It’s regarded as a fundamental prerequisite for collaboration, indeed for all things in business life – trust. A fascinating topic for economist Antoinette Weibel; something she’s been delving into since her student days. “Trust is the grease that makes transactions possible in the first place,” says the busy professor and director of the HSG Institute for Work and Work Employment Research in an initial attempt to define this otherwise multidimensional concept.
But trust is also an “enabler” that opens up leeway in negotiations and saves resources. And ultimately, trust is the backbone that supports companies in their efforts not only to perform well, but also to attract and retain highly talented people – an issue that has a lot to do with emotions and hopes.
It goes almost without saying that a person who places their trust in someone hopes that this person will not take advantage of it. Both parties need to engage with each other and be willing to show their vulnerability, notes Weibel in our discussion. The character of the participants plays an important role here, as do integrity and personal values. In this regard, Weibel refers to an insight from game theory, a method that models decision-making mechanisms in social conflict situations: “Trust depends on the intensity of the relationship – the better you know one another and the more intense the dialogue, the greater the inclusion of both parties is in the decision-making processes.”
The search for reliable sources
“What we’re seeing these days is society’s increasing mistrust of traditional institutions like the media, corporations, politicians and the government – even NGOs, for that matter,” Weibel has determined. This is also evidenced by the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annually published study by the PR firm of the same name, in which 33,000 people in 27 countries were recently surveyed on the subject of trust. People are on the search once again for what they consider reliable, trustworthy sources. Generally speaking, though, the most recent survey does reveal that the loss of trust in institutions has slowed to a certain extent, and in some regions the figures have actually risen modestly. “The free fall is over,” concludes the 19th edition of the Trust Barometer, which was published in January 2019.
“The aim of our research is to make mistrust measurable with the help of indicators.”
Drawing on studies like this, Antoinette Weibel and her team are also researching the subject of trust versus its counterpole, mistrust (see box). Whereas: “Mistrust is not simply the opposite of trust, but a category in its own right,” she says. While trust has to be developed over time, mistrust often comes unexpectedly and quickly.