Management of Cognitive and Affective Trust to Support Collaboration


Cognitive trust focuses on judgments of competence and reliability, and affective trust focuses on interpersonal bonds among individuals and institutions. Both cognitive and affective trusts play an integral role in organizations and institutions that rely on collaboration among individual members to achieve their goals and realize their vision.
Collaboration is increasingly important in the knowledge-based economy, as well as in scientific research and development where no one individual has all the prerequisite knowledge and resources to solve complex problems, develop sophisticated products and services, or complete multi-faceted work tasks. Collaboration is not possible without cognitive or affective trust. Yet cognitive and affective trust may be more difficult to manage in organizations and teams that are geographically distributed (i.e., not physically collocated), because mechanisms, such as informal face-to-face interactions and observations that typically are used in building and maintaining trust, are not universally present. Previous research has shown that when organizations are geographically distributed, trust among members is negatively impacted (Handy, 1995; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1995; Rocco et al., 2001).


Definitions of Trust and Distrust

There are many definitions of trust arising from different disciplinary perspectives. When synthesizing these definitions, Rosseau et al. (1998) found that scholars fundamentally agree that trust is a “psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another” (p. 395). Trust involves risk (the probability of loss) and interdependence (reliance on others).
Distrust can be defined in opposite terms (i.e., negative expectations of the intentions or behavior of another) (Lewicki et al., 1998; Sztompka, 1999). It involves a lack ofrisk and no dependence on others. Trust and distrust can exist simultaneously in individuals (Lewicki et al., 1998). They can be conceptualized as a continuum with high trust to high distrust as endpoints; that is, a continuum from high trust to low trust to low distrust to high distrust.

Evolution of Trust and Distrust

Feelings of trust and distrust can change over time (Jones & George, 1998; McKnight et al., 1998). These changes occur as a result of observation of and reflection on behavior (Whitener et al., 1998). That is, trust and distrust are not behaviors, but psychological conditions that influence an individual’s behavior.
An individual’s behavior influences others’ behaviors, both of which may be assessed by the individual (Figure 1) (Sonnenwald, 2003). This assessment is often based on prior experiences, knowledge of the context in which the behaviors occurred, and beliefs. The results of the assessment influence perceptions of trust and distrust, and future assessments (through the modification or reenforcement of prior experiences, knowledge of the context, and beliefs). Thus, trust and distrust shape one’s own behavior and others’ behavior, whose assessment in turn shapes trust and distrust.

Two Types of Trust and Distrust: Cognitive and Affective

Two types of trust—cognitive and affective—have been identified as important in organizations (McAllister, 1995; Rocco et al., 2001). Cognitive trust focuses on judgments of competence and reliability. Can a co-worker complete a task? Will the results be of sufficient quality? Will the task be completed on time? These are issues that comprise cognitive trust and distrust. The more strongly one believes the answers to these types of questions are affirmative, the stronger is one’s cognitive trust. The more strongly one believes the answers to these types of questions are negative, the stronger is one’s cognitive distrust.
Affective trust focuses on interpersonal bonds among individuals and institutions, including perceptions of colleagues’ motivations, intentions, ethics, and citizenship. Affective trust typically emerges from repeated interactions among individuals, and experiences of reciprocated interpersonal care and concern (Rosseau et al., 1998). It is also referred to as emotional trust (Rocco et al., 2001) and relational trust (Rosseau et al., 1998). It can be “the grease that turns the wheel” (Sonnenwald, 1996).

Interaction among Cognitive and Affective Trust and Distrust

Cognitive trust and distrust may exist in conjunction with affective trust and distrust (Table 1). High cognitive and affective trust typically yields tightly coupled collaboration in which tasks and ideas are openly and frequently shared. Scientists talk of friendship and of liking each other when affective and cognitive trust is high. Risk and vulnerability caused by collaboration is perceived as low.
In comparison, high affective distrust and high cognitive distrust can be sufficient to dissuade individuals from collaborating at all. No friendship exists or develops, and individuals may proactively limit their interaction with others they cognitively and affectively distrust. Collaboration and interaction is perceived as high risk with a high degree of vulnerability.


A trust-distrust match between cognitive and affective trust can yield problematic situations that require explicit management. Feelings of high cognitive distrust and high affective trust will serve to limit collaboration. Primarily,non-critical or unimportant tasks will be given to individuals that are cognitively distrusted. However, friendship as a result of affective trust may exist or emerge. Controls to monitor task completion and support task completion efforts may be used. For example, mentoring and training may be employed to help a friend who is not cognitively trusted.
Feelings of high cognitive trust and high affective distrust can result in competitive collaboration, which can be managed through discussions that identify issues and perceptions. Specific data should be presented and goodwill expressed to counter perceptions. Solutions include changes in work plans and information, and equipment sharing. Controls to monitor and constrain task or work activities can be employed to manage affective distrust. The saying, “Keep friends close and enemies closer” appears applicable in these types of situations. Professional relationships may exist or emerge, but friendship and the perception that the collaboration or interaction is fun may never emerge. Affective distrust can be reduced or accommodated, but may not disappear for some time.


