Attending to a possible complaint
Preference for noticings, anticipatory apologies and preemptive accounts to forestall potential conflict
Taking into account that people are reluctant to engage in a conflictual interaction but also that the recognition and interpretation of a complaint is very much contingent on the discourse in which it appears, the present paper adopts a conversation analytic perspective and studies complaints in ordinary conversation. In terms of politeness research, complaints are characterized as ‘face threatening acts’, with the analysis focusing either on the mitigation strategies the complainer may employ or on the description of the acts that are at the complainee’s disposal. From a wider perspective, the most prominent feature of complaints is that they transform an individual’s trouble into an acknowledgeable interpersonal problem. The present research focuses on complaints addressed to participants in the on-going interaction (direct complaints), explicating instances where members themselves reveal their understanding of the complaint. Special attention is given to the mitigation and accounting practices a complainee employs, i.e. noticings, anticipatory apologies and (preemptive) accounts, which all aim to withhold the disaffiliative complaint. Through these practices, not only does the candidate complaint-recipient mitigate the impact of his/her accountability but also third party participants attempt to avoid the delivery of the complaint. The data of the study consist of 20 audio-recorded conversations between friends and relatives and are drawn from the Corpus of Spoken Greek of the Institute of Modern Greek Studies.
Keywords: complaints, noticings, apologies, accounts, conversation analysis, accountability, Corpus of Spoken Greek
Published online: 24 September 2019