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Searching for trustworthiness: culture, trust and negotiating new business relationships

Jeanne M. Brett (Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA)
Tyree Mitchell (Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA)

International Journal of Conflict Management

ISSN: 1044-4068

Article publication date: 12 August 2019



This study aims to address three important but under-researched questions in the trust and negotiation literature: What do negotiators do to determine the trustworthiness of a potential business partner? What trust criteria motivate their search and help them interpret the information their search reveals? Whether there are systematic cultural differences in search and criteria, and if different, why?


This study used qualitative methodology. The data are from interviews with 82 managers from 33 different national cultures in four regions of the world identified by cultural levels of trust in negotiation and tightness-looseness. Interviews focused on how negotiators determined the trustworthiness of potential business partners in intracultural negotiations.


Analyses revealed four search activities negotiators use to gather information about a potential business partner: due diligence, brokerage, good will building and testing; and five criteria for determining the trustworthiness of a new business partner: respect, mutual values, competence, openness and professionalism. Quotes illustrate how these search activities and criteria manifest in different cultures.

Research limitations/implications

This study used multiple cases to build a longitudinal picture of the process. It did not follow a single case in depth. The study focused on identifying cultural central tendencies at the same time recognizing that there is always variability within a culture.

Practical implications

Knowing what is culturally normative allows negotiators to anticipate, interpret and respect their counterpart’s behavior. Such knowledge should facilitate trust development.


This study provides an in-depth understanding of cultural similarities and differences in the process of trust development in negotiating new business relationships.



Brett, J.M. and Mitchell, T. (2019), "Searching for trustworthiness: culture, trust and negotiating new business relationships", International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 17-39.



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