This article examines two authentic service encounters, recorded in a Finnish employment office. The encounters are analysed using discourse analysis, combining micro-level analysis of language use and macro-level analysis of the situation. Interviews with the employment officials and background information collected from the officials and clients via questionnaires are used in support of the qualitative analysis.
Officials use different methods of interaction with their clients. In addition, the individual characteristics of officials and clients and their cultural differences influence the construction of interaction during a service encounter. Finnish officials can sometimes handle service encounters with very little talk – sometimes with hardly any talk at all. However, metacommunicative talk can serve as a vehicle for reinforcing the client’s agency and supporting the immigrant in learning the language and customs, as well as in establishing a foothold in the new community, and thereby promoting the integration process as a whole.
Keywords: Service encounter conversation; institutional interaction; metacommunication; silence; Finnish as a second language; immigrants; integration