Trust Research for Work Relationships

Trust is crucial to workplace relationships – most people agree that without trust, it’s almost impossible to work with another person. As obvious as this notion may seem, there is little research out there that provides a clear picture of trust in the workplace. Research psychologists at Florida Tech are exploring the “lifecycle” of trust – how it is developed, broken, and repaired in workplace relationships.

One gap they hope to fill is related to national culture – much of the research on trust is based on a “westernized” perspective. Not much is known about trust in other cultures. Funded by a grant from the Army Research Institute, this project started with 130 interviews of individuals from China, India, and several Middle Eastern countries. Now the RIOT (Relationship and Interaction Optimization in Teams) Lab, directed by Dr. Jessica Wildman, is moving into the second phase of this research with surveys and experiments.

With several manuscripts underway, this research project has already provided some interesting findings. For example, Chinese and American interview participants had very different reactions to trust violations: Chinese participants expressed a desire to maintain harmony and avoiding confrontation, while Americans seemed to favor confrontation and saw it as necessary to move forward. Other, more general findings expand existing trust research. For instance, individual trust repair strategies, such as apologizing versus providing an explanation, are often looked at separately from one another, but the RIOT Lab is finding that many people try to repair relationships through more than one of these strategies together. Furthermore, the findings suggest there is truth to the saying “actions speak louder than words” — apologies are helpful, but relationships are repaired fastest when people “go above and beyond” to make up for the violation.

Overall, this research help us to improve workplace relationships by addressing how we can develop trust, avoid trust violations, and repair trust if it is violated, even with others who are from very different backgrounds.

For more information on the Trust across Cultures study and other research conducted by the RIOT Lab, visit our website at

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