Trust and Confidentiality: Secrecy As Trust-Building Device

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Morten FREDERIKSEN, Aalborg University, Denmark
Uffe Kjærgaard HANSEN, Roskilde University, Denmark
In Danish industrial relations the employee elected shop steward ‘tillidsrepræsentant’ (literally ‘trust representative’) constitute the fulcrum of local negotiations between management and labour. These shop stewards are, one the one hand, representatives of the institutionalized mistrust between labour and management. On the other hand, their ability to influence management decisions hinge on the mutual trust between shop steward and management. This produces an inherent paradox where those shop stewards who seek the trust of their colleagues must be completely transparent in their dealings with management, thus becoming less trust worthy in the eyes of their management counterpart. Those shop stewards who seek a high level of influence must treat much of their dealings with management as confidential, thus making themselves subject to criticism and mistrust from their colleagues.

The qualitative study reported in this paper is based on qualitative interviews with 29 shop stewards from 9 different chapters of a Danish trade union organizing the low-skill workers within the care sector. The study shows how, as claimed by Georg Simmel, secrets are important devices in creating and maintaining trust relations. However, it also reveals how the transparency needed for confidence in procedures and institutions may be incompatible with the reciprocity and confidentiality needed for intersubjective trust to arise. By taking into account the more complex interconnections of multiple simultaneous trust relations, this study reconfigurates much of our current thinking on the trust-control nexus.