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Roy J. Lewicki
Editors’ Note: Of course trust is important to build, and maintain. Yet inevitably, trust is sometimes violated. Here, Lewicki analyzes what happens in the wake of a trust violation, and offers prescriptions for a meaningful attempt to rebuild it. This chapter should be read in conjunction with Tinsley, Cambria and Schneider on Reputations, Brown and Robbenold on Apology, Lewicki’s chapter on Trust and Cristal’s on No Trust.
A regular reader of a daily newspaper, or follower of current events on television, is well aware that there is almost a daily occurrence of some individual or group attempting to “apologize” for a violation of trust. Public officials apologize for allowing contaminated water to flow into a public water system, corroding the lead pipes, and threatening the lives of mothers and children. The president of a major charity apologizes for the results of an investigation that revealed that a great proportion of the charity’s donated funds were being spent on lavish entertainment for the directors of the charity instead of flowing to the intended beneficiaries. Athletes and athletic teams (and their managers and owners) are regularly accused of something more than routine rule violations, and apologize for improper behavior on and off the field. And these more public events are only the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the number of events every day in which someone who has violated trust attempts a strategy to repair it.
In this chapter, I will first pick up on the definitions of trust and distrust presented earlier. [NDR: Lewicki, Trust] In that chapter, I argued that trust and distrust should be considered as separate constructs; here, I will briefly revisit the justification for that decision. I will then indicate how trust is frequently broken in negotiation, and the consequences of broken trust (and hence, a likely increase in distrust) for effective negotiation progress. I will then briefly review three major strategies that have been studied for rebuilding trust and managing distrust—namely, verbal statements such as excuses, explanations, and apologies; direct economic reparations or compensation for damage done through the violation; and “structural solutions” such as written agreements, formal contracts, or monitors and policing procedures that are put in place to limit further violations. While these may be considered more “short term” mechanisms for repairing trust, I will also mention several longer-term strategies that can be employed. In short, the more serious the trust violation, the longer and more intentional the parties will need to be in repairing it.
Definitions of Trust
In the earlier essay, I offered several of the more contemporary definitions of trust. I defined trust as “confident positive expectations regarding another’s (the trustee’s) conduct.” I also indicated that a stream of emerging research has suggested that any discussion of trust should also include a discussion of distrust, defined as “confident negative expectations regarding another’s conduct.” Thus, trust and distrust are not opposite ends of a single, unidimensional construct, consisting of high trust on one end and high distrust on the other end. Instead, I proposed that the opposite of “trust” is no trust, and the opposite of distrust is “no distrust”. Trust evokes feelings of hope, and a willingness to become vulnerable to the other party in order to enhance the likelihood that the other will also share vulnerabilities and build a trusting relationship. In contrast, distrust evokes feelings of fear, and enhances concerns about protecting oneself from the other’s possible exploitative actions. As I note, there are three major advantages to understanding trust and distrust as separate and distinct.
First, in negotiation relationships, parties can both trust and distrust the other simultaneously. Thus, if I am purchasing a vacuum cleaner from a merchant, I can trust the fact sheet listing the equipment’s specifications (because I can verify those specifications), and I know that the brand name is well rated by a consumer protection bureau; but I distrust the seller’s claims about all the wonderful things the vacuum cleaner can do, as well as his claim that this marvel deserves its incredibly high price. As a result, I both trust and distrust the vacuum salesman, and filter information differently depending on what pitch the salesman is making....
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