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Conflict Resolution; A Mug’s Game


At my recent book launch party I demonstrated some conflict resolution skills and principles using a somewhat hammed up and seemingly trivial dispute around one colleague (Ethel) being upset by another colleague (Martin) using her mug.

This got me thinking about the link between conflict resolution and the phrase “a mug’s game” and I undertook a bit a research on the meaning and derivation of the term. The word ‘mug’ is thought to originate from Scandinavia or Sweden where the word was (as you might expect) first used to describe a drinking vessel. It is then thought to have been used to describe a person’s face (or exaggerated facial expressions) from the practice of drinking from mugs shaped like grotesque faces. From this you then get terms relating to a persons face such as a “mug shot” and to terms referring to the person as a fool or someone who is easily deceived.

There are various definitions of “a mug’s game” such as “an activity that will not make you happy or successful” and “a foolish, useless, or ill advised venture.”

So, is conflict resolution an ill advised venture that is unlikely to succeed or something that will not make you happy or successful? Not surprisingly my answer to that questions is an emphatic no!

  • There is much debate in the mediation world about how you measure the success or otherwise of mediation. In most cases where there is reference to success this refers to an agreement of some sort having been reached at the conclusion of the mediation session. Often what is not known is the long term sustainability of any such agreement or what follows a mediation session where there is no agreement. That said,  there is general consensus that success rates of around 90% are common and on any basis that is impressive. In my view, even where an agreement is not reached or sustained following mediation, the process itself is a learning opportunity and therefore of value in any event.
  • The human and organisational costs associated with unresolved conflict are significant. They include management time, loss of productivity, higher absence and turnover rates, impact on employee welfare and in the worst cases legal and settlement costs. Anything that seeks to avoid or limit these costs has to be a well advised exercise.