Visiting Canadian academic presents lecture about trust

Issued by North West University
Johannesburg, Jun 14, 2017

Prof Catherine Kwantes, a visiting professor from the University of Windsor, in Canada, presented a public lecture on 8 June 2017 at the North-West University's campus in Mahikeng. The topic of the lecture was: "Trust in context: societal and organisational aspects of decisions to trust".

Prof Kwantes is an industrial/organisational psychologist with additional training in clinical psychology. Her work focuses on how societal culture affects employee attitudes and behaviours.

Prof Kwantes has a long-standing relationship with the NWU and specifically Prof Erhabor Idemudia from the campus. They initially met in 2012 at an international psychology conference in Stellenbosch.

As they shared a mutual interest in conducting research about this topic, Prof Idemudia and Prof Kwantes developed a research programme together, and this led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the NWU and the University of Windsor, in 2013.

During her lecture, Prof Kwantes said trust is a fundamental aspect of all human relationships. Its presence - or its absence - influences behavioural choices in all interpersonal interactions.

"While the reasons why people trust is varied, an assessment of how trustworthy another person may be is vital to the decision to trust," she added. "The relationship between people generally includes certain expectations of how others should behave."

Prof Kwantes said trust occurs within the context of relationships, and the nature of a relationship is important when decisions regarding trust are made.

"For example, a relationship with a supervisor at work differs from a relationship with a family member. Therefore, an assessment of the extent to which a supervisor is trustworthy would be based on different things than an assessment of the extent to which a family member may be trusted," said Prof Kwantes.

These role relationships (for example, supervisor-subordinate or parent-child) create certain expectations, and these expectations are in part a result of societal culture.

Cultures with large hierarchical differences between roles (such as supervisor-subordinate) result in supervisors having much more power in a relationship and behaving in a more directive fashion, and those with smaller hierarchical differences result in more participative decision-making.

What makes an employee decide whether to trust a supervisor depends on the extent to which the supervisor fulfils these culturally based expectations. Cultures that emphasise groups as a key societal unit are often those where large extended families interact frequently, while cultures that emphasise individuals as a key societal unit, expect much less frequent interaction between parents and adult children.

"Cross-cultural research in trust is therefore important to understand decisions about trusting in an increasingly global world with many multinational and cross-national organisations," she concluded.

Prof Kwantes and Prof Idemudia are currently working on a number of projects examining how culture in the South African context influences what South Africans consider important in making decisions to trust. They are examining decisions to trust in both social (family, friends) and work relationships (supervisor, colleague).

These findings will be compared with those in Canada, and ultimately, with findings from 11 other countries as well. The outcome of this research programme will highlight which aspects of decisions to trust are common to all people and to all relationships, as well as which aspects are unique and important, and based on expectations related to societal culture.

These findings will be useful to social workers and clinicians who deal with family relationships, managers and organisations looking to develop good working relationships with employees, and to organisations that provide assistance to those in need in various societal contexts.