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Trust under Pressure

Empirical Investigations of Trust and Trust Building in Uncertain Circumstances

Edited by Katinka Bijlsma-Frankema and Rosalinde Klein Woolthuis

This book challenges the current thinking on trust largely based on studies in stable contexts, by presenting new empirical studies of trust and trust building in a number of less stable, less institutionalized settings. These contexts are gaining in prominence given the globalization and virtualization of organizational relations, development of high velocity markets, and the growing importance of intangible resources.
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Chapter 10: Trust, Distance and Common Ground

Elena Rocco


Elena Rocco 1. INTRODUCTION A large number of heterogeneous human relations, like transactions, delegation, teamwork, promises, are based on trust. As a consequence, different disciplines have contributed from different perspectives to the study of trust (Rousseau et al. 1998; Kramer and Tyler 1996). A shared view in this multidisciplinary debate is that is that there is no trust without risk (Deutsch 1958; Currall 1990; March and Shapiro 1987). Formal control and coordination mechanisms have been devised to reduce the amount of risk associated to trust, for example, escrow account, control procedures and hierarchical control (Thompson 1967; Mintzberg 1979). Nevertheless, these mechanisms reduce risks to the extent we can identify and predict the range of threats to trust. In the face of an unforeseeable event, either intentional or unintentional, if the trustee does not behave as the trustor would have expected to, the trust-based relation is likely to be undermined. Economic models, like the agency theory (Alchian and Demsetz 1972) and the transaction costs perspective (Williamson 1985), have focused on opportunism as the main threat to trust. Opportunistic behavior often leads to intentional actions unknown to the trustor and detrimental to his own interest (Williamson 1985; Gambetta 1988). Beyond opportunism, other elements may undermine trust. Trust may indeed be weakened by unintentional action by the trustee. For instance, the employee may act in the interest of her manager but not as he would have expected to. Similarly, tacit coordination in teams works as long as individuals can rely on each other’s...

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