An integrative model of interpersonal trust: a phenomenological study of cross-cultural manager-subordinate relationships

2017-02-09T03:12:19Z (GMT) by Hilles, Afkar Q.
Interpersonal trust plays a vital role in building reliable and successful relationships. With the realization of its importance, management scholars grew more interested in finding out how trust builds in manager-subordinate relationships. The persistence of power imbalance and task dependencies in the manager-subordinate relationship ties call for special attention to the forces that shape the employees’ experience of trust. However, despite the steady interest in this area, the trust literature remains fragmented, static and almost devoid of context and time sensitivity. This limits the ability to capture the complexity and dynamism of trust in a holistic manner. Furthermore, with the emergence of the global markets and the increased mobility of employees across the world, issues of individual culture and ethnic differences have become more germane. This study aims to advance the current understanding of the trust phenomenon and its inner workings in manager-subordinate relationships by exploring the lived experience of employees. To achieve this objective, an interpretive phenomenological methodology was adopted. The data was collected using unstructured in-depth interviews with twenty-four Malaysian employees who have experience of working for a foreign manager. This allowed the inspection of the effect of culture and social identity on the experience of trust. The findings of this study surface four main areas that are categorized as Metathemes. The first metatheme is the conditional nature of trust. Findings show evidence to the emergence of two types of trust: Professional and Social; each is determined by a specific set of determinants. The study provides a dynamic understanding of the changing nature of the relational context and subsequently the changing nature of trust. This investigation also provides a more nuanced understanding of the multidimensionality of determinants such as capability and fairness, and distinguishes the differential importance of capability and benevolence across different contexts. The second metatheme is pertinent to the process aspect of trust development. The research uncovers the underlying mechanisms that produce changes in trust strength and sources over time. The study explicates the use of different character assessment strategies to discern others’ trustworthiness, and the utilization of different cognitive trust building processes at different stages of the relationship. The third metatheme focuses on the quality of the social interaction in manager-subordinate relationships as a factor which affects social and professional trust. Findings uncover three factors that play a central role in building a high quality social interaction. These factors are: quality of managerial treatment, employee’s perception of proximity to the manager, and employee’s maturity stage. These factors cover exogenous, endogenous and interpersonal aspects of the exchange and provide further insights into the effect of culture, identity, and gravitational forces like homophily and heterophily on different trust dimensions. The last metatheme addresses the outcomes of the trust experience in the manager-subordinate relationship. This study found different outcomes associated with the different trust types and different trust direction, as examined from the employee’s perspective. This study offers an integrative model and a holistic understanding of the trust experience. It provides a dynamic interpretation from a social interactionist perspective and stresses the need to empirically consider trust’s multidimensional and context sensitive nature.