Do People Trust Differently, Based on Culture?


What is your trust strategy?Risk and Reliance Workers

Does cultural background affect how a coworker decides to trust you? We set out to discover and measure cross-cultural trust factors, conducting research with over 1200 people from 65 cultures over the past year and a half. Two critical elements in people’s trust strategy we found are their approach to risk and how they engage in reliance (or interdependence with others). With a rigorous social science approach we have narrowed our inquiry to specific dimensions of culture and trust, and the work situations where – consciously or not – risk and reliance are entering the decision to trust.

When we are willing to allow another person’s actions to affect us, there is a degree of vulnerability or risk as we engage in a transaction or project.  We found that people evaluate risk in new, uncertain or changing contexts differently depending on their cultural background and generation (age), and this affects their trust-building behavior in new team formation, mergers, innovation, changing processes, overcoming obstacles, and problem-solving.

The second element, reliance, is the degree to which people choose to engage relationally during trust-building. While our research shows that people generally trust coworkers who focus on achieving the group’s goals more than coworkers who focus on achieving their individual goals, there are marked differences in how people decide to trust others based on how they relate and share information, persuade with personal or analytical data, build reputation, and work either independently or interdependently.

Our goal is to analyze and profile the trust process, develop tools, and thus speed up trust-building for multicultural teams and partners. Trust is particularly challenging for virtual global teams who do not have the benefit of meeting in person to develop trust. Crunching our data, we have found intriguing generational differences, interesting similarities across genders, and solid differentiation when focusing internationally on ethnic cultures.

We know from experience that a high-trust environment is more enjoyable and raises morale. Research shows bottom-line impact as well: high levels of trust contribute to increased speed, fewer mistakes and delays, talent engagement and retention, collaboration and innovation, all affecting stability and health of the organization.

We will share more on this research in our next Charis Currents and the Charis website.