Why is Communicating So Hard?

Why is Communicating So Hard?

By Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM / Published April 2018

Photo by iStockphoto.com/SIphotography

In days of “old,” we talked face to face, wrote letters by hand, or splurged on expensive long-distance telephone calls. Today, talk is cheap in more ways than one. It seems ironic that with so many ways to talk with each other, communicating is harder and worse than ever. Why? Some think social media has made it worse!

       Why would social media make communicating worse? Well, first let’s define “communicating.” It is the giving and receiving of information with understanding. That implies listening!

       Gaining understanding while communicating usually involves face-to-face encounters. This allows the participants to see and experience the mannerisms, facial expressions, verbal tone, pitch, and pace, as well as the body posture of the other. All these help us understand the words that are being spoken. Face-to-face talking gives us more complete communication.

       Social media seems to give many people a platform to just talk without communicating. They say whatever they think with few moral or ethical filters. Their intent is to tell you their opinion. They seem to have no need to engage in meaningful dialogue that produces two-way understanding. This type of one-way communication is meant to educate (lecture or berate) the other person, with no responsibility for learning on the speaker’s part. In many cases, it turns out to be just plain mean.

       Blasting gossip and rants to Facebook “friends” has taken the place of talking to a few neighbors behind your back. Social media sites allow those who will to say anything they want to about you, call you names, predetermine your motives, and assess your IQ. Instead of being places for information about community events and legal updates, now many of the HOA blogs and neighborhood websites are filled with nasty comments and incoherent rants.

       Because of consistent, hateful posts on a neighborhood website, one manager prepared for the annual meeting by hiring a deputy sheriff to attend to keep order. Not one owner showed up for the meeting. Apparently being anonymous and mean is different than being mean in front of your neighbors. That was an unnecessary waste of association funds.

       When Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said to “begin with the end in mind,” he did not intend for this to be taken within the context of communicating. He meant it within the context of goal setting. Many people begin a conversation with the end goal of “you’ll know exactly where I stand when I finish with you.” Parents talk to their children this way, spouses talk to each other this way, people who are supposed to be friends talk this way to each other, co-workers, managers, supervisors, board members, congressmen, elected officials, and the list goes on and on. Giving someone a “piece of your mind” is not communicating.

       When Stephen Covey said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” he was meaning within the context of communicating. The missing piece in communicating is listening and asking clarifying questions. We don’t listen or ask questions for several reasons.


       We approach the conversation with a predetermined premise before we ever engage the other person. Instead of sticking to the facts, we insert motive or outcome. Assessing someone’s motive or the outcome at the front end of a conversation kills it. No one seems to be listening or asking questions.

       Max Lucado tells a wonderful story about an old woodcutter who had a beautiful horse. The old woodcutter was poor and had nothing but a son and the beautiful horse. All the townspeople kept telling the old woodcutter he should sell the horse and get rich. He could not sell the horse because the horse was like a family member to him. One day the horse was missing from the barn. All the townspeople came to grieve with him and said, “Now you’re going to be poor and miserable the rest of your life when you could have been rich.”

       The wise old woodcutter simply told the townspeople, “Whether I am going to be poor or rich or miserable I do not know; all I know is the horse is not in the barn.”

       Later the horse returns with a herd of mares. All the townspeople came out to celebrate with him, saying, “You are blessed, and you are going to be rich when you sell all the foals these mares will produce.”

       The wise old woodcutter simply told the townspeople, “Whether I am going to be rich or poor, I do not know; all I know is the horse is back.”

The story goes on and on with one mishap after another, and every time the wise old woodcutter just says, “Whether I’ll be rich or poor, I don’t know. All I know is the horse is back.” There was absolutely no presumption in the wise old woodcutter.


       The end of the conversation has been predetermined, and no matter what you say, it will be my way. I’m right. This, too, kills the conversation. Still, no one is listening or asking questions.

Take a position

       Once we have predetermined the premise, the motive, and the conclusion, we then defend that position. We will get louder (using all capital letters while typing) and may use threatening body language and pointing fingers. No one is listening or asking questions.

Defend position

       Finally, we fight and defend until the end because we are unwilling to listen in order to learn. If communicating doesn’t involve reciprocal conversation with an intent to learn, it’s not true communication.

       You just have to wonder if society today has created social media lemmings. A lemming is a small rodent found near the Arctic and has odd behaviors that lead some to believe they commit mass suicide. Because of this odd behavior, lemming suicide is a frequently used metaphor for people who unthinkingly join mass movements and rush headlong into something potentially dangerous or with fatal consequences. Today it seems we have social media lemmings who mindlessly march into relationship suicide because they won’t listen and learn.

       “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM

Florida CAM Schools

Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, guides managers, board members, and service providers in handling daily operations of their communities while at the same time dealing with different communication styles, difficult personalities, and conflict. Effective communication and efficient management are her goals. Since 1999, Betsy has educated thousands of managers, directors, and service providers. She is your trainer for life! Betsy is the author of Boardmanship, a columnist in the Florida Community Association Journal, and a member of the Regulatory Council for Community Association Managers. For more information, contact Betsy@FloridaCAMSchools.com, (352) 326-8365, or www.FloridaCAMSchools.com.