than others. During the development of the CRP, current literature was reviewed, including books on communication and previously developed programs (Dokmen, 1994; Johnson & Johnson, 1996; Meyer & Northup, 1997; Schrumpf, Crawford & Bodine, 1997; Jones, 1998; Teolis, 1998; Oner, 1999; Barsky, 2000; Bemak & Keys, 2000; Carrell, 2000; Gentry, 2000; Shure, 2001).
Although some steps of the CRP existed in other programs, it was not constructed copiously from those programs. The structure of the CRP followed the targets determined at the beginning of each session, including behavioral goals. Slogans determined for every session were presented on posters as visual aids. One important aspect of the program that focused on enhancing its effectiveness was the incorporation of the determined instruments and homework activities into files that were given to students for during- as well as after-session use.
The general purpose of the CRP was to teach skills that might help sixth graders positively resolve their conflicts with their peers. Students were expected to gain conflict resolution skills and life experiences that would help them apply problem-solving techniques in future situations. The program consists of 8 sessions, each of which lasted about eighty minutes.
Following are descriptions of the educational sessions of the CRP.
Session 1. The first session involved group formation and learning about conflict and its nature:
- Meeting with group members
- Setting individual goals
- Agreeing on the group rules
- Learning the aim and content of the conflict resolution program
- Learning the concept of conflict, its nature, and its place as part of normal life
Session 2. The second session focused on building a trusting environment, understanding reasons for and reactions to conflict:
- Creating an environment of trust
- Learning about reasons for conflict
- Learning about reactions to conflicts
Session 3. Participants then learned to understand alternative conflict resolution methods and how each affects the result of the conflict:
- Understanding the results of reactions
- Understanding methods of solution
- Understanding how each solution affects possible results of conflict
Session 4. Next participants focused on active listening, constructive talking, listening to understand emotions, and the development of skills to differentiate events from emotions:
- Listening actively and speaking constructively
- Listening to understand emotions
- Differentiating events from emotions
Session 5. The fifth session focused on understanding the difference between “I statements” and “you statements,” use of “I statements”:
- Understanding differences between “I statements” and “you statements”
- Using “I statements”
Session 6. Participants developed their emphatic thinking skills and enhance their ability to understand others’ perspectives:
- Developing emphatic understanding
- Understanding the importance of empathy in interpersonal relations
- Understanding others’ perspectives
Session 7. In this session, participants learned to use first four steps of conflict resolution:
- Building a positive and effective environment
- Acquiring the skills to prepare oneself
- Developing good timing
- Choosing a suitable location
- Opening the conversation with an appropriate sentence
- Clarifying perceptions
- Focusing on personal and shared needs
- Sharing positive energy
Session 8. The final session focused on applying the last four steps of the conflict resolution process:
- Turning toward the future first before trying to understand what happened in the past
- Developing alternatives
- Determining practical alternatives
- Making fair agreements that satisfy both sides
To determine the relevance and effectiveness of the CRP, this study addressed the following questions:
- Do those sixth grade elementary students who participate in the conflict resolution training demonstrate measurable differences in their skills while those who do not participate fail to demonstrate such measurable differences?
- If both groups demonstrate measurable differences, is the increase among participants greater than among non-participants?
- Is this increase lasting?
Design of the Study
The investigator aimed to empirically identify the effectiveness of the CRP and report that for use of psychological consultants. Documented during this study was each step of the CRP. As a participant researcher, she prepared sessions, conflict scenarios, activities, and home assignments for the adolescents. She evaluated each session by listening to the audio recordings of it. She also analyzed data in photographs that were taken during the intervention. The sessions were recorded and photographed with the consent of the students.
To further evaluate the outcome of the intervention, the researcher used a pre-test/post-test, between-subjects, split-plot design. The study involved an experimental group, a placebo group, and a control group. The placebo group participated in a five-session educational activity that was different from the CRP. The placebo group received instruction as did the experimental group; received information about conflicts and participated in activities to increase their conflict resolution skills. The control group received no instruction in conflict resolution. All groups took the Conflict Resolution Questionnaire at the pre-test stage. Prior to the application of the questionnaire, participants in the control group were informed that they were given a scale as part of a research study; however, they were not informed about the aim of the study or in which group they participated.
The goal of this study was to examine the possible effects of the CRP intervention, especially students’ levels of knowledge about positive conflict resolution. The independent variable of this study was the training itself, which was applied to the experimental group; the dependent variable was level of knowledge about positive conflict resolution. The CRP was administered in 8 sessions, each of which lasted approximately eighty minutes. During this time, the placebo group participated in activities not related to conflict resolution (goal setting, vocational definition, future planning, responsibility development, etc.). After the completion of the education program, the Conflict Resolution Questionnaire was administered to all three groups as a post-test to identify any significant differences between the three groups’ positive conflict resolution skills, as measured by the instrument.
