Reciprocity Technique #3: Door-in-the-Face

16.03.2017 |

Episode #5 of the course Persuasion science masterclass: part I by Andy Luttrell


We’ve been thinking about the reciprocity principle over the last few days. Today, let’s look at just one more case of reciprocity, which is the “Door-in-the-Face” technique.

The “Door-in-the-Face” technique is when you first make a huge request that the person is likely to refuse, and then they are likely to say “yes” to the next, smaller request. The idea here is that you’re giving them a gift (a metaphorical one) by making a concession. You’re saying, “Okay, fine. If you don’t go with the big thing that I just asked you, would you at least go for the smaller thing?” It all starts with making a request that’s so big that people are probably not going to say “yes” to it and then you follow it up with the smaller request. So, start big, get smaller.

We can see this in a classic study in which researchers went up to people and asked them if they would mind volunteering for a program at the local zoo (Cialdini, Vincent, Lewis, Catalan, Wheeler, & Darby, 1975). They simply kept track of how many people agreed to do it or not.

Sometimes they used the “Door-in-the-Face” technique; they began with a large request, which involved a two-year commitment of volunteering for the program two hours every week. Not surprisingly, nobody agreed to this large request. But once each person declined this large request, they followed it up with the small request—simply volunteering two hours of their time for one afternoon.

Other times, however, they went right to the small request and never even mentioned the two-year commitment option.

The results showed that only 16.7% of people agreed to volunteer two hours of their time when the researchers only made this request. But things were very different when they started out with the large request first. Even though nobody agreed to a two-year commitment, when they were then asked to volunteer for just two hours, 50% of people agreed.

The idea here is that people will feel bad about having to say “no” to you, and then they think, “Well, this person is going to make a concession. I’ll go ahead and similarly make a concession and volunteer.” This is reciprocity in action.

I should note, though, that the first request has to seem genuine. Other studies have shown that if your first request seems too obviously like something you don’t expect the person to agree to, this technique falls apart because people know when people are trying to influence them and persuade them. People have to feel as though you really are making a concession.

Think about all the ways you could apply this strategy. For example, you might say, “Would you consider making a $50 donation to our charity?” Well, that’s pretty steep. People might not be likely to say “yes” to that. So then you would go back a little bit and say, “Okay, well would you consider making just a $10 donation?” If you think about it, I’m sure you can find a bunch of other ways this technique could apply!


Recommended book

“Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond” by Deepak Malhotra, Max Bazerman


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