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Book Reviews   |    
Restoring Trust in Organizations and Leaders: Enduring Challenges and Emerging Answers

by Roderick M. Kramer, and Todd L. Pittinsky ; New York, Oxford University Press, 2012, 304 pages, $59.99

Reviewed by Eric D. Lister, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2013; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.640412
View Author and Article Information

Dr. Lister is managing director of Ki Associates, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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Trust is a subject of profound relevance for mental health professionals. Think of our patients’ struggles when trust has been tested, of our efforts at creating a therapeutic relationship marked by trust, and so on. Beyond the therapeutic dyad, relevance continues: Can we be assured, and assure others, that the health care institutions within which we work are worthy of our trust, not to mention our patients’ trust?

Someone, obviously—editors and publisher—believe that this volume warrants broad readership, hence the request for a Psychiatric Services review. This reviewer was eager to read.

The verdict: This is a somewhat interesting but fundamentally useless book.

A compilation of 12 free-standing chapters, this volume is interesting first in the extensive documentation of diminished social trust (the problem that it seeks to address) and second in that the individual chapters are thoughtfully written.

Several stand out. These include Roderick Kramer’s analysis of institutional trust failures and two chapters on apology. These are most relevant to a psychotherapist’s daily work.

The book is largely useless, however, to anyone other than a social scientist wanting to know what a few colleagues have been doing in the field broadly defined as “trust research.” There is no effort to be comprehensive or synthetic. There is virtually no attempt to establish interdisciplinary linkages or meaningfully connect social science disciplines with the applied work of policy creation or organizational leadership. There is precious little effort to shed the argot of sociology in favor of more universally accessible language. If one is looking for practical guidance, the suggestions often offered at chapter’s end are, quite simply, facile.

It is baffling beyond words that there is not one reference to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, arguably one of the most important social-psychological experiments relevant to trust and trust building to have taken place on the planet in the past century. The book’s subtitle is Enduring Challenges and Emerging Answers. If it had been “A Collection of Essays and Research Findings for the Social Scientist,” the gap between the promise of the book and what it delivers would have been diminished. That is to say, the book itself would have been more trustworthy relative to the expectation set by its title.

Kramer and Pittinsky’s work demonstrates academia’s difficulty establishing a useful dialogue with those who are interested in translating theory into action. In the business literature (not without its own problems) many of the best books are first synopsized in Harvard Business Review (HBR), where editorial standards require rigorous thinking and solid research. HBR also expects authors to deliver an integrated message rather than a series of disconnected propositions and to bend to the wheel of translation, guiding the reader toward meaningful applicability in the context of real-world challenges.

Of course, there is a marketing dimension to this practice, but when “marketing” takes the form of summarizing important ideas in concise and relevant ways, the problem lies where, exactly . . .? Social scientists would do well to reflect on whether a similar practice might make the work of their discipline more useful outside the ivory tower.

Dr. Lister has no relationship with Harvard Business Review.

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