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Social Communication- The Unspoken Rules of Conversation and Communication

Article Written By: Victoria Mannella-Gupta

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who does not make eye contact, has difficulty staying on topic, or fails to recognize social cues when you say, “look at the time, it’s getting late”? Although there may be nothing wrong with the person’s speech or language, they may have difficulty with social communication or “pragmatics”.

According to ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)*, pragmatics are the rules we follow when we talk. These rules include when and how you should talk to people, appropriate facial expressions or gestures, or using cues to let our conversation partner know we are changing the topic. Think about the last time you conversed with someone. What parts of pragmatics did you use?

Why is social communication important?

Conversations are part of our everyday life. Whether you are talking on the phone, ordering a coffee, or hanging out with friends and family. Social communication is important for building relationships, using language, understanding language, and self-regulating one’s language.

ASHA outlines three major skills needed for social communication:

1. Using language for:

· Greeting (hello, goodbye)

· Informing (I’m going to the store)

· Demanding (Give me the controller)

· Promising (I’m going to take you to the park soon)

· Requesting (Can you pass the salt please?)

2. Changing language such as:

· Speaking differently to an infant vs. an adult

· Adding more information to a conversation if the other person does not know the topic

· Leaving out redundant information for someone who already knows the topic

· Talking differently depending on the environment or conversation partner

--> The speech you use in a meeting versus with a partner at home

--> Children speaking to their teacher in the classroom versus playing with their friends at recess

3. Following conversation rules:

· Taking turns when you talk

· Introducing the topic of conversation when you begin talking

--> “So the other day, the craziest thing happen!”

· Staying on topic

· Saying something another way if your conversation partner does not understand

· Using gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and body language

--> These give us more information about a conversation

--> Some people prefer talking in-person or over facetime rather than an

audio call or email because they can see the conversation partner’s facial


· Knowing how close to stand to someone when conversing

--> This has changed recently during the pandemic!

--> We rely on body language and social communication to know when we are speaking from a comfortable distance.

It is interesting to note, that some of these social communication skills are different for other cultures. It is important to be aware of these differences in order to make everyone feel comfortable.

If a child has difficulty with social communication, they may**:

· Have difficulty remaining on topic

· Stand too close or disregard personal space

· Tell stories in an unorganized way

· No eye contact or looking too intensely

· Dominate the conversation or do not allow turn-taking

· Have difficulty asking for clarification when they do not understand

· Use language in a limited way (makes statements but doesn’t ask questions)

· Have difficulty understanding another person’s point of view

· Have difficulty making friends

It is normal for children to break some of these social communication skills as they are learning. However, if your child is breaking a lot of these rules consistently, a Speech-Language Pathologist can help! At Empower Communication, we look forward to helping anyone develop their social communication skills!


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