Influence

Effective Influence with the “Foot-in-the-Door” Technique

Guest Post by Zachary Mastrich

Have you ever bought something and then later wondered why you bought it? Or maybe you are skeptical of salespeople in general because you think that they use all sorts of tricks to manipulate you into buying their product. Sometimes it can feel like salespeople are backing you into a corner and forcing you to buy something or buy more than you want.

InfluenceI bought a cell phone recently and the salesperson kept asking me to buy different protection plans, cases, and accessories for the phone. I felt as if I was being forced to buy these things that I originally did not intend to buy. If you have ever felt like this then you may be on to something.

The foot-in-the-door technique is when you make a small request that people will say yes to and then make a bigger request. The idea is that because people agree to the first request they will also agree to the second request.

For example, a salesperson may request that you sign a petition to promote teaching music. This is a small request that most people will say yes to. Then the salesperson will ask if people will buy a guitar from them. Due to the fact that people agreed to the first request to sign a petition, they will be more likely to agree to buy a guitar. This is because people naturally want to be consistent and want to continue saying yes if they already have said yes once.

Testing the Technique

An early experiment tested the foot-in-the-door technique on 114 women and 13 men in California. Half of the participants in this study were given two requests, one small request and then one big request. The other half of the participants were only given the large request.

InfluenceThere were two different small requests that participants received. They were either asked to put up a small sign or sign a petition on the issue of safe driving or the issue of keeping California beautiful. The big request for all participants was to put a very large sign in their front lawn that said “Drive Carefully.”

The results of this study found that only 20% of participants agreed to put the large sign on their lawn if they did not receive one of the small requests before hand. However, if the people had agreed to the small request first, 55% of them agreed to put the large sign on their lawn. The fact that people were significantly more likely to comply with a large request after first agreeing with a small request indicates that the foot-in-the-door technique works.

Further, subjects were more likely to comply with the large request if the first request and the second request are consistent. This means that people will be more likely to put the large safe driving sign in their yard if the first request that they agreed to had to do with safe driving, as opposed to keeping California beautiful. Therefore, the best way to get people to comply is to have them agree to a smaller and similar request first.

The Key is “Consistency”

The reason that the foot-in-the-door technique works is because people have a natural need for consistency. People prefer not to contradict themselves in both actions and beliefs. The foot-in-the-door technique gains compliance by creating the opportunity for people to be consistent. After agreeing to the first small request it would be inconsistent for people to not agree to the second, larger request.

Having an Influence

Understanding the foot-in-the-door technique has some very important implications for salespeople, but also for anyone. This has been empirically proven to be an effective technique to gain compliance. Salespeople can use the foot-in-the-door technique to persuade more people to buy from them.

Any person can use their knowledge of the foot in the door technique to avoid being persuaded by this technique. So the next time a salesperson is talking to you, be aware of the foot-in-the-door technique in order to avoid purchasing without truly thinking about it.

Any person could also use the foot-in-the-door technique to gain compliance with other people. Next time that you want help moving, for example, get people to agree to a small request first, like asking them to have lunch with you, to make it more likely that they will agree to help you move. Understanding the foot-in-the-door technique is very could be quite useful for anyone.


Zachary Mastrich wrote this article as a final writing assignment in my Attitudes and Persuasion class at the College of Wooster.

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