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Award-winning books address work, home relationships

April 18, 2011

Being at work and being in a relationship, two situations that inherently involve risk and that can benefit from effective communication skills, are the topics of two award-winning books penned by Arizona State University communication professors.

The books each share a common co-author, Vince Waldron. With Jeff Kassing, Waldron co-wrote “Managing Risk in Communication Encounters: Strategies for the Workplace.” Waldron and Doug Kelley collaborated to write “Communicating Forgiveness,” which is based on interviews with couples married for as long as 80 years. These books were both singled out for recognition by the National Communication Association (NCA).

“It’s unusual for a relatively small communication program to receive two NCA awards at the same time,” said Carol Mueller, director of the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, based on the West campus. “This recognition speaks to the quality of our professors and the opportunities for New College students to learn from scholars who clearly are held in high regard among their colleagues across the country.”

“Communicating Forgiveness” received the Sue DeWine Distinguished Award for a Scholarly Book. The recognition came from NCA’s Applied Communication Division. One award reviewer commented, “By weaving together theory and personal stories, the authors are able to show the applied nature of the phenomenon. This book is an excellent example of applied research, for not only is the research theoretically and methodologically sound, but the authors also make practical suggestions that non-scholars can understand and use in their day-to-day lives.”

The book offers an alternative to the more traditional approach of examining forgiveness through the lens of psychology. Instead it focuses on specific communication behaviors associated with forgiveness.

“I believe we have successfully written a book that is respected by members of the academic community, found useful by professionals, and experienced as both academically challenging and personally useful by students,” Kelley said.

Added Waldron, “‘Communicating Forgiveness’ is the culmination of a decade of research focusing on forgiveness in families and romantic relationships. It was especially influenced by our interviews with really long-term couples – 30 to 80 years of marriage – regarding the role of forgiveness in staying together. Doug and I have been teaching about forgiveness for many years, and we use the book in our work with community and faith groups.

“Forgiveness is a rich process, with philosophical, theological, and scientific implications. We focus on the ways in which forgiveness is enacted and negotiated in real-life relationships.”

On a lighter note, Kelley noted that writing a book about forgiveness leaves the author open to unending comments along the lines of, “Sorry my paper is late, Dr. Kelley. I hope you can forgive me.”

A student making such a comment might want to consider the risks of doing so. He or she therefore might be advised to read Waldron and Kassing’s book “Managing Risk in Communication Encounters: Strategies for the Workplace.” This publication received the Book of the Year Award from the NCA’s Organizational Communication Division.

“The book is unusual in that it takes on what are often difficult situations in the workplace,” Kassing said. “By focusing on topics not usually covered, or certainly not covered in depth, Vince and I managed to write a book that fills an important niche for educators and students. It provides a roadmap, if you will, for how best to handle oneself in risky workplace situations.”

The book focuses on the types of risky interactions that threaten identities, relationships, and sometimes careers, including voicing dissent, repairing broken relationships, managing privacy, responding to harassment, offering criticism, and communicating emotion. Throughout the book, Waldron and Kassing provide examples to spur thinking, raise questions, and help readers understand how organizations benefit when employees communicate in ways that manage risk.

“At times we all encounter ‘dicey’ workplace situations,” Waldron said. “The way we communicate at these times can have career-long implications.”

“This book was particularly interesting to write because each chapter deals with a separate risky situation,” said Kassing. “Thus there was very little overlap between chapters. I was writing about workplace bullying in one chapter and organizational romance in another. Both are risky in the workplace, but for completely different reasons. To tie it all together we returned to the framework for dealing with risk introduced in the first chapter. So even though the book treats entirely different topics across chapters, they all come together around the theme of managing risk.”

Reviewer Patricia M. Sias of Washington State University noted, “The book goes beyond simple advice on what or what not to say, but also advises individuals on how to manage the entire process. The book will be well-received in the classroom setting and by practitioners who encounter difficult interpersonal workplace challenges every day.”

Waldron, Kassing and Kelley all have been faculty members at ASU’s West campus for more than a decade. They teach courses in New College’s bachelor’s degree program in communication as well as the master of arts in communication studies (MACS) program. All are widely published in journals in the field of communication; they also serve as mentors to their students, many of whom have gone on to gain acceptance into Ph.D. programs in communication studies. Other graduates have entered successful careers with business and civic organizations.

“We are fortunate to have such outstanding faculty members in our midst,” Mueller says. “Vince, Jeff and Doug embody the spirit of New College. They are committed to excellence not just in their own research endeavors, but in teaching and helping our students define and reach their goals. Their commitment also extends to making their community a better place to live.”