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Trust and Distrust
Roy J. Lewicki
Editors’ Note: Can you both trust and distrust the other side? In fact, we often do exactly that. Lewicki provides practical advice on dealing with trust and distrust in each interaction. Of particular importance to negotiators facing troubled relationships, this chapter shows how distrust is not merely a mirror image of trust: it actually works quite differently. Effective negotiators must learn both to build trust and to manage distrust. This chapter should be read in conjunction with Tinsley et al., Reputations; Lewicki’s chapter on Repairing Trust; and Cristal on No Trust.
Trust indicates a willingness to become vulnerable to another based on confident positive expectations of the other’s conduct. It has often been praised as the “glue” that holds relationships together and enables individuals to perform more efficiently and effectively. Trust reduces uncertainty over future outcomes, simplifies decision processes, and provides us with peace of mind. Yet trust can also create vulnerability by leaving negotiators open to the other’s exploitation. The phenomenon of trust has been extensively explored by a variety of disciplines across the social sciences, including economics, social psychology, and political science.
Trust is critical to negotiation, for several reasons. First, judgments about the other’s trustworthiness allow us to begin the negotiation process. If we believed that we could not trust the other, we would probably not want to share critical information and move toward constructing a deal with them, nor believe what they were telling us during the negotiation process, and would want to proceed with extreme caution. Thus, trust is essential to both determining the other’s credibility in the conversation, and willingness to meet the commitments and promises they make as we move toward agreement. Second, trust enables us to save time and energy in constructing the agreement. If we trust the other, formal agreements can be simpler, shorter and less specific. We do not have to stipulate every possible circumstance in the agreement. Finally, even the most complex and sophisticated formal contract cannot stipulate every detail or possible contingency about the deal; thus, trust enhances the enforcement of deals because each side believes the other will act in the “spirit” rather than the letter of the agreement.
Trust has been defined in many different ways. For example, one commonly accepted definition in the research literature on trust is that “trust is a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another” (Rousseau et al. 1998: 395). Similarly, others describe trust as “confident positive expectations regarding another’s conduct”, where confident positive expectations are defined as “a belief in, a propensity to attribute virtuous intentions to, and a willingness to act on the basis of the other’s conduct” (Lewicki et al. 1998; See also Guo, Lumineau and Lewicki 2017).
The need for trust arises from our interdependence with others. We often depend on other people to help us obtain, or at least not to frustrate, the outcomes we value (and they depend on us). As our interests with others are intertwined, we also must recognize that there is an element of risk involved, insofar as we often encounter situations in which we cannot compel the cooperation we seek. Therefore, trust can be very valuable in negotiations, but gauging and understanding trust fundamentally involves the management of two critical risk-based decisions: a dilemma of trust and a dilemma of openness or honesty. The dilemma of trust can be framed as follows: “How much should I trust and believe what the other party is telling me? If I trust too much, then the other party could be deceiving me and I am vulnerable; if I trust too little, then I waste a lot of time trying to verify the other’s claims.” The dilemma of openness or honesty is the converse of the first dilemma: “How open should I be about my own real goals and objectives in this negotiation? If I am too open and honest, they could push me past my negotiating limits; if I am not open and honest enough, again, the other will not know how to accurately meet my needs and interests” (Kelley 1966).
To show how trust is critical to effective negotiation, I will elaborate on these definitions and dilemmas by drawing a distinction...
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