The systems engineer, the new conflict deminer in companies

According to the Observatory of the Cost of Conflicts at Work, more than two out of three employees declare themselves in a situation of conflict. An older study by OPP Ltd, a consultancy specializing in work psychology, claims that French employees “spend, on average, 1.8 hours a week” dealing with these difficulties. And that 51% of employees in human resources departments dedicate 1 to 5 hours a week to this.

But time is money. The loss for companies in France is estimated at the equivalent of one month of work per year, or an account of more than 152 billion euros per year. Thus, the issue of conflict resolution in a professional environment represents an economic and social issue.

To deal with these tensions, companies today often turn to occupational medicine, mediators, coaches, lawyers or unions. So many actors – particularly occupational medicine – that are often lost in situations at the crossroads of individual health and collective well-being. The only answer is often work stoppage, dismissal or transfer. But there is another approach, still little known, although particularly effective: the intervention of a systemist.

Situations that “empty on their own”

What is this about? The so-called systems approach comes from the Palo Alto, California school of thought. A theory of communication sciences that consists of approaching conflicts between people as a dysfunction of the system of relationships that an individual maintains with himself, with others and with the world. Simply put, the systemic is an expert in relational dynamics and their regulation.

An example – real – allows us to understand how it is processed. Magali*, 35, works at a press company. She manages two people, in a tense context of digital transformation. The more she feels in difficulty, the more energy she devotes to being irreproachable, in particular planning to the extreme the tasks of her service. “I end up telling myself I’m too picky,” she worries. In fact, his collaborators scold him for not taking into account his personal difficulties.

It is in this context that your N+1 is assigned to another mission. Magali then finds himself in direct contact with Édouard, his N+2. The latter receives complaints from Magali’s subordinates and publicly reprimands her for her managerial shortcomings. Magali saw these reproaches as an injustice. The more she tries to justify herself, the more Edouard loses his temper and the more she herself feels anger and fear that she can no longer measure up. “If nothing changes, I will look for another job”…

It was the director of human resources, seized on the matter, who referred Magali to a systems specialist. The first sessions allow the “delimitation” of the problem. The practitioner identifies his client’s difficulties. In relation to both her superior and her collaborators, this woman who wants to be perfect is on the alert and “constantly fears being held responsible for a management problem”.

The so-called systemic approach consists of approaching conflicts between people as a dysfunction of the system of relationships that an individual maintains with himself, with others and with the world.

It establishes what systemists call “solution attempts”, strategies that exacerbate and encyst the conflict instead of resolving it. So Magali carefully prepares her argument before meeting her manager, putting herself on the defensive. With his collaborators, he avoids at all costs entering the emotional field, even if it means isolating himself.

The speaker will therefore suggest alternative, often paradoxical, strategies. For example, with Édouard, the “bumper technique”: start an intervention with “I know I’m going to disappoint you, but…”, to disarm the feared reproofs. This is the second phase of the intervention, known as “disturbance”. Finally, the work ends with an “adjustment” of the strategy according to the results of the experiment.

In its eighth session, Magali believes that “there are issues that I managed to untangle, it is no longer mixed up as it could have been a few months ago”. And in the next session – the last one – she draws this balance: “I think it’s much better. Situations emptied themselves and I remembered what you told me: it made sense.” The professional offers his client an evaluation questionnaire. On a scale of 0 to 10, for Magali, the problem is solved up to 8. Magali’s coaching will have lasted nine sessions over the course of a year.

“The heart has its reasons…”

Our research, carried out on a population of 357 clients from the SYPRENE/LACT network in practices for therapists and researchers in strategy and systems, shows an average of six sessions in a period of 6 months. With remarkable efficiency: problem solving or at least tangible improvement in 88% of cases.

The interest for a company seems obvious: an economy of means, time and resources. “Usually, after 6 weeks, we see a lessening of the crisis”, confirms this HR Talent Developer from a luxury group, interviewed as part of our research. Another professional, an HR developer and executive coach for an energy supplier, said he was impressed. “I saw how much in 1 or 2 interventions, people say to themselves “but what was the problem? », forgot their sharpness and their very existence. They moved so quickly to something else, and that is the essence of successful action.

In general, interventions correspond to three types of difficulties: change management problems (loss of meaning, demotivation), suffering at work (burnout, harassment, depression) or crisis (strikes, threats of suicide attempts). The strategic systems approach is particularly suited to resolving conflicts encysted over time, where the emotional has taken over the rational. Because as Blaise Pascal reminds us: “the heart has reasons that reason does not know”. “It’s faster and more effective when the conflict is deep, as there are strong dysfunctional symptoms,” agrees our HR Talent Developer.

Thus, companies can now add to their system a powerful tool to improve the quality of life at work, regardless of mediation and wiretapping platforms. A new troubleshooting tool, we said. But also a prevention tool, with the implementation of training/interventions in relational management (from 2-hour collective modules) applied to sensitive company matters, for example discrimination, conflict management, telework… stakeholders: management, occupational medicine, unions. Can a good human resources management do without such an asset?


First names have been changed.

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