I’ll be blunt. This is focused on people that want results. It may sound manipulative and it’s very straightforward. No round edges in this article.
Let’s proceed then.
You want someone to do something for you. You need it done and you may have someone in mind for that task. Or not necessarily so, but you want the result either way. So how can you get someone to agree to your request?
Let’s look at this psychological technique called foot-in-the-door. This process consists of:
“a procedure to increase compliance for a critical request preceding it with an easier request”
So your tactic begins by making others agree to a simple request and then advancing onto a larger and more complex request. You’ll have a higher chance that the person will agree to this second request if they’ve agreed to the first one beforehand. As simple as that.
Now, there are mainly two things you should consider to make the best out of it:
A. State to this person their previous behavior out loud (consistency)
B. Make both requests without much delay between them (temporal proximity).
Let’s look at this more closely.
How to maximize this psychological effect?
People prefer to be consistent with their previous behavior and attitudes. They will adjust their responses to their previous actions.
For example, if someone sees himself as cooperative they become more compliant to the second request in order to maintain that consistency and positive self-image. So you can take advantage of it by bringing it up during a conversation.
A study showed that when consistency was explicitly addressed (e.g. “I’ve seen you being so helpful before”) there was a 220% increase in compliance over a control group where there was no mention of it .
For steady people, you can maximize it by saying something nice after carrying out the initial request (e.g. “that was helpful”).
People tend to agree to carry out a more difficult task if they are showed appreciation for the easier job .
For this kind of person, it’s very important to perceive it as something positive. If not, there’s no way you’ll get a good response on your next petition.
For people that are less consistent (more spontaneous, prone to change and unpredictable) there’s also something you can do about it. Here’s the deal: both requests should be temporally proximate. Don’t delay it!
People might feel that if they’ve agreed to the first request, they’ll think they’ve done enough already and they’ll resist to the second request. So don’t take more than a few minutes between the two requests!
And for this kind of people, don’t tell them about their consistent behavior, they’ll hate it. They’ll actively avoid being perceived as predictable even if the trait at issue is highly socially desirable (e.g. helpfulness). So don’t bring it up in the conversation.
A quick step by step: basically what do you do?
- Ask a simple request (e.g. sign a petition)
- When they agree to state something positive about it (e.g. “thank you for your helpfulness”).
- Then when you ask for a second request, first remind them of their previous positive action or address it casually (e.g. “it’s difficult to find people that are helpful these days”). Draw their attention towards their prior act (you’re asking for consistency!).
- Proceed to ask for this second request.
- Thank them and compliment them (e.g. “thanks! you’re very generous”)
There are many places where you can apply this psychological technique. Let’s just list two so you get the idea:
- Non-response or refusal to participate in surveys: this applies when you’re having difficulty getting people to answer questionnaires either inside your organization or by external customers. You could send an advance letter encouraging consistency. Let’s say you’ve done a very brief survey in the past with a very high response rate. The first sentence of your next longer survey can mention the respondent’s participation in this prior study. Get them to agree to do something easy first, and then build on top of that.
- Fund-raising: don’t ask for a donation directly. You could first ask the person to sign a petition (e.g. “free the endangered animals from the local zoo and place them in their own habitat”) and after their positive response, make a remark on their helpfulness. This person will later have a better chance of complying with a small donation (one step at a time here folks) in order to:
A. Maintain their initial good impression (when this exchange is happening live)
B. Be consistent with their past behavior (if the exchange is computer-mediated for example).
A Harvard study in the ’70s  found that people that asked a favor (e.g. “could I use the copy-machine first?”) and added a reason afterward, even if it was a stupid one (e.g. “because I need to use it”), got a better compliance rate that the ones without stating a reason.
Keep in mind that your compliance rate will be higher if:
- You ask a stranger (or someone you don’t know so well).
- It implies a low effort to comply with the request (it’s not a big deal for them).
So just state your question followed by any reason whatsoever and people will be more likely to agree to your request.
That’s all for now folks!
By Pavle Marinkovic on .
 Goldman, M., Seever, M., & Seever, M. (1982). Social labeling and the foot-in-the-door effect. The Journal of Social Psychology, 117(1), 19–23.
 Guadagno, R. E., Asher, T., Demaine, L. J., & Cialdini, R. B. (2001). When saying yes leads to saying no: Preference for consistency and the reverse foot-in-the-door effect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(7), 859–867.
 Guéguen, N., & Jacob, C. (2001). Fund-raising on the web: the effect of an electronic foot-in-the-door on donation. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 4(6), 705–709.
 Langer, E. J., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of” placebic” information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of personality and social psychology, 36(6), 635.
Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: the foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of personality and social psychology, 4(2), 195.
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