Organizational Structure

Cognitive and affective trust throughout an organization or team are implicitly encouraged when management exhibits high levels of cognitive and affective trust towards each other and members of the organization. The example provided by leadership sets expectations for others.
To encourage trust and to help resolve issues regarding trust, a management team that includes a site coordinator for each participating location, as well as coordinators for specific activities, can be established. Site coordinators can handle location-specific administrative issues, ranging from reserving a videoconference room for weekly meetings to distributing allocated budget funds. The participation of representatives from each physical location provides ongoing dialog about challenges, progress, perceptions, and ways of working at each location, which are important for building and maintaining cognitive trust. It facilitates learning about different ways of working and collaborative problem solving when members from different locations suggest how practices at their location may solve problems at other locations.

Figure 1. The evolutionary nature of trust and distrust

The evolutionary nature of trust and distrust

Table 1. Relationships among cognitive and interpersonal trust and distrust

Trust Distrust
tmpE5-3_thumb tmpE5-4_thumb Tightly-coupled collaboration Frequent collaboration Friendship Low risk
Competitive collaboration Controls to monitor & constrain activities “Keep friends close & enemies closer” Professional relationship
Limited collaboration
Limited, non-critical task responsibility
Controls to monitor & support efforts
No collaboration No friendship Limited interaction High risk

Similarly, coordinators for specific types of activities, domains, or areas of specialization help to manage cognitive trust among these diverse domains. For example, such coordinators can provide feedback to other team members and coordinators regarding the validity and reliability of the research or work methods proposed by members in the same domain, helping to establish cognitive trust.


Boulding (1990) describes three types of organizational power: destructive, economic, and integrative. Destructive power—the power to destroy things—can be used as a prelude to production, where things are destroyed or altered to make way for production and for carrying out a threat. An example of destructive organizational power is the firing of employees who are seen as resisting change in an organization. Economic power is used in all organizations. It involves the creation and acquisition of economic goods, including intellectual property, through production, exchange, taxation, or theft. Integrative power involves the capacity to build organizations, inspire loyalty, bind people together, and develop legitimacy. It has a productive and destructive aspect. In a negative sense, it can create enemies and alienate people. All organizations have some integrative power or they could not survive. Some, however, rely on integrative power more than others; these include religious organizations, political movements, volunteer organizations, and clubs.
Successful organizations and teams that must rely on collaboration among distributed members appear to use a combination of integrative, economic, and destructive power; however, a primary type of power used in successful teams and organizations appears to be integra-tive. For example, organizations and teams can use integrative power to develop their vision, mission, and goals. Integrative power is also a mechanism to increase cognitive trust. For example, Hart and Saunders (1997) discuss the use of integrative or persuasive power in building trust across organizations in the context of electronic data interchange adoption. Tucker and Panteli (2003) found the use of integrative power positively related to trust in a study of 18 virtual teams within a global, hightech company.
In any organization, destructive or economic power is used when members do not meet expectations or keep commitments (i.e., when cognitive distrust emerges). Such decisions, however, may be best reached through the use of integrative power and are based on cognitive trust among team members.

