How to Build Trust in Intercultural Cooperation

Trust is like insurance – it is an investment you need to make upfrontbefore the need arises… – Erin Meyer



How do you build trust? 

This question was asked to participants in our webinar. Their answers varied, but some trends appeared.



Building trust differs between people but also between cultures. We can observe different patterns of building trust in international teams​​. Some factors of trust-building are more important for some cultures than for others​. We can distinguish between two types of trust-building patterns.

Trust „from head” ​- cognitive​, based on common tasks

Trust „from heart” – ​affective, based on relationship

What do different cultures build trust on?


Task-based​ trust building

Trust is built through business-related activities. Work relationships are built and dropped easily, based on the practicality of the situation. You do good work consistently, you are reliable, I enjoy working with you, I trust you.

Countries for which this type will be common: US, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Finland.


Relationship-based trust building

Trust is built through sharing meals, evening drinks, and visits at coffee machine. Work relationships build up slowly over the long term. I’ve seen who you are at a deep level, I’ve shared personal time with you, I know others well who trust you, I trust you.

Countries for which this type will be common: China, Nigeria, Japan, Turkey, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, India, Thailand.


There are also countries whose type will be somewhere in between like UK, Poland, Israel (a little bit more task-based) or France, Italy, Spain (a little bit more relationship-based).


What is important here is that we see other cultures in relations to ours.

UK or Poland may seem extremely task – focused in the eyes of their Indian, Srilankanor Argentinian colleagues, even though „objectively” 
they are in the middle of the dimension.


How to build trust? 

Tips for the more task-oriented:

  • Be less on-guard and more „true self” after hours or on hobby channels
  • Do not regard the time talking about cuisine as wasted – this is what makes work more efficient in relationship-oriented cultures
  • Think of the deep value social value beneath relationship-orientation – not all legal systems are trustworthy


Tips for the more relationship-oriented:

  • Do invest time in building relationship – but if it extends over presenting a person’s role, explain the reason and benefits. Tell them why you need that part, what it is for.
  • Do not take offence if your task-based colleague wants to get down to business sooner – it is their way of understanding things
  • Choose any medium for your communication that is the most efficient. Underline the important part of the message.


ProTips on Building Trust

How to build trust in my projects?

  • Always invest more time in building affective trust
  • Finding what you have in common is one of the best ways to do that
  • If you do not know what that might be – look for it (music)



If you want to learn more about this topic, check the full webinar: Building Trust in Intercultural Cooperation


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If you want to work on your competence, skills needed in an intercultural or remote cooperation, ETTA Leadership & Culture specialises in and provides training on development programmes for leaders and teams. See the offer.



Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash