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Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness
Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness

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2 What is the point of small talk?

The technical name for small talk is phatic communication; for example, ‘Hi, you OK?’ or a comment about the weather. Questions or comments such as these are not meant to elicit detailed responses but they do serve a social purpose.

Activity 2 What is the purpose of phatic talk?

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Listen to a linguist, academic and psychotherapist discussing phatic talk. The audio starts with psychotherapist and writer Philippa Perry describing phatic talk as ‘mundane information that has been exchanged between two people … ’ What do you think is the purpose of the phatic talk in different sport and fitness settings?

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In the audio, they describe phatic talk as ritualised and a process that helps establish a relationship or a transition before the more detailed conversation starts. They describe it as establishing goodwill, collaboration and cohesion, provided those interacting reciprocate (join in) the dialogue. If they choose not to respond, this could be interpreted as being unfriendly or even hostile. In sport and fitness the topics that are chosen to be discussed are selected in order to make mutual agreement almost guaranteed, such as ‘what did you think of the match/game/event at the weekend?’ or ‘how are your family?’

Phatic openings are invaluable means of establishing relations before getting down to the real purpose of the encounter.