Information and Communications


When a team or organization is geographically distributed, it must utilize information and communications technology (I&CT) as a mechanism to realize its vision and mission, or to incur expensive monetary and temporal travel costs. Typically, this has meant using traditional information and communications technology, such as the telephone, fax, file transfer, mail, and e-mail in ways typical of other R&D organizations and scientific disciplines (Daft & Lengel, 1984). It has also meant using newer technologies, such as video conferencing and Web pages, in innovative ways to support the organization’s vision, facilitate collaboration, and manage cognitive and affective trust and distrust. Tucker and Panteli (2003) found that distributed teams with a high degree of trust among team members regularly communicated using synchronous IC&T, such as telephony and video conferencing.
New social protocols to compensate for constraints imposed by video-conferencing technology, and operations protocols to help reduce technical problems are needed and can be developed and implemented by working with team members and technical staff (Sonnenwald et al., 2002). For example, one drawback to the video-conference meetings is their inherently formal nature, if they are held in a specially equipped meeting room or if they require members to prepare for the meeting in new ways, such as creating PowerPoint slides, instead of writing on a whiteboard. This formality can negatively impact affective trust.
Several things can reduce the formality and increase the interactive nature of these meetings. Managers and key members can introduce informal aspects into their presentations (e.g., use the drawing features of the electronic board to modify their slides in real time). In addition, new practices of having non-work communication before a presentation can be initiated. Interpersonal communication has also been shown to increase affective trust among distributed team members (Rocco et al., 2000) and facilitate collaboration (Sonnenwald, 1996), a byproduct of cognitive trust.
Asynchronous technology may also facilitate trust building through documenting and sharing general information. For example, a Web site can be created to share news, expectations, and resources among team or organization members and to communicate information about the team to stakeholders. The content of the Web site should evolve to meet the needs of the team. Examples of information that could be included in a Web site include the group’s vision statement, contact information, annual reports, call for proposals, virtual tours of lab facilities, meeting schedules, member directory, personal member Web pages, a news bulletin with press releases and announcements of awards and other recognitions received by members, and forms to be used by members (e.g., a confidentiality agreement). This type of content can help form a shared identity and affective trust across distances (Rocco et al, 2000).
The Web site could also contains pointers to resources that provide work, career, and personal assistance to members, such as information about suppliers, conferences, job interview processes, and apartment hunting services. This type of information supports a general anonymous mentoring function, allowing members to anonymously find information to assist in their careers and personal life. Thus, these pages have the possibility of positively influencing feelings of cognitive and affective trust toward the team or organization.


Additional research is needed to increase our understanding of trust across distances. Issues to investigate include the sustainability of trust over time across distances, and the long-term consequences of distrust. Emerging IC&T should also be evaluated with respect to its roles, both positive and negative, on the development of trust. IC&T that provides a higher degree of situation awareness (Sonnenwald et al., 2004) may help facilitate the development of trust across distances.


Trust management is important in any organization, but it is especially important in organizations and teams that are geographically distributed and dependent on collaboration among members in different locations. For example, when organizations need to address large, complex, and challenging problems in which collaboration among experts (irrespective of discipline, department or institution affiliation) is required, cognitive trust and affective trust are both necessary to create a shared working understanding and new knowledge.
Typical trust mechanisms (i.e., informal face-to-face interactions and observations) to build and maintain trust are not inherently present in these organizations. Infrastructure that explicitly supports the creation and maintenance of trust appears vital. Participation in management by representatives at each physical location, early and continuing dialog between organization members and management, and use of integrative power, are three infrastructure mechanisms to manage cognitive trust.
Information and communications technology is a necessity in any geographically distributed organization today, and yet it can limit the creation and maintenance of cognitive and affective trust. However, interactive videoconferencing and Web sites that share organizational information and news, in conjunction with changes in practices, may help overcome the inherent limitations of I&CT to manage trust. Future I&CTs that incorporate advanced features (e.g., opportunistic floor control that allows synchronous execution of commands) and provide higher quality and control of video- and audio-conferencing, as well as better integration with other commonly used applications, hold the promise of facilitating collaboration to a greater extent than today’s technology (Sonnenwald et al., 2004). However, it should be noted that face-to-face interaction is currently recommended to augment interaction mediated by technology (Handy, 1995; Olson & Olson, 2001; Rocco, et al., 2000), and a lack of face-to-face interaction may limit the growth of affective trust.
Tightly coupled collaboration appears to only emerge in situations where highly cognitive and affective trust simultaneously exists. No collaboration will emerge in situations where highly cognitive and affective distrust exists. Limited collaboration emerges when affective trust and cognitive distrust exist concurrently. Non-critical work tasks may be given to individuals in these situations, and controls to monitor and support task completion may be utilized. In comparison, competitive collaboration emerges when cognitive trust and affective distrust exist concurrently. Controls to constrain work activities may emerge to manage affective distrust. Limited and competitive collaboration may be manageable, but neither situation is ideal.


Trust: A “psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another” (Rosseau et al., 1998, p. 395).
Distrust: Negative expectations of the intentions or behavior ofanother (Lewicki et al., 1998; Sztompka, 1999).
Cognitive trust: Judgments regarding a person’s competence and reliability.
Affective trust: Interpersonal bonds among individuals and institutions, including perceptions of a person’s motivation, intentions, ethics, and citizenship.
Collaboration: Human behavior that facilitates the sharing of meaning and completion of tasks with respect to a mutually shared goal; takes place in social or work settings.
Integrative power: The capacity to build organizations, to inspire loyalty, to bind people together, and to develop legitimacy (Boulding, 1990).
Destructive power: The power to destroy things. It can be used as a prelude to production in which things are destroyed or altered to make way for production, and for carrying out a threat (Boulding, 1990).
Economic power: The creation and acquisition of economic goods (including intellectual property) through production, exchange, taxation, or theft (Boulding, 1990).

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