Handbooks of Research Methods in Management series
Edited by Fergus Lyon, Guido Möllering and Mark N.K. Saunders
Chapter 19: Using critical incident technique in trust research
The critical incident technique provides a number of advantages for researching trust and trust dynamics in specific contexts or relationships, and for realising comparative (including cross-cultural) studies on trust. It is especially suited to collecting data on the behaviours involved in creating, strengthening or destroying trust. Trust is not easy to research empirically. Trust phenomena, like the development of trust or the assessment of trustworthiness, most often are not reflected on or take place subconsciously in everyday life. A well-tried and sound way to collect and analyse rich data on such phenomena is the critical incident technique (CIT). Since its introduction by Flanagan (1954), CIT has proven valuable in quite a number of research disciplines, and has become increasingly important for trust research. Focusing on behavioural sequences in specific contexts, CIT helps to avoid researching subjects’ folk psychological theories about trust, but instead collects detailed descriptions of real-life situations in which trust is created, strengthened or destroyed. To date, few methodological reflections on CIT are available, but with the method being adapted more and more to new research contexts, the literature is slowly growing (Butterfield et al., 2005; Chell, 1998; Gremler, 2004; Kemppainen, 2000).
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