As a follow-up study, the Conflict Resolution Questionnaire was administered to the experimental, placebo, and control groups for the third time, three months after the second application of the questionnaire, in order to determine if the effects of the program were lasting. Once the follow-up study was completed, students in the control and placebo groups also received instruction with the CRP, as it was thought to be beneficial to their interpersonal relations. Table 1 outlines the use of the instrument.
Table 2. Means and Standard Deviations of Groups’ Pretest-Posttest Questionnaire Scores
|Experimental Group||21||96.50 6.97||127.88 12.79|
|Placebo Group||22||95.28 8.12||96.92 13.21|
|Control Group||25||96.88 6.32||95.29 10.73|
According to the results provided in Table 2, no significant differences were evident among the experimental, placebo, and control groups in their pre-test scores. However, the experimental group demonstrated a significant increase in the means score in the second measurement. No significant difference occurred between the placebo and control groups’ pre- and post-test means. In addition, post-test standard deviations doubled the pre-test standard deviations in all groups. As it was indicated above the placebo group received instruction as did the experimental group; which included information about conflicts and participatopn in related activities, but the control group received no instruction in conflict resolution.
Table 3 provides the results of a 3 (experimental, placebo, and control groups) x2 (pre-test/post-test scores) ANOVA.
Table 3. 3 (experimental, placebo, and control groups) x2 (pre-test/post-test scores) ANOVA Results
|Source of variance||Sum of Squares||SD||Mean Square||F||p|
As Table 3 indicates, the experimental, control, and placebo groups’ scores differed from each other without controlling for the time of measurement [F(2,65)=18.89, p<.001]. Interaction effects showed that, changes in the experimental group’s positive conflict resolution behavior levels before and after the program differed from those in the control and placebo groups; [F(1,65)=36.66, p<.001]. The experimental, control, and placebo groups’ positive conflict resolution levels, as measured by the instrument, differed due to the variation of educational experiences they had across the groups.
The investigator hypothesized that the effects of the CRP would be lasting. In order to test this hypothesis, the questionnaire was administered in a follow-up study three months after the second testing. The distribution of participants in the experimental, control, and placebo groups as well as their means and standard deviations of the second (post-test) and third (follow-up) questionnaire scores are presented in Table 4.
Table 4. Means and Standard Deviations of Groups’ Post-test/Follow-up Questionnaire Scores
| Follow-up test
|Experimental Group||21||127.88 12.79||136.21 16.21|
|Placebo Group||22||96.92 13.21||98.87 14.21|
|Control Group||25||95.29 10.73||97.21 12.60|
As Table 4 illustrates differences that occurred between the post-test and the follow-up test that was administered three months after the post-test. All groups’ follow-up scores increased during that three-month period. Perhaps familiarity with the statements on the CRQ caused this increase. However, it was much more evident in the experimental group.
In addition to the group and measurement variables, the three groups’ repeated measures 3x2 ANOVA results were determined to test the group by measurement interaction. Table 5 presents these data.
Table 5. 3 (experimental, placebo, and control groups) x2 (post-test/follow-up test scores) ANOVA Results
|Source of variance||Sum of Squares||SD||Mean Square||F||p|
Table 5 highlights that participants’ post-test and follow-up test questionnaire scores differed according to their groups; [F(2,65)=18.87, p<.001]. As is evident, the positive conflict resolution behaviors of participants who attended the program continued to increase after the implementation of the program. Changes in the experimental group’s positive conflict resolution behavior levels during the time between the post-test and follow-up test differed from changes in the control and placebo groups’ positive conflict resolution behavior levels during this same time; [F(1,65)=40.19, p<.001].
The investigator also hypothesized that the conflict resolution skills acquired as a result of the training would continue to be used over the long-run. To test this hypothesis, the differences between the experimental group’s post-test and follow-up test scores were analyzed using a t-test. Table 6 presents these results.
Table 6. T-test Results of Experimental Group’s Posttest/Follow-up Test Scores
A significant (p < .05) difference was evident between the total post-test and follow-up test scores within the experimental group.
Instrumentation validated the hypothesis that the positive conflict resolution skills of sixth graders who experienced the CRP increased significantly—more so than the positive conflict resolution skills of sixth graders who did not attend sessions with that program. This increase lasted for three months.
Discussion and Suggestions
The content of the CRP incorporated theoretical perspectives and it was influenced by relevant research. During the development process, students 1) were believed to have incorrect thoughts and attitudes (believing that conflict was a harmful and negative experience); 2) did not know positive conflict resolution techniques and communication skills; and 3) would more likely learn conflict resolution steps only after much practice (presenting samples from real-life experiences, fables, stories, etc.). Moreover, the program sessions facilitated communication in a reciprocally trusting and accepting environment.
