Mediation Theory and Practice, Vol 1, No 1 (2016)

‘I need to get some details first’: Record keeping as a potential barrier to effective complaint-call management

Ann Weatherall
Issued Date: 4 Jun 2016


In this article, I examine audio recordings of telephone calls to an independent dispute resolution service in which customers complained about their electricity, gas or water providers. Part of the job of the intake officers (who answer the calls) is to enter relevant information about the caller and the complaint into a computer software system called RESOLVE. A dataset of 120 calls were analysed using conversation analysis. Although there was no fixed order for registering caller and complaint details, intake officers regularly prioritised registering caller details. Sometimes that meant interrupting callers as they were describing their problem. On the whole, callers who were interrupted co-operated with the intake officer, but an analysis of a call is presented where the caller did not co-operate. The findings support a recommendation for flexibility in the order of activities that achieve telephone-mediated dispute resolution. Being flexible is most likely to effectively progress the interaction to accomplish the institution’s business in this case. Flexibility may be a general principle for the delivery of an effective dispute resolution service.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/mtp.v1i1.29483


Baker, C. D., Emmison, M. and Firth, A. (eds) (2005a) Calling for Help: Language and Social Interaction in Telephone Helplines. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing Company.

Baker, C. D., Emmison, M. and Firth, A. (2005b) Calibrating for competence in calls to technical support. In Baker et al. (2005a): 39–62.

Butler, C. W., Danby, S. and Emmison, M. (2015) Empowerment as practical action: avoiding giving advice in telephone counselling for children and young people. In F. Chevalier and J. Moore (eds) Constraints and Interactional Restrictions in Institutional Talk: Studies in Conversation Analysis 83–115. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing Company.

Dewar, J. (2011) An ethnographic and conversation analytic account of complaints to an industry ombudsman. Master’s thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Drew, P. and Walker, T. (2009) Going too far: complaining, escalating and dis­affiliation. Journal of Pragmatics 41(12): 2400–14.

Edwards, D. (2007) Introduction. Research on Language and Social Interaction 40(1): 1–7.

Edwards, D. and Stokoe, E. (2007) Self-help in calls for help with problem neigh­bors. Research on Language and Social Interaction 40(1): 9–32.

Firth, A., Emmison, M. and Baker, C. D. (2005) Calling for help: an introduction In Baker et al. (2005a): 133–51.

Gaines, P. (2011) The multifunctionality of discourse operator okay: evidence from a police interview. Journal of Pragmatics 43(14): 3291–315.

Heritage, J. and Maynard, D. (2006) Introduction: analyzing primary care encounters. In J. Heritage and D. Maynard (eds) Communication in Medical Care: Interactions between Primary Care Physicians and Patients 1–21. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jefferson, G. (1984) Transcription notation. In J. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds) Structures of Social Interaction 346–69. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jefferson, G. (1988) On the sequential organization of troubles-talk in ordinary conversation. Social Problems 45: 418–41.

Levinson, S. C. (2013) Action formation and ascription. In T. Stivers and J. Sidnell (eds) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis 103–30. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Raymond, G. (2003) Grammar and social organization: yes/no type interrogatives and the structure of responding. American Sociological Review 68: 939–67.

Robinson, J. D. (2003) An interactional structure of medical activities during acute visits and its implications for patient participation Health Communication 15(1): 27–59.

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A. and Jefferson, G. (1974) A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language 50(4): 696–735.

Schegloff, E. A. (1968) Sequencing in conversational openings. American Anthro­pologist 70: 1075–95.

Schegloff, E. M. (2001) Accounts of conduct in interaction: interruption, overlap and turn-taking. In J. H. Turner (ed.) Handbook of Sociological Theory 287–321. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Schegloff, E. M. (2005) On complainability. Social Problems 52: 449–76.

Schegloff, E. A. (2007) Sequence Organisation in Interaction: A Primer in Con­versation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, E. A. and Sacks, H. (1973) Opening up closings. Semiotica 7: 289–327.

Stokoe, E. (2013) Overcoming barriers to mediation in intake calls to services: research-based strategies for mediators. Negotiation Journal 29(3): 289–314.

Stokoe, E. (2014) The Conversation Analytic Role-play Method (CARM): a method for training communication skills as an alternative to simulated role-play. Research on Language and Social Interaction 47(3): 255–65.

Weatherall, A. (2015) ‘But whose side are you on?’ Doing being independent in telephone-mediated dispute resolution. In F. Chevalier and J. Moore (eds) Producing and Managing Restricted Activities: Avoidance and Withholding in Institutional Interaction 151–79. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing Company.

Weatherall, A. and Stubbe, M. (2014) Emotions in action: telephone-mediated dispute resolution. British Journal of Social Psychology.

Zimmerman, D. H. (1992) The interactional organization of calls for emergency assistance. In P. Drew and J. Heritage (eds) Talk at Work: Interaction in Institutional Settings 418–69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: [email protected]

Privacy Policy