When more blame is better than less: The implications of internal vs. external attributions for the repair of trust after a competence- vs. integrity-based trust violation

Peter H. Kim, Kurt T. Dirks, Cecily D. Cooper, Donald L. Ferrin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

290 Scopus citations

Abstract

This study examines the trust repair implications of apologizing with an internal vs. external attribution after a competence- vs. integrity-based trust violation. By considering theory regarding differences in the perceived diagnosticity of information about competence vs. integrity, we note that the conditions where external attributions would be more necessary for mitigating one's blame are precisely the conditions where such external attributions are less likely to be believed. Moreover, empirical studies that have compared the relative benefits of external and internal attributions for repairing trust have reached conflicting conclusions regarding the response that should be used. We asked 189 college students to respond to videotaped scenarios in which they were asked to play the role of a manager and make decisions about hiring an accountant who had misfiled a tax return with a prior employer. Each participant was presented with one of four scenarios, which differed with respect to the type of violation (competence vs. integrity) and type of response (apology-internal vs. apology-external). The results revealed a significant interaction whereby trust was repaired more successfully when mistrusted parties apologized with an internal, rather than external, attribution when the trust violation concerned matters of competence, but apologized with an external, rather than internal, attribution when the trust violation concerned matters of integrity. These findings suggest that being guilty of an integrity-based violation can be so detrimental for trust that any mitigating response, even one that perceivers are likely to question, may prove worthwhile.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-65
Number of pages17
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Volume99
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2006

Keywords

  • Apology
  • Attribution
  • Blame
  • Denial
  • Diagnosticity
  • Information
  • Trust
  • Trust repair

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

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