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Paper info: Social Relationships as a Precursor to International Business Exchange


Social Relationships as a Precursor to International Business Exchange


Mark R. Dibben and Simon Harris

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 17th IMP-conference in Oslo, Norway in 2001.


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This paper focuses on the socially-based interpersonal relationships from which economic exchangemay grow, as a result of the recognition of shared aspirations and understandings. It explores howeconomic exchange relationship successes may arise from effective interpersonal trust developmentbetween key strategic actors. This is in contrast to more commonly held approaches that viewrelationships as beginning with organisations searching for and identifying economically viablerelationships with others. Building on previously published work, the paper presents these twoperspectives within a model of relationship evolution. The model's relevance is then explored in anempirical study of three rapidly growing businesses in different industry settings: electronics,furniture manufacturing and tourism services. A research approach is used that involves in-depthconversations based around non-directive questions to access the interviewees underlyingconsiderations and beliefs. This is followed by protocol analysis of the transcribed interviews andnotes. The study finds that in the three firms studied, significant business relationships arose out ofexisting social relationships. It also finds that relationships developed out of the need for exchangeexhibit different characteristics to those that develop from pre-existing social relationships. Thosestarting from pre-existing social relationships have a tendency for ongoing development and renewal,whereas those arising out of the need for exchange are more likely to break down. The studyconcludes by suggesting that existing social interpersonal relationships represent the most effectivestarting point for the study of international business exchange processes.