Systems engineer, the new corporate deminer

According to the Cost of Conflict at Work Monitor, more than two out of three employees declare themselves in conflict. An old study by OPP Ltd, a consulting firm specializing in work psychology, notes that French employees “spend, on average, 1.8 hours per week” dealing with these difficulties. And that 51% of workers in human resources departments dedicate 1 to 5 hours per week for this.

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

To deal with these tensions, companies today generally turn to occupational medicine, mediators, coaches, lawyers or trade unions. There are plenty of players – especially occupational medicine – who are generally at a loss when faced with situations at the crossroads of individual health and collective well-being. Often the only answer is to stop working, dismiss or transfer. But there is another approach, still unknown, although particularly effective: a systemic intervention.

Cases “relapsed on their own”

What is it about? The so-called systems approach comes from the School of Thought in Palo Alto, California. A theory in the sciences of communication consisting of treating interpersonal conflicts as a disruption of the system of relationships that an individual maintains with himself, with others, and with the world. Simply put, a regularist is an expert in relational dynamics and their organization.

An example – real – makes it possible to understand how it is progressing. Magali*, 35, works for a press company. You manage two people in a tense context of digital transformation. The more difficult she felt, the more energy she devoted to being irreplaceable, especially by planning her service missions to the extreme. She worries, “I ended up telling myself that I’m too demanding.” In fact, his associates scold him for not taking into account their personal difficulties.

In this context, his N+1 is assigned to another task. Magali then finds herself in direct contact with Edward, N+2. The latter receives complaints from her subordinates and publicly reprimands her for her management flaws. Magali saw these reprimands as unfair. And the more she tried to justify herself, the more Edward drifted away and she herself felt anger and fear of not being able to stand it. “If nothing changes, I will look for another job” …

It was the Human Resources Director, who captured the question, who sent Magali to a systems specialist. The first sessions allow to “delineate” the problem. The practitioner identifies the difficulties facing her client. In the face of her boss and her collaborators, this idealistic woman is on the alert and “constantly afraid of being blamed for a management problem”.

The so-called systemic approach is to treat interpersonal conflicts as a disruption of the system of relationships that one maintains with oneself, with others, and with the world.

It lays out what system scientists call “tried solutions,” strategies that exacerbate and encourage conflict rather than resolve it. Thus, Magali carefully prepares her argument before meeting her manager, putting herself on the defensive. With her collaborators, she avoids at all costs entering the emotional realm, even if it means isolating herself.

So the speaker will suggest alternative, often contradictory strategies. For example, with Édouard, “plentiful style”: Begin an intervention with “I know I’m going to disappoint you, but…”, to defuse fearsome blame. This is the second stage of the intervention, known as ‘disruption’. Finally, the work ends with the “adjustment” of the strategy in accordance with the results of the experiment.

At her eighth session, Magali believes that “there are issues that I have managed to resolve, and they are not at all as mixed up as they could have been a few months ago.” And the next – the last – session draws the balance sheet: “I think it’s much better. Things just went away on their own and I thought about what you said to me: it made sense.” The practitioner submits to her client an evaluation questionnaire. On a scale of 0 to 10, for Magali, the problem is solved up to 8. Magali’s training would have lasted nine cycles over the course of a year.

“The heart has its reasons…”

Our research, conducted on a group of 357 SYPRENE/LACT clients on practices of therapists and researchers in strategy and methodologies, shows an average of six sessions over a 6-month period. Remarkable efficiency: problem resolution or at least appreciable improvement in 88% of cases.

The interest in a company is obvious: economy of means, time and resources. “In general, after 6 weeks, we notice a reduction in crunch,” this HR developer from a luxury group confirms, who was interviewed as part of our research. Another professional, an HR developer and executive coach for an energy supplier, said he liked it. “I’ve seen how many in one or two interventions, people say to themselves ‘But what’s the problem?'” “They forgot its intensity and existence. They moved very quickly to something else, which is the essence of a successful business.

In general, the interventions correspond to three types of difficulties: problems of managing change (loss of meaning, inhibition of motivation), suffering at work (burnout, harassment, depression) or crisis (strikes, threats of suicide attempts). A strategic approach is particularly suitable for resolving encoded 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 is faster and more effective when the conflict is deep, because there are strong symptoms of dysfunction,” agrees our HR developer.

So companies can already add a powerful tool to their system to improve the quality of life at work, regardless of mediation and phone listening platforms. We said a new troubleshooting tool. But also a preventive tool, with the implementation of training / interventions on relational management (from group modules of 2 hours) applied to sensitive corporate topics, for example discrimination, conflict management, remote work … a tool that, moreover, makes it possible to engage when necessary , all stakeholders: management, occupational medicine, trade unions. Can the proper management of human resources dispense with such assets?


The first names have been changed.

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