When Does Trust Matter Most?

Trust can be found at the foundation of nearly every healthy relationship. Romantic, intimate, social, altruistic, professional, and casual relationships are all built upon some level of trust. Distrusting relationships, by contrast, have been shaped by a lack of trust. In the study of trust, theories have developed suggesting that trust is most important when conflict exists. In other words, when people disagree, that is when trust can have the largest impact. But does the severity of conflict influence the impact of trust? The answer to this question will not only help people understand the nuances of their individual relationships, but can also provide insight into social, professional, and global cooperative efforts.

Daniel Balliet of the Social and Organizational Psychology Department at VU University in the Netherlands recently conducted a meta-analysis to find the answer to this critically important question. Using data from 212 different outcome factors on interpersonal and group conflicts across numerous countries, Balliet examined how conflict influenced the power of trust. Balliet discovered that conflict, culture, and competiveness all had bearings on the power of trust. The first was related to conflict severity. Balliet said, “Trust matters most in situations that contain greater amounts of conflicting interests.” This was especially true in interpersonal relationships. In fact in group relationships, groups with high levels of conflicting ideas were motivated by competiveness, which weakened the effect of trust.  However, in interpersonal relationships, competitiveness was diminished and trust became a more salient factor.

Balliet also found that trust varied by culture. In particular, trust predicted cooperation in Switzerland, England, and the Netherlands. But in other countries, including Singapore, Canada, and the United States, the spirit of cooperation was fueled much more modestly by trust. Overall, these results underscore the importance of trust on different types of relationships. The findings presented here provide a new look at exactly how trust shapes the outcomes of varying degrees of conflict among different groups of people. This information can be the first step on a pathway to more cooperative interactions throughout political, social, and industrial arenas.

Balliet, D., and Van Lange, P. A. M. (2012). Trust, conflict, and cooperation: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030939

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Molly

    January 31st, 2013 at 3:14 PM

    For me, trust is always an important issue.
    I want to know that the people with whom I am wroking are people I can depend on, who have my back

  • shay o

    February 1st, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    I would say that trust matters the most when you have the most on the line. You are either putting yourself out there in a relationship or you are depending on another person to help you accomplish some important task. That is when it is the most critical that you be able to rely on someone and trust that this person has your best interests at heart. I don’t think that you can ever become truly enmeshed with another person in a way that will create a successful relationhip, personal, or business, without being able to place blind faith in them.

  • Jude

    February 1st, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    In my opinion trust matters differently for different levels. At the workplace with a colleague or even a team member it matters but only to an extent. Whereas for friends and more so for personal relationships it matters a lot more. I guess as I move to circles inner and closest to me the importance of trust increases.

  • Olivia

    February 4th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    I don’t know, maybe those of us in the US just kind of expect to be able to trust someone? You don’t think that anyone that you work with or are in a relationship with should have to have their trust doubted. But I agree that this probably changes across cultures, some depend on it and expect it far more than others.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.