The systems engineer, the new conflict deminer in companies

According to research, the intervention of a systemicist results in the resolution of the problem or at least a tangible improvement in 88% of cases.

By Audrey Becuwe & Grégoire Vitry

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 consulting firm specializing in work psychology, states that French employees “spend, on average, 1.8 hours per week ” dealing with these difficulties. And that 51% of employees in human resources departments devote 1 to 5 hours per week to it.

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

To deal with these tensions, companies today generally have recourse to occupational medicine, mediators, coaches, lawyers or trade unions. So many players – particularly occupational medicine – who are generally at a loss when faced with situations at the crossroads of individual health and collective well-being. The only answer is too often work stoppage, dismissal or transfer. But there is another approach, still little known, although particularly effective: the intervention of a systemicist.

Situations that “deflated on their own”

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

An example – real – makes it possible to understand how it proceeds. Magali*, 35, works in 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 by planning the tasks of her service to the extreme. "I end up telling myself that I'm too demanding," she worries. In fact, his collaborators reproach him for not taking into account their personal difficulties.

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

It was the director of human resources, seized of the question, who sent Magali to a systems specialist. The first sessions allow the "delimitation" of the problem. The practitioner identifies her client's difficulties. Both vis-à-vis her superior and her collaborators, this woman who wants to be perfect is on the alert and “constantly fears that she will be blamed for a management problem”.

business training

Successful organizational transformation

business training

collective intelligence

business training

on the suffering at work

It sets up what systemicists call “attempted solutions”, strategies that aggravate and encyst the conflict instead of resolving it. Thus, Magali carefully prepares her argument before meeting her manager, placing herself on the defensive. With her collaborators, she avoids at all costs to go into the emotional field, even if it means isolating herself.

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

At her eighth session, Magali believes that “there are issues that I have managed to disentangle, it is no longer mixed up at all as it could have been a few months ago”. And the following session – the last – she draws this balance sheet: “I think it is much better. Situations deflated on their own and I thought back to what you had told me: it made sense”. The practitioner offers her 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 a year.

" The heart has its reasons… "

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

The interest for a company seems obvious: an economy of means, time and resources. “Generally, after 6 weeks, we observe a decrease in the crisis”, confirms this HR Talent Developer from a luxury group, interviewed as part of our research. Another professional, 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? », they have forgotten its acuteness and its very existence. They moved on so quickly to something else, and that's the essence of a successful action.

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

Companies can therefore already add a powerful tool to their system for improving the quality of life at work, independently of mediation and telephone listening platforms. A new troubleshooting tool, we said. But also a prevention tool, with the implementation of training/interventions on relational management (from collective 2-hour modules) applied to sensitive company subjects, for example discrimination, conflict management, teleworking … A tool, moreover, which makes it possible to involve, when necessary, all the stakeholders: management, occupational medicine, trade unions. Can sound management of human resources do without such an asset?