What is phatic communication?

When people talk to each other during a typical day, the conversation need not necessarily be meaningful. This kind of chatting is for social purposes, what we disparagingly refer to as ‘small talk.’ For example, saying ‘hello’ on the phone, telling someone to have a nice day, enquiring about someone’s health or even talking about the weather. These clichéd phrases and ice-breakers are instances of phatic communication.

Phatic communication can be verbal or non-verbal. Non-verbal examples include a simple wave, a thumbs-up signal, a handshake, or a pat on the back.

We may call it small talk. Some people dislike it while others simply cannot do without it! However, phatic communication is important if we want to keep our social connections alive and ticking.

Sociologists say that small talk, such as remarking on the weather, can lead to more significant communication. Very few people start and end conversations with straight facts. Some kind of phatic communication such as a ‘hi’ or a smile, or even a passing comment prepares the stage.

The social media platforms available on the Internet are perfect examples of phatic communication where participants are strangers and need not be knowledgeable to take part in an ongoing chat. In the office setting, Co-workers have water cooler conversations or tea break banter.

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