Lost that lovin' feeling: The erosion of trust between small, high-distance partners

Carole Couper (First Author), Shameen Prashantham (Participant Author), A. Rebecca Reuber (Participant Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal

16 Citations (Web of Science)


We investigate the role of high distance in trust erosion between small partners. High distance is known to hinder the formation of trust between potential partners, but its role in trust erosion in established partnerships is less understood by international business scholars. Through a qualitative longitudinal study, we extend current theory of how high distance affects the trust dynamics between cross-border partners. Specifically, we unearth three interrelated mechanisms that together explain how and why trust can erode due to high distance. We show that, before a partnership is formed, high distance can lead partners to erroneously attribute cues to a potential partner's high quality, leading to over-expectations of partner performance. Once the partnership is operational, high distance hinders actors' ability to understand situational factors associated with disappointing outcomes, and so they are attributed to failings of the partner. At the same time, distance-related challenges of bounded reliability render partners reluctant to discuss partnership outcomes. This can result in a vicious cycle of inertia as partners strive to protect goodwill while abandoning efforts to produce partnership outcomes because of doubts of the other's quality. Thus, our theoretical model illustrates the limitations of trust and explains how, paradoxically, high distance can facilitate both trust formation and trust erosion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-352
JournalJournal of International Business Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Corresponding author email


Project name

University of Glasgow's Adam Smith Research Foundation;;Universities' China Committee in London, UK

Project sponsor


Project No.



  • Case theoretic approaches
  • China
  • Longitudinal
  • Process model
  • Small and medium-sized enterprises
  • Trust
  • Trust erosion

Indexed by

  • FT
  • ABDC-A*
  • Scopus
  • SSCI


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