As the results indicated, when compared to sixth graders who did not participate in the conflict resolution education program, (a) the positive conflict resolution skills of sixth graders who did participate in conflict resolution education program increased and (b) this increase was lasting. Three months after completing the conflict resolution education program, the experimental group’s progress, measured with the questionnaire, continued to increase.
The hypothesis-building process in this research considered the fact that the CRP consisted of techniques, activities, and experiences that were specified as effective, as supported by several research findings. According to the research findings and theoretical views, the following aspects of the CRP were considered effective means for teaching conflict resolution skills:
- removing ignorance about the nature of conflict (what conflict means, what are the reasons for conflict and reactions to it, in what way can conflicts be resolved, how does each of these conflict resolution methods affect the results, etc.);
- comprehending the importance of active listening and constructive conversation;
- listening to understand emotions, differentiating emotions from events, and gaining skills to utilize these abilities;
- realizing the difference between “I-language” and “you-language” and using I-language skillfully;
- developing the ability of emphatic thinking and taking the perspective of the other;
- creating a positive and effective environment (speaking in an appropriate way as well as in an appropriate time and place);
- attaining the ability of clarifying perceptions;
- focusing on personal and shared needs;
- sharing positive energy;
- realizing dysfunctional conflict resolution practices and tending from past to future; and
- producing fair and practical chooses to solve conflicts.
The findings regarding the lasting effects of CRP resonate with additional studies that have tested the effects of positive conflict resolution programs for primary and secondary school students who shared some common traits with participants in this study (Johnson & Johnson, 1994; Johnson & et.al., 1997; Oner-Koruklu, 1998; Henkin, Cistone & Dee, 2000; Bedioglu, 2001; Coban, 2002; Stevahn, Johnson, Johnson & Schultz, 2002; Brinson, Kottler & Fisher, 2004). Findings from other similar studies favor those mentioned herein and imply an increase of positive effects over time (Palmer & Roessler 2001; Scott, 2003).
Similar to the findings of Henkin and others (2000), this study’s results indicate that students who experienced the CRP identified positive conflict resolution behaviors. Using the pre-/post-test and treatment/control group experimental design, an increase in awareness of positive conflict resolution behaviors among the experimental group was demonstrated, when compared to the control group, in studies examining the effectiveness of conflict resolution education programs (Johnson & Johnson, 1995; Terzi-Isik, 2000; Kavalci, 2001; Stevahn & et.al., 2002; Coban, 2002; Burrell, Zirbel & Allen, 2003).
In this research, an interactive and informative conflict resolution education program was developed and used to provide sixth graders with the necessary experiences to help them acquire the skills necessary to handle conflicts with their peers effectively. This program was empirically tested for efficacy. The results showed that the program successfully taught adolescents about positive conflict resolution skills; moreover, the effects were lasting. These results indicate that enough evidence exists to support the conclusion that the program was effective and appropriate.
One limitation of the current study is the use of the same questionnaire instrument in all three tests. Participants may have become familiar enough with the items to have impacted the results in some manner. Another limitation was researcher association with the subjects of the study as their educator with the intervention. She was also the creator of the CRP. In addition, the study involved only students in one school in Turkey. Therefore, the results are not necessarily generalizable to other cultural contexts. Strongly recommended is additional research with similar programs in different cultures.
The CRP’s effectiveness in developing adolescent’s knowledge of positive conflict resolution strategies, including methods for resolving their conflicts with peers, indicated a need for such education. Its application area may be broadened after required adaptations and empirical testing are completed for different age groups. Thus, future research should address various age groups. In addition, the program has the quality for use by school consultants as a published manual. Because it supports preventive guidance activities, it may be useful in easing psychological consultants’ burdens. Research in this area would be beneficial to these professionals.
The results of the study, integrated with studies from the current literature, contribute to the findings of experimental studies that show the effectiveness of conflict resolution education. In addition, emphasizing an area lacking in Turkey—namely, studies using both conflict resolution education and peer mediation programs—further contributes to enhancing school programs including psychological counseling services. Meanwhile, program samples tested for their effectiveness may guide the development of additional and more influential interventions for similar or related problem areas.
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NURAY TASTAN PH.D.
Educational Faculty Department of Educational Sciences
Place and Date of Birth: Samsun (TURKEY)-03.01.1969
(BA) Hacettepe University Department of Psychology
Middle East Technical University English Preparatory Class
(MA) Middle East Technical University Department of Psychology Social Psychology Program
Thesis Subject: “Interspousal Communication in a Problem Solving Situation”
(PhD) Ankara University Institute for Educational Sciences Department of Educational Psychology
Working Interest: Communication, conflict resolution, peer mediation, adolescent development, child and adolescent employment