Self-serving mitigation in responses to online negative feedback. A cross-linguistic analysis

30 May 2024
Room D1

Self-serving mitigation in responses to online negative feedback. A cross-linguistic analysis

Research has shown that responses to negative feedback in online hotel reviews do not only consist of rapport-enhancing but also of defensive strategies in an effort to protect a hotel’s reputation (Ho, 2018; Cenni & Goethals, 2021). While these studies have discussed defensive hotel strategies on the macro-level, looking at responses’ discourse structure through move analyses, we argue that such defensive strategies are also employed on the micro-level.

In this study, we focus on one type of micro-level defensive strategy, namely the type in which the severity of the complaint is reduced (e.g., “We are sorry that your experience was not entirely positive”, when the guest describes their experience as being entirely negative). We propose to treat this type of micro-level defensive strategy from a theoretical perspective as a form of speaker-oriented, self-serving mitigation (Thaler, 2012; Albelda Marco & Estellés Arguedas, 2021).

Based on a corpus of online hotel review interactions in Dutch, Italian and German (n=955; n=1121; n=886 resp.), we examined 1) the frequency of this type of self-serving mitigation as a micro-level defensive strategy as well as 2) the linguistic means used to realize it in these three languages, allowing for a cross-linguistic comparison. Our results indicate that we encounter such mitigation in about 17% of review responses, and that it occurs more frequently in German (22%) and Dutch (18%) compared to Italian (11%). Moreover, we found that in Dutch, the linguistic means to realize such mitigation is more varied compared to German and Italian. We interpret these results by taking into account linguistic aspects, genre-specific characteristics, and previous findings on linguacultural differences in online review responses. In doing so, our findings underscore the importance of analyzing mitigation in different discursive genres (Albelda Marco & Estellés Arguedas, 2021) and by going beyond a simple hearer-speaker dichotomy (Ren, 2018).



Albelda Marco, M., & Estellés Arguedas, M. (2021). Mitigation revisited. An operative and integrated definition of the pragmatic concept, its strategic values, and its linguistic expression. Journal of Pragmatics, 183, 71–86.

Cenni, I., & Goethals, P. (2021). Business responses to positive reviews online: Face-work on TripAdvisor. Journal of Pragmatics, 180, 38–50.

Ho, V. (2018). Exploring the effectiveness of hotel management’s responses to negative online comments. Lingua, 216, 47–63.

Ren, W. (2018). Mitigation in Chinese online consumer reviews. Discourse, Context & Media, 26, 5–12.

Thaler, V. (2012). Mitigation as modification of illocutionary force. Journal of Pragmatics, 44(6–7), 907–919.