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

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Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness

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?

Download this audio clip.Audio player: e119_2018j_aug005.mp3
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Transcript

PHILLIPA PERRY
Mundane information that has been exchanged between people hundreds of times before, nothing original in it, but said with great sort of sincerity and good heart between these two and I think that is actually the key to small talk. It’s when you are speaking from your heart but it’s the process of the speaking rather than the content of it that is important. Like I meet my friend off the train and I go, ‘hi, how are you? How was your journey?’ And basically I might as well be saying, ‘Hmm, hmm’ you know because I'm really pleased to see her.
MICHAEL ROSEN
You're putting words in there as well.
PHILLIPA PERRY
I'm just putting words in –
LAURA WRIGHT
It’s all about establishing relationships and also this business of achieving transition like with your example of seeing somebody getting off the train. So it’s transition from that moment where you two are apart to first seeing each other to actually coming close enough to talk to each other, to establishing good will. Then – what on earth are you gonna talk about? What’s been happening? The things you want to express. The things you don’t want to express.
MICHAEL ROSEN
Just go back to the words themselves. Isn't the point if you say there is phatic communication and then there is other kind of communication, you are saying that it’s not actually the content of the words that count? So when people say language is communication in this particular case if I say ‘how are you?’ it’s not the content of ‘how are you?’ that I'm communicating. I'm communicating ‘coo-ee are you a friend?’ Or whatever I am. But it’s not the words themselves. So it’s not strictly speaking language as communication it’s the total moment as communication. Is that right?
LAURA WRIGHT
I think that’s right. I mean phatic communication can be different from other sorts of language precisely in that ritualisation that you're just talking about there. I mean what words did you just give me? ‘How are you doing? How are you?’
MICHAEL ROSEN
That sort of thing –
LAURA WRIGHT
But you haven't thought that through just then and invented it on the spot. That’s something you’ve said a zillion times beforehand and it’s got to be collaborative. So if you do that ‘all right?’ or ‘how are you doing?’ or whatever and the other person doesn’t respond then that’s a problem. It has to be both of you contributing.
PHILLIPA PERRY
There's a certain rule of reprocracy isn't there? I mean if I say ‘nice weather’ or ‘how are you?’ I am wanting a response and I also want you to sort of agree with me. So, if I say ‘nice weather’, I want you to go ‘yeah it’s lovely’.
MICHAEL ROSEN
And then aren’t we doing – we’re saying we’re in the same social unit. It’s a coherence thing here or cohesion that we’re saying if you say ‘nice weather’, I go ‘yeah nice weather’. But if I go ‘I dunno’ then I've broken it haven't I?
PHILLIPA PERRY
Yes and then I take a step back and go ‘okay.’ You’ve said you can't come in any further. And if you ignore me altogether – well, I know my place don’t I?

[…]

PHILLIPA PERRY
So you tell a story and in my mind I'm trying to find connections to that story and then when I find a connection then I share my story with you again and then you find connections in what I'm saying and then we go to places that neither of us would have got to on our own.
LAURA WRIGHT
That’s my definition of a good conversation – a successful one.
PHILLIPA PERRY
I think you can get to that sort of good conversation via ritualised small talk.
End transcript
 
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Discussion

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.

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