What impact do you think cultural differences have on a business relationship and trust building?

Well, researchers have taken the time to try and find out!

This was the question Jeanne M. Brett (Northwestern University) and Tyree Mitchell (Louisiana State University) tried to answer in their paper, ‘Searching for trustworthiness: culture, trust and negotiating new business relationships’.

Published in The International Journal of Conflict Management, the researchers interviewed 82 managers from 33 different countries, which were then split into four regions: East Asia, the Middle East and South Asia, North America and Europe, and Latin America.

The managers were asked, “How do people in your culture determine if a potential business partner is trustworthy?”

According to the researchers, the responses highlighted “systematic cultural differences” in how people seek to establish trustworthiness in others.


Cultural Factors in Trust Building

The researchers found the data to show that two cultural factors were strongly identifiable in the criteria that managers used to assess trustworthiness and the way they collected information to make that assessment.

  1. The first factor was in how much people in a culture trust strangers.
  2. The second factor was what has been called “cultural tightness-looseness”, which is about the extent to which a group or collective approach to social order prevails.

So, what did the data say about countries and regions? Here’s a brief look at what they found.

North American & European (Western) Cultures


East Asian Cultures


Middle Eastern and South Asian Cultures


Latin American Cultures

Why the Cultural Differences?

Many of the differences come down to common themes within cross cultural training, namely how individual or collective a culture is, and the value placed on things like etiquette, traditions and norms.

Western cultures, being a lot more individualistic, need to rely on being open and assuming everyone is trustworthy, because they don’t have social networks and structures to rely on.

In those cultures where social and family networks are more prominent, i.e. collectivist in nature, your levels of trustworthiness are not solely based on you as an individual.

Want to Learn More About Culture?

If you’d like to discover more about cultural differences within the world of work, then check out the following:

Main photo by Cytonn Photography from Pexels