On the relation between felt trust and actual trust: Examining pathways to and implications of leader trust meta-accuracy

Campagna, R. L., Dirks, K. T., Knight, A. P., Crossley, C., & Robinson, S. L. (In Press). On the relation between felt trust and actual trust: Examining pathways to and implications of leader trust meta-accuracy. Journal of Applied Psychology.

Abstract. Research has long emphasized that being trusted is a central concern for leaders (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002), but an interesting and important question left unexplored is whether leaders feel trusted by each employee, and whether their felt trust is accurate. Across two field studies, we examined the factors that shape the accuracy of leaders’ felt trust—or, their trust meta-accuracy—and the implications of trust meta- accuracy for the degree of relationship conflict between leaders and their employees. By integrating research on trust and interpersonal perception, we developed and tested hypotheses based on two theoretical mechanisms—an external signaling mechanism and an internal presumed reciprocity mechanism—that theory suggests shape leaders’ trust meta-accuracy. In contrast to the existing literature on felt trust, our results reveal that leader trust meta-accuracy is shaped by an internal mechanism and the presumed reciprocity of trust relationships. We further find that whether trust meta-accuracy is associated with positive relational outcomes for leaders depends upon the level of an employee’s actual trust in the leader. Our research contributes to burgeoning interest in felt trust by elucidating the mechanisms underlying trust meta-accuracy and suggesting practical directions for leaders who seek to accurately understand how much their employees trust them.