Door-in-the-Face Technique Definition
The door-in-the-face is an influence technique based on the following idea: If you want to make a request of someone but you’re worried that they might say no, get them to say no to a larger request first. Although this approach may seem odd, psychologists have identified two reasons why a “no” in response to a large request often leads to a “yes” in response to a subsequent smaller request.
The first reason is the powerful rule of reciprocity. The rule of reciprocity states that if someone does something for us, we feel obligated to do something for him or her in return. If a friend sends us a holiday card, we feel obligated to send them a holiday card in return. To see how the door-in-the-face technique uses the rule of reciprocity, imagine that a friend asks to borrow $100, but we say no. The friend then says, “I understand that $100 is a lot of money. Could you lend me $25 instead?” The friend has done something for us (he was asking for $100; now he’s asking for only $25), and we feel obligated to do something for him in return (we said “no” to his request for $100; now we say “yes” to his request for $25).
This example also shows the second reason why the door-in-the-face technique works. In contrast to $100, $25 doesn’t seem like much money at all. Thus, the door-in-the-face does two things: It invokes the rule of reciprocity (when the requestor moves from a large request to a smaller request, we feel a reciprocal obligation to move from “no” to “yes”), and it creates a contrast effect (the size of the large request makes the smaller request seem even smaller in comparison).
Door-in-the-Face Technique Evidence
In one of the first scientific demonstrations of the door-in-the-face technique, Robert B. Cialdini and his colleagues had a researcher approach students on campus and ask them to spend a day chaperoning juvenile delinquents on a trip to the zoo. Only 13% agreed. The researcher made the same request to another set of students, but with these students, the researcher used the door-in-the-face technique. The researcher first asked these students if they would be willing to act as counselors for juvenile delinquents for 2 hours a week for 2 years. When the students said “no,” the researcher asked if, instead, they would chaperone the juvenile delinquents to the zoo for a day. This time, 50% agreed.
Limitations and Implications of the Door-in-the-Face Technique
The door-in-the-face technique does have its limits. If the first request seems unreasonably large, then the technique can backfire. However, as the results of Cialdini and colleagues’ experiment show, requests can get pretty big before they seem unreasonable. (Two years of volunteer work with juvenile delinquents is a pretty big request.)
So how do we feel when we’ve been hit by the door-in-the-face technique? It turns out that we actually feel better about the transaction than if the door-in-the-face had not been used. It’s satisfying to win a concession from a negotiating opponent. Because the door-in-the-face begins with a concession on the part of the requestor, we feel greater satisfaction with the outcome. And because the door-in-the-face ends with our agreement with the concession, we feel greater responsibility for the outcome. Indeed, researchers have found that the door-in-the-face increases not only the number of people who say “yes” but also the number of people who follow through with their agreement and who volunteer for the same thing in the future.
- Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Cialdini, R. B., Vincent, J. E., Lewis, S. K., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B. L. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 206-215.