Let me start by saying: I am all about communication. It’s the bomb. I’ve worked to improve my skills and totally dig enhancing my connection with friends, family, coworkers and partners. Good communication skills help us express our needs while hearing what others are saying, too.
The flip side of communication is avoidance, which we’ve been taught to… well, avoid.
The Rumor: Avoidance doesn’t work — it’s better to face problems head-on
The general theory goes that if we bury or ignore interpersonal issues because we don’t want to deal with conflict, those issues will grow in size and horror, like a cloud of fruit flies swarming around a brown banana. So we take a deep breath and deal with the conflict du jour.
But… am I the only one who’s tired of trying so hard to be a great communicator all the time? Don’t you, like me, want to just avoid conflict sometimes, instead of always putting so much effort into hammering things out?
The Verdict: In some situations, avoidance can be an effective coping strategy
If you too are tired of talking things out all the time, you may be relieved to learn that there are situations wherein avoidance is considered a perfectly acceptable coping skill. A recent study from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found that students who used avoidance strategies coped better with life’s ups and downs. “We found that while wishing for your problems to magically disappear is counterproductive, the process of taking your mind off the problems at hand actually helped people manage multiple role responsibilities and increased their satisfaction,” said study coauthor Betty Cheng.
Another area where it’s often avoidance for the win? Long-term relationships. A 13-year study from San Francisco State University found that couples’ communication styles “changed as they aged, with both spouses showing a greater tendency to avoid the subject of a conflict as the years ticked by.”
Turns out, as we get older, we tend to place less importance on arguments. “My husband and I have been married 38 years, and we noticed recently that some of the things that get us annoyed now are the same things that got us annoyed in the first couple of years of marriage — except now we laugh about them,” says Karen Sherman, Ph.D., a psychologist and relationships expert in New York City. “In the beginning it feels like everything matters, but when you’re married this long and you have a greater perspective on life, you let it go.”
Avoidance sounds fantastic, but it’s certainly not an all-purpose cure. So how do we know when to avoid and when to deal? “Ask yourself, ‘Is this something that’s really going to matter?'” says Sherman. “If it’s not going to make a difference, then let it go. Avoid it. There’s no point in creating a problem.”