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Have you ever said no to a large demand, only to subsequently agree to a smaller demand? If so, you may have been victim of door-in-the-face technique. See some examples of door-in-the-face technique, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of Door-in-the-Face

Jim is going door-to-door in your neighborhood asking for donations for a local charity.

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When you open your door, Jim first asks you to donate $100 to support the charity. Because you do not have $100 to spare, you say no, though you feel guilty about doing so. Jim looks slightly disappointed, but suggests that you make a $5 contribution instead. You agree to this amount, retrieve $5 from your wallet, and hand the money to Jim. Later when you volunteer for the same charity, you find out that the expected donation amount per person was only $5.

Jim was able to persuade you to give the desired amount by using the door-in-the-face technique.

Theory and Research

The door-in-the-face technique was discovered and named by Robert Cialdini and colleagues in 1975. Cialdini and colleagues conducted an experiment in which they asked participants to volunteer as counselors to juvenile delinquents for 2 hours per week for a period of 2 years.

This served as a large request. Once the participants denied the request, researchers then asked the participants to volunteer as chaperones for a one-day trip to the zoo. This served as a small request. Cialdini and colleagues found that 50% of the participants agreed to complete the smaller request when they were first presented with the large request. This is in contrast to 17% of participants who had agreed to the small request after only being presented with the small request.

In other words, participants were more likely to agree with the small request when the large request was initially posed.Cialdini and colleagues concluded that two things must happen in order for the door-in-the-face technique to work:

  • The initial request must be rejected by the target person
  • The target person must believe that the requester has made some concession.

Thus, the size of the second request must be smaller than the initial request. Going back to Jim, had he just asked you for the $5 in the beginning, you would have been less likely to donate the money.

Other Examples

The door-in-the-face technique can be practiced by anyone, and it doesn’t always have to involve money. Here are a few more examples:

  • A friend asks you to take him to his parent’s house, which is 300 miles away.

    You say no. Your friend then asks you to take him to the bus station, which is 10 miles away, so that he can catch a bus to his parent’s house. You find the second request more reasonable, and you say yes.

  • You ask your parents for $500 for a date, which they refuse to give you. You then ask your parents for $50. They agree that this is more reasonable for a date and give you the money.
  • You ask your roommates to clean up the entire house, and they say no. You then ask your roommates to clean their rooms. Since they think the latter is fair, they agree to clean their rooms.

Lesson Summary

The door-in-the-face technique is a persuasive tactic of making a large request that a person will likely refuse in order to get the person to subsequently agree to a smaller request. This technique was discovered by Robert Cialdini and his colleagues in their 1975 study involving requests to volunteer for acting as counselors for juvenile delinquents as a large request and acting as chaperones for a day trip to the zoo as a small request. They ultimately found that the initial request needs to be both rejected, and the person receiving the request has to believe that the person asking them for something has made some sort of concession.An example is when a friend asks to borrow an unreasonable sum of money, to which you say no, only to turn around and ask for a smaller sum that you agree to give. The door-in-the-face technique is commonly used to get people to donate their money, time, or effort.

So the next time someone makes a large request only to follow it with a smaller request, watch out. They just may be using the door-in-the-face technique on you!


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