Trust and distrust: polar opposites, or independent but co-existing?

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This article provides an empirical test of whether trust and distrust can co-exist in the mind of an employee. Two interrelated questions are considered: firstly, whether trust and distrust judgements are ‘symmetrical’ or whether they can occur ‘simultaneously’ as separate constructs; and, secondly, whether trust and distrust judgements entail the same or conceptually different expectations as revealed in their expressions and anticipated manifestations. Using a concurrent mixed-method design incorporating a structured card sort and in-depth interviews, data were collected from 56 participants in two organizations. The card-sort findings offer little support for the co-existence of trust and distrust, but suggest they could be separate constructs. Interview data indicate that participants do perceive trust and distrust as entailing different sets of expectations and having different manifestations, providing some support for the ‘separate constructs’ thesis. We also find evidence of two new combinations of weak levels of trust and distrust not previously specified. The findings highlight how employees’ trust and distrust judgements are shaped, in part, by managerial actions and policies relating to quality of communication and job security. They also emphasize how, when employees are distrustful, different practice interventions may be needed to reduce distrust from those used to build trust.

Bibliographic note

cited By 5


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-665
Number of pages27
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • card sort , distrust, mistrust, mixed method, organizational change, trust, trust levels