Consistency Technique #1: Foot-in-the-Door
This technique is one of my favorites. It’s the “Foot-in-the-Door” technique. Not to be confused, of course, with the “Door-in-the-Face” technique that we talked about before in the section on the reciprocity principle. The two techniques evolved at kind of the same time, and so they adopted similar names, but you’ll see in this case why it has a similar name to the one before, but why it’s different.
The “Foot-in-the-Door” technique is to start off by asking for something small, which most people are going to say “yes” to, and then follow up with a request for something bigger. Contrast this with the Door-in-the-Face technique, which was about starting big and then making a concession and going small.
This is about consistency. You start off by getting them to say “yes” to something, and once they said “yes” once, it’s going to be harder for them to go back and now start saying “no” because then they’d be inconsistent. So, you get your foot in the door with a small request, getting them to say “yes” to something that they’re probably going to say “yes” to, and then following it up with something bigger.
To see how well this can work, consider a classic study where researchers tried to get people to display a big ugly sign on their lawn that said “Drive Carefully” on it (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). This is no small request, and people are probably going to be resistant to this idea if you simply ask them to do it.
In the study, sometimes researchers went to people’s homes and simply made their request directly: “Would you put this sign on your front lawn?” When this was their only strategy, only 17% of people agreed to put the sign on their lawn.
Other times, though, the researchers used the foot-in-the-door technique. That is, for some of the houses, they first asked for something smaller. They simply asked whether they would display a small “Be a safe driver” sticker on their window or car. This was such a small request that many people agreed to it. One week later, however, the researchers went back and this time asked them to put the lawn sign in front of their house.
Amazingly, for this group of people who were asked to do something small one week earlier, compliance jumped up to 76%. That’s quite a bit better than the 17% who agreed to exactly the same request when there was no prior contact.
So all things put together, try to think of a small request that people are likely to agree to. If you first ask people to do this small thing and later make your bigger request, you may find more people agreeing. In other words, secure initial compliance and then people will be more likely comply later in order to stay consistent with themselves. That’s the Foot-in-the-Door technique!
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