Conflict Resolution; A Mug’s Game?

June 26th, 2015

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.
  • I have seen from first hand experience how unhappy individuals are when they are in a conflict situation; by the time my services are enlisted it is highly likely that those concerned cannot see a future beyond the conflict or envisage that there can be a positive outcome. Conflict resolution interventions and mediation are designed to empower those concerned to find solutions for themselves and part of that process is to encourage a shift in mind set or a different way of looking at their own and their “opponents” viewpoints and perspectives. One of the most satisfying aspects of the work I do is to see the positive impact on individuals when mediation or conflict resolution enables individuals to make the transition to a better future.
  • In the vast majority of cases, alternative dispute resolution is a preferable option to formal processes or litigation. In these situations, decisions are imposed by others, often leaving neither side satisfied and the emotional aspects of the dispute are left unresolved. Unless the decision involves termination of employment those concerned still have to try and work together even though their relationship has been further damaged.
  • If managers intervene appropriately to manage conflicts then this will improve working relationships and team working. Similarly if employees can raise differences of opinion and resolve issues in a positive way then this promotes high performance team working. In this way conflict and its resolution, where necessary, can be a positive thing that brings creatively and innovation.

I hope that this has convinced you that conflict resolution is not a mug’s game; it brings real positive benefits and learning, saves costs and limits impacts on health and wellbeing. Not to engage in alternative ways to resolve conflict would clearly be foolish and you would have to be mug to do so!

Finally, if you would like to see the hammed up performance here it is in full:

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The report was very professional, it dealt with all the issues raised and was particularly thorough. It clearly took the time to fully understand all of the issues and background. It was complex but the report really helped to break it down and I’m hoping we can progress in a positive manner following the recommendations.

Group HR Manager, Energy Sector |

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