In this article, Hartwick and Barki (2002, p. 3-4) begin by stating that the premise of their research is the fact that few researchers have, so far, been able to give a clear definition and means of assessing an interpersonal conflict. Even more worryingly, these researchers are accused of not being able to fittingly contextualize and conceptualize how their studies on interpersonal conflict are different from studies conducted by other researchers.
As a result of these scholarly shortcomings, Hartwick and Barki (2002) lament that the lack of such clear demarcations have hindered the “accumulation of knowledge in the conflict domain”, while also making it difficult to appropriately contextualize and solve certain interpersonal conflicts (p. 3-7).
To address this issue, Hartwick and Barki developed a multi-dimensional framework that blends knowledge from past studies with empirical data on interpersonal conflict from present organizations. With this blend of information, Hartwick and Barki (2002, p. 3) were able to identify and “highlight several shortcomings of the existing research on interpersonal conflict”, then went ahead to propose solutions to their alleged scholarly stalemate on the contexts and concepts of interpersonal conflicts.
After several examples and arguments to prove their concept and need for a more befitting definition, Hartwick and Barki (2002, p. 8) proposed that the following definition be adopted: “Interpersonal conflict is a dynamic process that occurs between interdependent parties as they experience negative emotional reactions to perceived disagreements and interference with the attainment of their goals.”
Unlike past definitions, this definition specifies that an incident at work or home can only be considered as an interpersonal conflict if the three elements (disagreement, interference, and negative emotion) are present. In an instance where there is only one, or a combination of two of these elements, then it is not considered as being an interpersonal conflict.
Critique: Relevance of the Article to Interpersonal Conflict
Knowing the three elements stated above is very important as it helps in clearly defining an interpersonal conflict, especially in areas such as offices where differences in opinion often come up. Importantly, Hartwick and Barki (2002, p. 5-7) note that just because people may disagree does not mean there is an interpersonal conflict between them. An example of this would be an office scenario where people are brainstorming on an issue. In such a forum, people often voice different opinions and disagree.
In the end, however, the disagreeing parties come up with solutions on the issue at stake through consensus. Here, the initial disagreement is viewed as a positive thing since it leads to a solution, thus it should not be considered as an interpersonal conflict. This viewpoint corresponds Hartwick and Barki’s definition and can be positively applied in many instances of disagreements between various parties.
Moreover, by clearly conceptualizing and assessing interpersonal conflicts, it becomes easier to know the cause of the conflict, the type of it (based on how it is manifested i.e. cognitive, behavioral or affective), and by extension, how to solve the interpersonal conflict (Amason & Schweiger, 1994, p. 240).
Finally, the various interpersonal conflict conceptualization and assessment frameworks developed by Hartwick and Barki can be used in several places for various assessments. In addition, further research can be conducted by various scholars using the groundwork research that has been laid down by Hartwick and Barki. This will not only enhance continuity in research, but will also help in validating whether Hartwick and Barki’s findings are correct.
Amason, A. C., & Schweiger, D. M. (1994). Resolving the paradox of conflict, strategic decision making, and organizational performance. International Journal of Conflict Management, 5(3), 239-253.
Hartwick, J., & Barki, H. (2002). Conceptualizing the construct of interpersonal conflict. Retrieved from http://expertise.hec.ca/gresi/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/cahier0204.pdf