Have you ever been talked into doing more than you initially agreed to? Maybe it was a car dealership that gave you one price, then later trapped you into paying more. Sorry to break the news, but that made you a victim of the foot-in-the-door technique. The good news is, once you understand it, you’ll be able to use it to your advantage.
The foot-in-the-door technique is used as a compliance strategy to persuade people into agreeing to big tasks by starting with small tasks. If you want to persuade someone into doing something, convince them to do a smaller, more reasonable task first. Once they’ve committed to the smaller task, they’ll already feel committed to the deal when you ask for a larger task.
The term was coined long before the era of online shopping, back in the heyday of the door-to-door salesman. These savvy sellers could use this tactic to literally get their foot in the door instead of slammed in their face, helping them stay long enough to convince the homeowner to buy. Before these salesmen could coax potential customers into committing, they needed the customer to agree to something smaller.
This strategy originated from a 1966 study conducted by Jonathan Freedman and Scott C. Fraser. For the study, researchers called women at home and asked if they would answer a few questions about the kinds of soaps they used. Later, they called up these same women, plus others who hadn’t been contacted previously, and asked if they would mind letting five to six men into their homes to identify the various household items they used. Those who had answered the questions were significantly more likely to say yes to the second request than those were being contacted for the first time.
Of course, this technique isn’t just used to convince you to do things you shouldn’t. It’s also used for many good things, such as raising money for charity. Charities use this strategy to increase fundraising efforts by asking for only small amounts of money each month and later asking contributors to increase their regular donation.
The good news about knowing this technique is that you can use it in your favor. By being able to recognize when this technique has worked, it makes it easier to persuade people not only in the business world but also in your daily life. For example, if you need help cleaning the whole house, first convince someone to help you clean one room, like the kitchen.
Once they’ve already helped you with one room, they may feel obligated to complete the larger task of cleaning the whole house because they want to prove that they’re the type of person who helps. Otherwise, they threaten their positive self-image. This can also be understood in terms of self-perception theory, which says that your actions are determined by how you perceive yourself acting. For example, agreeing to an initial small task makes you feel altruistic — you did someone a favor, after all.
Whether you need help with something or you’re trying to negotiate a business deal, always have the foot-in-the-door technique at hand. People won’t even realize they are being persuaded, and they’ll probably feel great about their actions. You’ll also know how to identify it if it happens to you, and you’ll save yourself time and money if the larger task isn’t really something you should take on at the moment. Just don’t overdo it. Everything in moderation!
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