Previous conversation analytic studies of institutional interaction included analyses of empathy in interaction. These studies revealed that professionals may use empathy displays not only to validate the client’s worry, but also to perform actions oriented to other institutional goals and tasks such as closing off a troubles-telling sequence. In this article, we present an analysis of empathically designed responses in Dutch telephone counseling. The data consist of 36 calls from the Alcohol and Drugs Info Line. In some of the calls, clients’ troubles-telling includes ‘emotion discourse’, that is, descriptions of their feelings/emotions. Counselors may respond to these descriptions using conventional empathy displays like ‘I can imagine that’ and ‘I understand that’ in a range of lexical and prosodic variations. The analysis reveals that these responses open up advice sequences that vary in the extent to which they treat the client’s articulated feelings as valid. Most are aligning, treating the client’s feelings as the basis for advice, while some are disaligning, putting the client’s feelings into perspective or implicitly questioning their legitimacy. Hence, empathically designed responses are pivots to advice-giving.
- conversation analysis
- institutional interaction