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Rethinking relationship management: Exploring the dimension of trust

Mary Welch (Department of Journalism, Lancashire Business School, Applied Communication Division, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 1 April 2006




The purpose of this paper is to respond to a call for academia to partner industry by offering new thinking on public relations research and practice.


The paper rethinks relationship management by broadening previous views on the dimensions of relationships. Distrust is proposed as a 12th dimension, adding to Ledingham's 11. It suggests that trust and distrust exist simultaneously within business‐to‐business relationships and that trust and distrust are employed in a coaxial view of relationships within a zone of approval. The paper draws on the work of relationship management theorists and those who identify trust as a key component of relationships. Conceptual considerations are coupled with empirical data collected in a qualitative case study of relationships between the communications team of a blue chip UK utilities company and service provider (SP) organisations.


Analysis supports the broader understanding of trust and distrust operating simultaneously in a zone of approval and may help managers to analyse their business‐to‐business relationships.

Research limitations/implications

Findings of qualitative research case studies are not themselves generalisable. This paper uses those findings to develop relationship management theory which may be of interest to practitioners. The findings are also used to generate ideas for further research.

Practical implications

An embryonic model is suggested that may provide managers with a tool to use when considering the elements of trust and distrust in relationship management.


Contributes to a broader understanding of relationships by suggesting distrust as a 12th dimension in the coaxial view of relationships. Proposes a zone of approval model to enable the exploration of trust and distrust in relationship management.



Welch, M. (2006), "Rethinking relationship management: Exploring the dimension of trust", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 138-155.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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