To Ask or Not to Ask: The Roles of Interpersonal Trust in Knowledge Seeking

To Ask or Not to Ask: The Roles of Interpersonal Trust in Knowledge Seeking

Michael Jijin Zhang (Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, USA) and Honghua Chen (Central South University of Forestry and Technology, Changsha, China)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/IJKM.2018010105

Abstract

This article looks to investigate the roles of interpersonal trust in knowledge seeking. Specifically, the article examines and tests the effects of two distinct types of interpersonal trust (affect-based trust and cognition-based trust) on willingness to seek two different types of knowledge (explicit and tacit). Using data from a survey of 143 employees from Chinese firms, the article found that both types of interpersonal trust positively related to explicit knowledge seeking, as well as tacit knowledge seeking. The article also found that cognition-based trust had a stronger relationship with seeking of both explicit and tacit knowledge than affect-based trust. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.
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Introduction

In today’s knowledge economy, knowledge sharing is widely viewed as key to a firm’s effort to create and mobilize its knowledge resources for competitive advantage and success (Argote & Ingram, 2000; Alavi & Leidner, 2001, Hult, 2003). In light of the strategic importance of knowledge sharing, extensive research has been conducted to identify factors that affect knowledge sharing in the past two decades. As one of the key antecedents of knowledge sharing, interpersonal (dyadic) trust has received considerable attention in the extant literature (Nonaka, 1994; Szulanski, 1996; Husted & Michailova, 2002; Lucas, 2005; Renzl, 2008; Tong & Mitra, 2009; Holste & Fields, 2010; Huang et al. 2011; Wang et al., 2012; Evans, 2013; Shang, 2014). While the knowledge sharing process often involves knowledge seeking, knowledge contribution and knowledge adoption (Hansen, 1999; van den Hooff & de Ridder 2004; Kankanhalli et al., 2005; Cleveland & Ellis, 2015), most of the previous studies investigating the impact of interpersonal trust on knowledge sharing have focused on the effects of such trust on knowledge contribution behaviors (Bock et al., 2006; Santosh & Muthiah, 2012; Wan et al., 2015). Whether and how interpersonal trust influences motivation to seek knowledge from others has received scant research attention (He et al., 2009; Wan et al., 2015). The exception is one study by Nebus (2004) who found two types of interpersonal trust (affect-based trust and cognition-based trust) had indirect influence on knowledge seeking. However, the author did not consider the nature of knowledge in the study. As knowledge is commonly known to exhibit two dimensions (explicit and tacit) and the influence of trust on the effectiveness of knowledge transfer depends upon the nature of knowledge (Szulanski, et al., 2004), it is necessary to ascertain the effects of interpersonal trust on willingness to seek different types of knowledge. Furthermore, since the extant research tends to view cognition-based trust less relevant to knowledge seeking than affect-based trust (Levin & Cross, 2004; He et al., 2009; Yang & Farn, 2009), it is important to further examine and test this view.

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