Sidestepping “The Talk” - New study explores the motives and consequences of avoiding those awkward yet necessary conversations

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Wanting to skirt away from discussing a sensitive and potentially explosive topic is common. However, according to a study by, people who regularly dodge awkward conversations have made avoidance their modus operandi when it comes to anything and everything they find unpleasant.

Trying to avoid awkward conversations only hurts us in the long-run.

Sidestepping that awkward conversation with your friend, partner, family member, or boss won’t do you any good in the long-run.

When we try to avoid something, it will usually continue to rear its head until we are forced to face it.

Parents giving the “birds and the bees” talk. Romantic partners wanting to know where the relationship is going. Confronting a jerk at work or having to apologize for being the jerk. Life is filled with conversations most people don’t want to have, but avoidance has consequences. Based on a study by, the short-term respite of dodging that awkward talk can lead to long-term social and psychological repercussions.

Analyzing data collected from 12,259 people who took the Emotional Intelligence Test, PsychTests’ researchers compared the personality profile of two distinct groups: people who tend to avoid awkward conversations (“Avoiders”) and those who don’t (“Non-Avoiders”). Here’s what the results revealed:

> 52% of Avoiders are uncomfortable showing their emotions (vs. 21% of Non-Avoiders).
> 62% don’t like talking about their feelings (vs. 15% of Non-Avoiders).
> 53% feel awkward expressing affection or appreciation (vs. 11% of Non-Avoiders).
> 56% will actually suppress their own negative emotions rather than face them (vs. 32% of Non-Avoiders).
> 69% dodge confrontation (vs. 18% of Non-Avoiders).
> 77% won’t ask for what they want - a raise in salary, for example - even when they really desire it or feel they deserve it (vs. 20% of Non-Avoiders).
> 55% are too self-conscious to ask questions if they don’t understand something (vs. 10% of Non-Avoiders).
> 59% get tongue-tied talking to authority figures (vs. 12% of Non-Avoiders).
> 43% won’t correct their teacher or boss when he/she makes a mistake (vs. 25% of Non-Avoiders).
> 41% refrain from giving people advice for fear of steering them in the wrong direction (vs. 10% of Non-Avoiders).

According to PsychTests researchers, their study pointed to some potential motives for Avoiders’ tendency to sidestep awkward conversations, among other things they find disagreeable:
> 76% of Avoiders lack the willpower to push themselves to do things they don’t like (vs. 24% of Non-Avoiders).
> 75% feel like a “fish out of water” in most social situations (vs. 31% of Non-Avoiders).
> 46% are intimidated by anyone with a strong personality (vs. 11% of Non-Avoiders).
> 49% said that they have no idea how to deal with someone who is upset (vs. 9% of Non-Avoiders).
> 57% will hold back from expressing their ideas or opinions if there is a chance they may be mocked or ridiculed (vs. 11% of Non-Avoiders).
> 62% have a desperate need to be liked by everyone (vs. 30% of Non-Avoiders).

> 50% of Avoiders experience frequent emotional ups and downs (vs. 19% of Non-Avoiders).
> 60% frequently put other people’s needs ahead of their own, even when it leaves them feeling sad, upset, or resentful (vs. 37% of Non-Avoiders).
> 52% will pretend to agree with someone’s opinion in order to avoid a fight (vs. 16% of Non-Avoiders).
> 57% will spend hours analyzing and dissecting a person’s comments rather than just asking what he/she meant, or confronting someone who has hurt their feelings (vs. 21% of Non-Avoiders).
> 57% will apologize even when they know they haven’t done anything wrong (vs. 32% of Non-Avoiders).
> 33% of Avoiders are currently undergoing therapy for depression or suspect that they might be depressed (vs. 13% of Non-Avoiders).
> 33% of Avoiders are currently undergoing therapy for an anxiety disorder or suspect that they might have anxiety issues (vs. 18% of Non-Avoiders).

“You can probably avoid some unpleasant conversations but you can’t run from them forever. When we try to avoid something, it will usually continue to rear its head until we are forced to face it,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “People often try to avoid awkward conversations for fear of embarrassment or emotional pain. For example, we might decide not to bring up a problem, no matter how miserable it makes us, because we’re afraid that it could result in a relationship-ending fight or getting fired at work. In fact, 14% of the Avoiders in our study said that they’d rather walk away from a fight or let the other person win, compared to 6% of Non-Avoiders. The reality is that very often, those unpleasant conversations are necessary, and in the long-run, it will be far more difficult to live with a problem than to face it and talk about it. As we have seen in our study, avoidance leaves people feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.”

“For those who tend to sidestep sensitive conversations, my advice would be to face the unpleasantness head-on. Write down exactly what you want to say, and if possible, bring someone for emotional support. Practice saying it to get more comfortable with the message. Learn about assertiveness techniques, and ideally find a coach who can help you practice. Keep in mind that even the most difficult discussions can happen calmly and with a positive tone if you can deliver the message assertively, but with empathy . Most importantly, think about all the consequences of not speaking up. If they outweigh the repercussions of avoidance, then take it as a sign that this is a conversation you need to have.”

What’s your EQ? Check out the Emotional Intelligence Test at

Professional users, such as HR managers, coaches, and therapists, can request a free demo for this or other assessments from ARCH Profile’s extensive battery:

To learn more about psychological testing, download this free eBook:

About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists and coaches, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see

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Ilona Jerabek
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