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The High Cost of Avoiding Difficult Conversations

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Nationwide survey states: Lost friendships, family estrangement and regret cited, while Americans reveal extraordinary efforts to avoid tough topics.

Sometimes -- it's just easier to not talk about it.

In a study conducted by Nationwide, it's not surprising that many Americans suffer through stressful situations simply because they refuse to verbally communicate. In an November 2007 article, Nationwide points out:

While more than two-thirds of Americans say they understand the value of having conversations about difficult topics ranging from estate planning to sex, they also reveal a strong impulse to tell white lies, screen calls, ignore e-mails and even find a place to hide in an effort to avoid them. And, according to a new survey commissioned by Nationwide®, they are paying a very high price for their avoidance, as they report loss of sleep, financial security, health and even relationships in startling numbers.

Nationwide's "Tough Talks" survey concluded that 1 out of 5 respondents lost friendships or estranged a family member due to avoiding tough conversations. The study also revealed that while nearly half of the responsdents report the loss of "a good night's sleep" as a result of avoiding difficult subjects, 1 in 10 report more serious repercussions, including poor health or a lack of financial security. Furthermore, the survey stated that five percent claim to have lost a job because of their failure to discuss a difficult issue.

The Tough Talks survey was part of Nationwide's new Have The Talk(SM) initiative designed to help Americans break down the barriers to effective communication. The program offers everything from "digital ice-breakers" to specialized tips from Harvard communications expert Sheila Heen. The Have The Talk website, was built to help promote Have The Talk Day held on November 20, 2007.

"As the Tough Talks survey shows, especially in regard to our financial health, families often have difficulty actually having important conversations, even though they know they're necessary," said Heen, co-author of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. "Nationwide created Have The Talk to help families get past some of the barriers. Once people begin to actually have those talks, things happen and decisions can be made."

Survey Stalks 'Elephant in the Room'

The Tough Talks survey explored differences in how Americans approach difficult conversations, and the topics that most often become the "elephant in the room" among families. The 1,620 people surveyed revealed the problem is widespread. In fact, 43 percent of married people say they purposely avoid difficult conversations with their spouse because bringing it up will only start a fight.

While not having enough money is the issue most likely to start a conflict in their families (46 percent), other hot-button topics include:

  • health concerns (42 percent)
  • household budgeting (40 percent)
  • running out of savings (38 percent)
  • philosophy on raising kids (36 percent)
  • use of credit (36 percent)
The survey also revealed the lengths people have gone to avoid such difficult conversations:

  • screening phone calls or e-mails (38 percent)
  • telling a lie (25 percent)
  • cutting off all contact with a person (19 percent)
  • Nearly one in 10 respondents (9 percent) confessed to skipping a meal, working late when they didn't really have to or even physically hiding.
Almost 30 percent of those surveyed revealed they even have enlisted a third party to have a difficult conversation on their behalf.

New Resources for those Seeking Assistance

Nationwide® partnered with Heen and popular comedian/celebrity impressionist Frank Caliendo to develop the Have The Talk Web site ( to provide tips, tools and a bit of humor to help people get past the barriers keeping them from actually having important discussions.

"We know that people understand the value of confronting life's difficult topics, whether related to personal finances or taking the car keys from aging parents," said Jim Lyski, Nationwide's executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "We hope the resources available through the Have The Talk program can offer a bit of additional assistance to those who have struggled to find the right approach to difficult conversations."

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About Nationwide

Nationwide, based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the world, with more than $160 billion in assets. Nationwide ranks #104 on the Fortune 500 list. The company provides a full range of insurance and financial services, including auto, motorcycle, boat, homeowners, life, farm, commercial insurance, administrative services, annuities, mortgages, mutual funds, pensions, long-term savings plans and health and productivity services. For more information, visit

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