If someone approaches us with a request that is too far-reaching – for example, a distant friend wants to borrow $200 – we usually refuse. However, if the same person backs out of his or her extreme request and asks us again, but for a $10 loan.

This time we treat it as a concession on their part and we feel obligated to make some kind of nice gesture – to fulfill the second, reasonable request. So we lend $10 to a distant friend, although without his first request, we would never have done so.

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Door in the face definition

This persuasion technique is called door in the face and it plays a great role in social psychology. The door in the face technique was first demonstrated by Robert Cialdini. His research on influence and persuasion was illustrated in out other articles like…

Why the name “door-to-door”? If a door-to-door salesman first offers to buy us a set of five magazines for two years (which we don’t agree to) and then he lowers the offer to one magazine for one year, to which we agree and are left with a magazine we don’t need, we feel like hitting him in the face with the door.

In 1975, Cialdini and his colleagues conducted a study to examine this pattern. Three groups of people were formed. The first group was asked to serve as counselors for a group of juvenile delinquents for two hours each week for two years. They rejected the initial request, so they were asked to take them to the zoo for one day.

The second group was given only one instruction: to bring them to the zoo. The third group was informed of the two-year counseling plan but was simply instructed to take them to the zoo.

It was discovered that, whereas the second request (taking them to the zoo) got 50% of individuals from the first group to agree, it received just 17% and 25% of those in the second and the third group.

This study found that a door-in-the-face approach works better than an intended request made alone, such as the second group’s effort. So, too, it was only effective if the first, large request was followed by the second, smaller request (as seen in the third group’s results versus the first).

Door in the face vs foot in the door

At first glance, the door-to-door, escalated submission to the second request as a result of rejecting the first, appears to be the inverse of a foot in the door. However, these influence techniques are not opposites of each other.

If you want to know what is the foot in the door technique make sure to read our article.

At their surface lay completely different mechanisms of influence such as reciprocity and commitment principles. Foot in the door and door in the face effects also differ in the conditions under which they occur.

Whereas in the foot-in-the-door technique the initial request must be small, in the door-to-door technique it must be large. However, it should not be an unrealistically large request, because we will stop treating the asker as a serious negotiator deserving of our concessions.

While in the foot-in-the-door technique the first and second requests may come from different people, in the door-to-door technique both must come from the same source.

In the foot-in-the-door technique, the second request can be separated from the first by several days but in the face-to-face technique, a small-time gap between the requests is desirable – small enough for both to be treated as part of the same process of negotiation and mutual concessions by their participants.

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What makes the door in the face technique work?

Cialdini assumed that the explanation for the effectiveness of this technique is the exchange of unwanted concessions based on the positive rule of reciprocity, but not all the facts are consistent with this explanation.

First of all, the successful application of the method “door-to-door” method requires a small interval time interval between the first and second request. Therefore, another mechanism in the form of a sense of guilt, according to which refusing the large request induces guilt in the refusing person, while accepting the smaller request helps to remove the guilt.

However, the results of the research on the role of guilt have been found to be contradictory.

The other explanation can be the principle of reciprocity. The principle of reciprocity is a need to help those who have helped us in the past. This norm probably occurs commonly in human societies and contains three specific rules: the command to help and to do favors for others, to accept help from others, and to return a favor for a favor.

Receiving the obligation to reciprocate is strong when we receive help from another person and helping them in return is not based on how much we like the person.

We have a dedicated article about reciprocity if you want to learn more.

Conclusion

The door-in-the-face technique is effective when used with an initial large request that is rejected followed by a smaller request that is accepted. This works best when the second request comes from the same source that made the first request. The foot in the door technique is often used in marketing to increase conversions.

Author

Experienced psychologist and T-shaped marketer with a deep love for content marketing and conversion copywriting. Privately a big fan of travel, coffee, and jazz!

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