Trust, Responsibility, and Accountability

Trust plays a key role in communication between organizations and their stakeholders because it fosters business transactions or enhances customer satisfaction (Pirson & Malhotra, 2011). Trust is a psychological state of humans to accept vulnerability when the behavior of others is uncertain (Rousseau et al., 1998). Integrity-based trust violations, like manipulations, fraud, or corruption, are seen as a serious breach of trust, followed by a decline of trust. Because negative events disappoint stakeholders' expectations, they will re-evaluate trust in the company (Gillespie & Dietz, 2009). The trustor's judgment of the trustee's responsibility and credibility after a norm violation is not final. The trustor modifies the situational interpretations and specific judgments given the new information.


"We understand: We take responsibility." This quote nicely resonates with corporations' activities in Corporate Social Responsibility. Does this reflect our everyday experience regarding events with negative outcomes? Who knows about those rare cases when actors immediately admitted their responsibility after negative events? Probably most of us remember those cases best described as long processes - taking months or years - in which actors used several rhetorical tactics to be less responsible.

Social Accounts are rhetorical tactics that explain past or future events and, especially, how the actions of the corporations play a role in these events. We investigate how corporations communicate after negative events with account giving.


account giving, responsibility, negative event, accountability
© Brühl and Kury (2019) (click to enlarge)

The one that is responsible is also held accountable. The picture shows responsibility episodes, which reflect that actors judge and negotiate about responsibility during these episodes. First, stakeholders have to detect a negative event that violates a norm; second, stakeholders judge the company's responsibility, one outcome of which could be holding the company responsible for the negative event. Third, companies give accounts in reaction to being held responsible; this may lead to stakeholders revising their responsibility judgment or, finally, to consequences for the company, e.g., sanctions (Brühl and Kury, 2019).

We deploy this framework in several publications to investigate the effectiveness of different types of accounts on trust. In Brühl, Basel, and Kury (2016), we analyze a single case (Antenna-Gate of Apple), which tactics Steve Jobs used in a press conference and speculate about their effectiveness on trust. Additionally, Brühl, Basel, and Kury (2018) show in an experimental study why apologies are more effective than excuses and refusals to rebuild trust after an integrity-based violation.

 Research Partner: Dr. Jörn Basel, Hochschule Luzern.


Jörn Basel und Rolf Brühl: Misstrauen. Eine interdisziplinäre Bestandsaufnahme, in:  Jörn Basel und Philipp Henrizi, Psychologie von Risiko und Vertrauen: Wahrnehmung, Verhalten und Kommunikation. Springer, Berlin, 2023, 269-299 (zum Artikel).


Brühl, Rolf, Kury, Max: Rhetorical tactics to influence responsibility judgments: account giving in banks presidents’ letters during the financial market crisis, in: International Journal of Business Communication, Volume 56, Issue 3, 2019, 299-325 (link to the article).

Brühl, Rolf, Basel, Jörn S. und Kury, Max: Communication after an integrity-based trust violation: How organizational account giving affects trust, in: European Management Journal, Volume 36, Issue 2, 2018, 161 - 170 (link to the article).  

Brühl, Rolf, Basel, Jörn S., Kury, Max: Vertrauensbildung durch Kommunikation – die Rolle von Verantwortung und Rechenschaft [Trust building through communication - the role of responsibility and account giving], in: Vertrauensbasierte Führung. Devise und Forschung, hrsg. v. F. Keuper und T. Sommerlatte, Wiesbaden: Gabler, 2016, 179-196 (link to the article).

Brühl, Rolf, Kury, Max: Rechenschaft und Vertrauen [Accounts and trust], in: Jahrbuch für Controlling und Rechnungswesen 2014, hrsg. v. Gerhard Seicht, LexisNexis: Wien, S. 217-239. (download)


Brühl, Rolf; Horch, Nils; Orth, Mathias: Vertrauen und Controlling - Ein Spannungsverhältnis im Spiegel der Forschung [Trust and management control - a tense relationship reflected in research], in: Perspektiven des Strategischen Controllings, hrsg. v. Marko Reimer und Stefanie Fiege, 2009, 97-116.


Partner of Research Center

Our research project is part of the research center of Sustainability of ESCP Europe (Research Center on Sustainability at ESCP Europe) that deals with issues of sustainability and corporate social responsibility .