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Professor Mark Saunders has been researching the nature of trust and distrust and, in particular, understanding whether they are simply opposites or are based upon differing expectations and anticipated manifestations.

Mark has found that the ways in which employees make trust and distrust judgements is shaped significantly by managerial actions and that, rather than being simply trusting or distrustful, employees can be ambivalent -neither trusting nor distrustful of their managers.

He has found that the actions that are important in shaping trust and distrust differ, rather than just being opposites. In many instances, employee distrust is prompted by incidents of injustice or harm such as feeling the employer is malevolent or dishonest. In contrast employees who feel neither trusting nor distrustful relate this to their leaders’ calibre, in particular their lack of competence. In such situations, employees are likely to disengage and distance themselves from their work.  Where employees are trusting, in general confident and willing to take the initiative, this is enhanced by their managers’ competence and benevolence. Fairness and regular communications, undertaken with candour and integrity are vital. 

Complementing Mark’s work, Dr Neve Isaeva’s research considers the dynamics of trust and distrust within intra-organisational relationships in multinational consultancy organisations. Her research focuses on what trust and distrust actually mean to employees, and, in turn how these practical conceptualisationss of the meanings of trust are reflected in their intra-organisational relationships.

Her findings show both trust and distrust are conceptualised in two distinct ways. Trust can be focused on task- or on person-focused aspects. Within workplaces, task-focussed trust occurs when someone trusts another to undertake a specific work-related action. In such situations trust is limited to the person’s ability and integrity to undertake that task and is not transferred to other situations.  In contrast person-focussed trust occurs when someone relates to another person and offers trust that transcends any particular task or action. Neve’s research highlights that interpersonal relations are crucial to facilitating and reinforcing person-focussed trust development. Although trust and distrust are found to be prompted by different factors, Neve’s work also highlights that shared similar cultural aspects, such as profession and other group memberships, rather than nationality or ethnicity, can facilitate and reinforce trust development, whereas differences can lead to distrust. 

Part-time postgraduate researcher Colin Hughes’ (Technological University, Dublin) research investigates how trust is built between leaders and members of virtual sales teams. This is especially timely given the growth of virtual working and the centrality of trust to effective working relationships. The research, conducted within three multinational corporations has involved interviews with both team leaders and member in sales teams in various locations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) to gain a dual perspective on how relationships, and in particular trust, develop in virtual teams.   

Supervised by Mark Saunders, Colin has identified a range of factors that impact trust in virtual leader-member dyads, which he has grouped under four key pillars - personal factors, leadership style, context and dyadic factors. His research highlights the centrality of face-to-face communication in building connections and trust but also the importance of regular short virtual communication (using WhatsApp or instant messaging) and availability of leaders to provide clarification and support on an ‘as needs’ basis. To build trust both leaders and team members need to be open to one another starting at the initial job interview. Subsequently the granting of autonomy to employees, rather than micromanaging, is strongly linked to trust development. Furthermore, coaching and the demonstration of benevolence towards employees significantly enhances trust in the leader-member dyad. 

Doctoral student Mukul Tiwari ‘s research considers interface workplace bullying, trust, and perceived justice. Supervised by Mark Saunders and Dr Margarita Nyfoudi, Mukul is investigating the role of supervisor trust and distrust in the coping strategies used by victims of negative behaviour and bullying. Comparing coping strategies used by employees in both the UK and India, Mukul hope to better understand employees’ role behaviours at work and the impact of different cultures upon this. Mukul received the best developmental paper award in Organisational Psychology track at British Academy of Management conference 2019 for his paper outlining the theoretical framework of his research.  

Continuing his interest on the role of trust in healthcare relationships, Professor Mark Saunders has also been researching the development of trust within patient-doctor relationships with the centre’s external associate Dr Emily Morrison (George Washington University, USA). Examining phenomenological data from patient-doctor dyads’ lived experiences in the United States, initial findings challenge formulaic (or static) conceptualizations of trust development. 

Initial findings reveal the importance of doctors taking an initial lead in enabling trusting relationships to develop. Within this it emphasises the importance of mutual respect and showing openness and honesty to the other. Emily and Mark’s findings reveal that patients and doctors negotiate reciprocal trust and establish more open trusting relationships over time as they cooperate with, and become more attuned to, one other. Their research suggests that approaches to enhancing patient-doctor trusting relationships will be limited where the parties fail to recognize the dynamic nature of such relationships and the role of both parties in developing same.