If Dr. Beth Polin, associate professor of management at EKU, asks a question that hasn’t yet been answered, she sets out to find the answer. Her curiosity and love for learning drives her motivation for research and seeking answers. And as a professor, she’s able to share her findings with students in the classroom, giving them the tools they need to go into the workplace and make a positive impact.
Polin’s research focuses mostly on conflict management and trust repair, because “it can have an immediate positive impact on already difficult situations.” She believes positive working relationships drive workplace success, and therefore, seeks answers to give employees techniques they can use right away to maintain those positive working relationships.
“Most of the time we don’t mean to break trust, but we’re human and it happens,” said Polin. “We have to aim for efficiency and effectiveness, and to get back on track, we have to repair the broken trust.” The easiest way to repair trust is through an apology – a concept fueling Polin’s extensive research on effective apologies.
Polin and co-authors published research on the components of an apology a few years ago. The research gained considerable national attention, earning mentions on The Today Show, Psychology Today, U.S. News & World Report, CBS News and Teen Vogue, among others. Through this research, Polin learned that acknowledging responsibility is one of the most important components of an effective apology.
But the answers led to more questions for Polin. “Should different genders apologize differently?” she asks. In addition to the gender of the apologizer, she also wonders if the gender of the victim, or person receiving an apology, affects the expectations for the apology. For this research project, she’s looking at the level of emotion included in an apology, which she believes “has some really interesting interactions with gender.”
Excited to analyze the data and see the results, Polin is currently in the process of collecting data for this research project. After first discovering an interesting question, such as this one regarding gender and apologies, Polin starts her research by checking literature to see if someone else has already asked the question and found the answer. If not, she then designs the data collection and collects data until it forms a storyline. Once several sets of data are in, she’ll analyze it, present it at conferences, then submit it for peer review, before it’s finally published.
While most of Polin’s research centers around conflict management, her curious nature has led to her involvement in several other research projects. One is related to employee empowerment and seeks to define empowerment. Another focuses on leadership and how to lead through times of change. In addition, she’s working to publish articles on research in pedagogy – how people learn.
“Not only am I interested in sharing my research with my students, and having the classroom help fuel that research,” Polin said, “but then I want to communicate the information to students in the most effective way possible, and that's where the pedagogy line of research comes in.” Understanding that the traditional-age college student isn’t a child learner, and not yet an adult learner, she looks to find tangible resources to better educate 18- to 25-year-olds.
“I love coming up with new activities to try in the classroom with my students,” Polin said. “I’ve taken some of the projects that work really well with students, and I’ve written those up to share with other academics so they could try those activities in their classrooms, as well.”
For Polin, research isn’t forced. “I just wait until a really interesting question passes by me,” she said. While juggling multiple research projects simultaneously, Polin keeps a notebook of questions as they arise, so she can explore those next.
After she discovers the relationship between gender and an apology, she’ll continue to dissect the anatomy of an effective apology, as she plans to next look at the influence of cultural differences and mediums for delivering an apology.
“There's nothing better than asking a question, and having the tools to be able to find an answer to that question,” Polin said.
With each research project, Polin continues to ask more questions, and she’ll certainly keep seeking the answers. Teaching and conducting research provide the perfect balance for Polin. As she discovers answers, she uses her research to teach students, and uses their questions to fuel her research. She described it best, as “a beautiful cycle perpetuating knowledge.”