Evaluating Topical Talk in Interactional Business Settings: When “Testing the Waters” with Customers May Not Be Much of a Gamble
In the last few decades, increasing attention has been given to studies of naturally occurring business interaction, both by practitioners and academics, and interest has been raised towards approaches focused on the actual use of language “as it happens”, using real-time observational data. My study belongs to this tradition and looks at spontaneous talk by sellers and clients when they visit each other or in the context of exhibitions. In particular, I focus on a practice which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been described in the literature, and that has to do with sellers performing enquiry into the clients’ doings, in the course of informal chat. I have called this practice “testing the waters”. In brief, topics are raised in conversation with clients and assessed in ways as to create clients’ convergence on the sellers’ business policy. This is done through two main courses of action, the first is supporting clients’ actions which are found to be in line with the sellers’ policy, the second is re-orienting the clients’ actions towards the sellers’ goals and expectations. What is interesting is that both courses of actions occur in informal, friendly chat, but still seem to be strategically constructed with a clear business aim. “Testing the waters” seems thus to be achieved as an important institutional practice: looking at how it is constructed may suggest to sellers and clients ways to learn, improve or make the best out of it.
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