How Can I Trust You? Trust Ambivalence and Governance Complexity in Intreorganizational Relationships

Project: Research

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Trust has long been conceived of as a vital factor that shapes interorganizational relationships (IORs) and cooperation (Doney, Cannon, & Mullen, 1998; Gulati, 1995; Ring & Van de Ven, 1994). However, trust production between organizations proves to be difficult, not only because the broader antecedents are costly to develop (Zaheer & Harris, 2006), but also because the trustworthiness evidenced may be incomplete (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995). For example, Chinese managers may trust their Western partners’ technological capabilities but distrust their goodwill in transferring knowledge, whereas the Western managers may trust their Chinese partners’ social capital but distrust their benevolence in sharing guanxi (Luo, 2002). Will the managers trust their partners under such trust ambivalence (Lewicki, McAllister, & Bies, 1998)? They are not likely to, because their partners are not trustworthy in several important aspects and they perceive too high a risk on the missing trustworthiness to be willing to accept the vulnerability (Mayer et al., 1995). Then, how can the managers trust their partners? And what factors must be there to substitute for the missing trustworthiness in order to ensure trust, i.e., the managers’ willingness to be vulnerable?In this project we address this issue by asking the following research questions: (1) What drives trust ambivalence in interorganizational relationships and (2) given the missing trustworthiness, how can an organization design governance structure that safeguards against its perceived risks on the missing trustworthiness? Following Lewicki et al., (1998), we define trust ambivalence as the coexistence of trust and distrust across trustworthiness dimensions. Trust herein refers to one party’s willingness to be vulnerable based on its positive expectations regarding another’s trustworthiness and distrust to one party’s intention to be vigilant based on its negative expectations regarding another’s trustworthiness. We theorize that trust ambivalence between organizations develops, among other things, from firm dependence imbalance in which one party perceives more dependence on vs. less dependence from its partner. We distinguish between trust-enabling governance and distrust-mitigating governance and argue that firms facing trust ambivalence may combine both governance modes to form complex governance in order to ensure the full production of interorganizational trust. To add richness to our theory, we also look at trust ambivalence beyond the dyadic perspective to explore whether the network embeddedness would moderate the relationship between trust ambivalence and governance complexity. Thus, our theory suggests a necessity for simultaneous management of trust and distrust in interorganizational relationships.


Project number9042146
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1512/06/18

    Research areas

  • Dependence Imbalance,Trust Ambivalence,Governance Complexity,Network Embeddedness,