Do you have a big favor or request for someone, but you’re not sure they’ll say yes? Why don’t you just ask for something more demanding of their time and money first? This strategy might sound ludicrous, but salespeople and social psychologists have found that it actually works. This page is all about the door-in-the-face technique, a concept studied by social psychologists around the world.
On this page you’ll learn:
- The definition of the door-in-the-face technique
- How it works
- Examples of the door-in-the-face technique
- Other compliance strategies
- How the door in the face technique compares to the foot in the door technique
What is the Door in the Face Technique?
The door-in-the-face technique is a compliance strategy in which a person makes a large request, knowing they will get the “door slammed in their face.” This is meant to make the next request - the actual request - seem small and reasonable in comparison.
How It Works
You’ll notice that a lot of compliance strategies involve a door (door in the face, foot in the door,) and that’s because a lot of these tricks were developed and mastered by door-to-door salesmen. The door-to-door salesman knows that their initial request may not be immediately accepted by the customer, so they decide to up the ante and ask for something larger. The large request is often unreasonable, but that’s okay.
Once the customer rejects the large request (or, if they happen to accept, the salesman is usually pretty happy,) the salesman makes the smaller request. The customer might feel a sense of relief because their expectations are anchored to the large request. In comparison to this large request, the actual request seems reasonable. They are more likely to agree to it, thinking they’ve “won” the interaction.
Of course, the salesman is really the person who “won” the interaction, especially in the case of a door-to-door salesman. There is no need for the salesman to go door-to-door, and there is nothing that requires the customer to make a purchase or agree to a request. But because the salesman used the anchor of the large request when the interaction began, the customer’s view of further requests will be warped.
Examples of the Door In the Face Technique
Asking for Donations
You walk by a canvasser who catches your eye. They are asking for donations to a cause that you support. You’re willing to listen until they tell you that the standard donations are $50 a month! There’s no way that you can afford that, and you think that asking that amount of people who are just walking by is absurd. Then, the canvasser tells you that you can also donate just $5 a month. Compared to $50 a month, that doesn’t seem so bad! You decide to sign up and the canvasser thanks you for your donation.
Whether or not you think that $5 a month is a win for the canvasser, it is! You didn’t have to donate anything.
Selling Gym Memberships
You get a tour of the new gym in your area and you’re interested in a membership. The employee at the gym gives the tour and then shows you a list of options. They’re expensive - $200 a month for a package that includes spa services and $300 for a package that includes personal training. Those are definitely out of your budget - you just want to use the equipment a few times a month. As you express these concerns to the employee, they let you know that they have another option. $60 a month gets you 24/7 access to all the equipment. You don’t get the fancy add-ons, but you have the option to buy them later if you’re interested. This seems like a great deal!
Other Compliance Strategies
Social psychologists have studied obedience and compliance strategies as a way to understand how people make decisions. The door-in-the-face technique is a compliance strategy - it involves a request, not an order. Compliance strategies are commonly used by salespeople or employees who want to sell or persuade people to do things they definitely don’t have to do.
Other compliance strategies include:
- Foot-in-the-door technique
- Yes ladder
- Norm of Reciprocity
Door in the Face Technique vs. Foot-in-the-Door Technique
Maybe you’ve read through this page and thought, “the opposite has always worked for me.” When you make a request, you try to make a smaller request first, and then work your way up to what you actually want to do. This technique has a similar name: the foot-in-the-door technique. Some people also call it the “yes ladder.”
Here’s how it works: let’s say you want to gather donations for a political candidate, but when a neighbor answers the door, you first ask for a glass of water. This is an easy request and it doesn’t require any commitment from the neighbor. Once you have the water, your “foot” is in the door. You thank the neighbor for their kindness and ask if you can share your pitch with them. You have their water glass, so why not? This gets you farther in the door and increases your likelihood of getting a donation. If you had started on your pitch as soon as the neighbor answered the door, you might have gotten the door slammed in your face.
Depending on the request you’re making, either technique may increase your likelihood of getting a “yes.”
Lowballing is similar to the foot-in-the-door technique but is less ethical than simply asking for a glass of water before you share your pitch. Let’s say, instead of going door-to-door selling your services, you offer estimates over the phone. The real cost of your services might be $500, but you lowball the customer and predict it will be closer to $300. Only once you get in the door and “take a closer look” at the work that needs to be done do you let the customer know it’ll actually be closer to $500. You’re already in the door ready to work, so the customer may agree anyway.
Again, this isn’t as ethical, and will likely get you some bad reviews after the service is over. But it is a compliance technique.
Norm of Reciprocity
Have you ever heard the phrase, “you scratch my back, I scratch yours?” People are more motivated to do good things for the people who have done good things for them. The norm of reciprocity acknowledges and uses this idea to a salesperson’s advantage. Have you ever received stickers or keychains or other items from a nonprofit asking you to donate to their cause? That’s why. If they do something nice for you, you will likely return the favor and accept their requests.
Last but not least is ingratiation. When a salesperson uses this compliance technique, they work to make themselves more likable to the potential customer. We buy things from people we like, whether it’s a friend, a celebrity, or someone who aligns with our values. A salesperson may use certain techniques to become more likable: they might mirror the potential customer’s body language or point out things in the customer’s house that align with their interests. This might be genuine or it may be just a strategy, but it’s more likely to work than a salesperson making themselves less likable!