5 Signs You Are a Distractor

5 Signs Distraction is Your Conflict Style and What You Can Do About It

When conflict happens on your team, do you tend to crack a joke or find another way to distract from the tension?

Many people don’t like conflict and assume it means they’re doing something wrong. In reality, conflict is healthy and allows teams to get more clarity about differences or about the direction to take to get the best results.  

Believe it or not, how we all deal with conflict is influenced by our upbringing. 

From what was modeled to us when conversations got tense, to challenging circumstances, our work life is an extension of our early family life. It’s what I call our Workplace Family Factor® addressed in my book How Did My Family Get In My Office?!  

Today’s blog is the fourth part of a multi-blog series addressing how family upbringing affects your conflict style and business relationships today.

In the first blog, we addressed five common remarks leaders make when avoidance is their go-to conflict style. 

In the second blog, we discussed five signs that control as a conflict style contributes to employee turnover. 

In the third blog, we looked at five signs you’re a people-pleaser and how it hurts your leadership credibility. 

Today we focus on 5 signs you might be using distraction as a go-to conflict style that prevents your team from dealing with conflict directly and creating team trust, accountability, and results.

Distraction can come in many forms besides humor.  Other examples include sarcasm, cynicism, or excuses.

Distraction is anything that takes the focus off of the issue at hand and doesn’t address what’s under the surface. When working with teams, this is what I refer to as the Mokita (no, it’s not a drink). 

Mokita is a term from one of the tribes in Papua New Guinea that means the truth we know about and agree not to speak of. In our English language, it’s the elephant in the room. 

Distraction can also show up by finding someone in the office to blame as the scapegoat for problems

It’s also commonly used to avoid directly addressing problem employee behavior or under-performance because an employee is a high revenue generator or because of their position in the company.

Later you’ll see how distraction negatively impacted a leader’s work performance and what he did about it that led to future success.

5 Signs Distraction Is Your Conflict Style 

Read the list below and see which of the signs of distraction might be your go-to conflict style. 

1. You have a fun sense of humor

You have a way of bringing levity to difficult situations through your wit and playfulness. You can make a boring job, fun.

While it’s important to have fun at work, taken to extreme humor can prevent meaningful conversations.

2. You use sarcasm

Instead of speaking directly about the topic at hand, you use sarcasm and your co-workers usually laugh.

While what you say may have a hint of truth to it, people may not be clear on your message. 

One on hand you say “it’s a joke”. On the other hand, you’re bringing out the reality of a situation. 

What you’re communicating isn’t direct and forthright. 

3. You bring up topics that are irrelevant

Sometimes you take a conversation off track through humor to defuse tension and other times you don’t realize you’re doing it. 

Whether intended or not, you aren’t addressing the main point of the conversation. 

Especially when tension is high, you feel uncomfortable and your approach is to deflect and distract with humor or irrelevant information. 

4. You are on the move

You may have a tough time sitting still and have been told you wear others out through your energy. It may be hard for you to concentrate because your mind and your body are going in different directions.

5. You are deeply sensitive, but it doesn’t show

People who use distraction as a conflict style are often highly sensitive and perceptive, but it’s often covered with humor. You might even feel lonely inside even though you’re often viewed as the life of the office. 

You feel your greatest team contribution is bringing people together through laughter and it’s a way to get attention. Even negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Influence of Family Upbringing

Brad was the youngest of five children. 

As a child, he had been extremely sick and almost didn’t live. Because of this, his parents were extremely protective of him and watched his every move. 

After a major surgery, his health improved, but his parent’s remained cautious of allowing him to participate in typical childhood activities like running or sports that his siblings enjoyed.

Though his physical activities were limited, Brad learned to use humor to make light of his situation. 

He saw the smile his jokes brought to his mother’s face whose fear of something happening to him was palpable. His siblings would join Brad’s playfulness. Seriousness in the home was replaced with merriment that renewed the family’s spirit. At least temporarily.

Brad’s health continued to improve, but another family crisis occurred when his parents divorced. Again, Brad tapped into his wit to make his family laugh despite a very difficult time.

Taking Coping Styles From Upbringing To Adulthood

Fast forward into adulthood, Brad’s health is stable, and he is known for his humor. He found a niche in the sales field and gained recognition for his skills and sales record. He was recruited to be a Sales Director and his employees referred to him as a “fun boss”.

Things were rolling along nicely until the demands of leadership began taking a toll. 

Now Brad was not just responsible for his own sales, but also for those of his employees. He was an excellent salesman, and his humor helped him to succeed, but those same skills didn’t translate to motivating his staff. 

When Brad got pressure from his boss about the decline of sales in his division, his “go to” humorous response of handling tense conversations didn’t work. 

His boss took his jokes as not taking job responsibilities seriously and undermining his effectiveness as a leader.

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” – Winston Churchill

Unable to maintain the sales quota for his division, Brad was fired from his job. 

This time when facing tough times, he decided to do something different. 

He allowed himself to face the realities of his situation without minimizing the emotional pain associated with his job loss. 

Through a process of self-awareness and assessing his inner resources, he learned when to use humor and when to be serious. He also learned how he used humor to cover up insecurities and as a way of cajoling to ease tension. 

Through a conscious effort, Brad developed emotional intelligence skills and invited accountability to overcome the tendency to use humor to deflect tension and be popular. It was a turning point in his career and personal life that led to future success. 

How Does Distraction Impact Business Relationships?

If you resonate with any of these examples of distraction or parts of Brady’s story, consider if your use of distraction is a contributing factor undermining your leadership and team health. 

While everyone likes a good laugh and wants work to be enjoyable, the timing of a joke or bringing up unrelated topics can be viewed as distasteful or inappropriate. 

On the surface, it may look like people get along, but upon a closer look, it’s artificial harmony that prevents the important issues from being addressed.

Coaching could be the solution to help you work through tense situations and have healthy, productive conflict with your team. 

Be aware of using distractions when conversations get tense, and your team will have productive conflict that leads to better results.

Ready to find out how your family upbringing impacts your conflict style?  

Take my complimentary Workplace Family Factor® Assessment and learn how self-awareness of your family upbringing will equip you to improve how you handle conflict at work. 


About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.