Door-in-the-Face Technique

The Door-in-the-Face Technique is a compliance strategy that involves making a large, unreasonable request, which is likely to be rejected, followed by a smaller, more reasonable request. The perceived concession from the requester creates a sense of obligation, increasing the likelihood of compliance with the target request. It is commonly used in sales, fundraising, and negotiations to achieve desired outcomes.

Introduction to the Door-in-the-Face Technique

The Door-in-the-Face Technique is a persuasive communication strategy that relies on a two-step process to increase the likelihood of compliance with a target request. It was first documented in research by psychologists Robert Cialdini and colleagues in the 1970s and has since been widely studied and applied in various fields, including sales, fundraising, public health campaigns, and social psychology experiments.

The core idea behind the Door-in-the-Face Technique is based on the principle of reciprocity, a fundamental aspect of human social behavior. Reciprocity suggests that when someone does us a favor or makes a concession, we feel obligated to return the favor or make a concession in return. This principle forms the foundation of many persuasion techniques, and the Door-in-the-Face Technique is a prime example.

How the Door-in-the-Face Technique Works

The Door-in-the-Face Technique involves two sequential requests:

  1. The Initial Request (Large and Unreasonable): The persuader begins by making an initial request that is intentionally large, unreasonable, or unlikely to be accepted. This request is designed to be so extreme that the target person is likely to refuse it. For example, in a fundraising context, the persuader might ask for a substantial donation that they expect the individual to decline.
  2. The Target Request (Smaller and Reasonable): After the target person has refused the initial request, the persuader presents the actual target request, which is the one they intended to gain compliance with all along. This request is more modest, reasonable, and in line with what the persuader originally desired. In the fundraising example, this might be a request for a smaller donation.

The key psychological mechanism at play here is the principle of reciprocal concessions. When the target person perceives that the persuader has made a concession by reducing the request from the initial extreme one to the more reasonable one, they may feel a sense of indebtedness or reciprocity. To alleviate this feeling, they are more likely to agree to the second, smaller request.

Real-World Applications

The Door-in-the-Face Technique has been applied in various real-world scenarios with the aim of influencing behavior and decision-making. Some notable examples include:

  1. Fundraising Campaigns: Nonprofit organizations often use the Door-in-the-Face Technique in fundraising efforts. They might start by asking for a large donation, which is expected to be declined, and then follow up with a more moderate request. Research has shown that this approach can increase donation rates and the overall amount of contributions.
  2. Marketing and Sales: Salespeople sometimes use this technique to sell products or services. They may begin by presenting a high-priced option to customers and then offer a more affordable alternative, making the latter seem like a better deal in comparison.
  3. Public Health Campaigns: Public health campaigns, such as those aimed at promoting vaccination or encouraging healthy behaviors, may use the Door-in-the-Face Technique to encourage compliance with recommended actions. For instance, a campaign might first present a strongly worded message about the importance of vaccination, followed by a more realistic and less demanding call to action.
  4. Negotiations: In negotiation contexts, the Door-in-the-Face Technique can be employed to secure favorable deals. Negotiators might initially propose terms that are heavily skewed in their favor, expecting them to be rejected, and then offer a more balanced compromise that is still advantageous to their side.

Ethical Considerations

While the Door-in-the-Face Technique can be effective in achieving desired outcomes, its ethical use is a subject of debate. Critics argue that it can manipulate individuals into compliance by creating a sense of obligation, potentially leading to feelings of discomfort or exploitation.

Ethical considerations in using this technique include:

  1. Transparency: Persuaders should be transparent about their intentions and not use the technique deceptively. Clearly stating that the initial request is an extreme opening position can mitigate ethical concerns.
  2. Free Choice: The target person should always have the freedom to decline the second, smaller request without facing undue pressure or coercion.
  3. Beneficial Outcomes: The technique should be applied to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes rather than exploiting individuals for personal gain.
  4. Informed Consent: Informed consent is crucial in situations where the technique is used, especially in research or marketing contexts. Individuals should be aware of the persuasive tactics employed.

Effectiveness and Limitations

Research on the Door-in-the-Face Technique has produced mixed results, and its effectiveness depends on several factors, including the nature of the requests, the relationship between the persuader and the target person, and the context in which it is applied.

Factors that Influence Effectiveness:

  1. Magnitude of the Initial Request: The more extreme and unreasonable the initial request, the greater the likelihood of compliance with the smaller target request. However, there is a limit to how extreme the initial request can be before it becomes counterproductive.
  2. Time Delay: The effectiveness of the technique may diminish if there is a significant time delay between the initial and target requests. Promptly following up with the target request tends to yield better results.
  3. Perceived Concession: The target person must perceive that the persuader has made a concession by reducing the request. If the reduction is not seen as a genuine concession, the technique may not work.
  4. Relationship Quality: The quality of the relationship between the persuader and the target person can influence the success of the technique. It tends to be more effective in situations where trust and rapport exist.


  1. Overuse: Using the Door-in-the-Face Technique too frequently with the same individual can lead to diminishing returns. People may become immune to the strategy if they recognize its pattern.
  2. Individual Differences: Not everyone responds the same way to this technique. Individual personality traits, past experiences, and cultural factors can influence its effectiveness.
  3. Perceived Manipulation: Some people may perceive the use of the Door-in-the-Face Technique as manipulative, which can lead to resistance and a negative impact on the persuader’s credibility.


The Door-in-the-Face Technique is a well-established persuasion strategy rooted in the psychology of reciprocity. While it can be a powerful tool for influencing behavior and decision-making, its ethical use and effectiveness depend on various factors. When employed transparently and ethically, it has the potential to achieve positive outcomes in fundraising, marketing, public health campaigns, negotiations, and other contexts. However, it should be applied judiciously, taking into account individual differences and the dynamics of the specific situation. As with any persuasive strategy, understanding the Door-in-the-Face Technique provides individuals with valuable insights into how they can be influenced and how to make informed decisions in response to persuasive appeals.

Examples of the Door-in-the-Face Technique:

  • Charity Donations:
    • A nonprofit organization might approach potential donors by first asking for a large donation amount that they anticipate will be declined. They would then follow up with a more reasonable request for a smaller donation. The potential donor, perceiving the organization’s concession, is more likely to agree to the smaller donation.
  • Sales Offers:
    • In a retail setting, a salesperson might initially propose a high-priced, premium product to a customer. Anticipating the customer’s rejection, the salesperson then offers a more affordable alternative. The customer, influenced by the perceived concession, is more inclined to purchase the lower-priced item.
  • Negotiation Strategies:
    • During business negotiations, one party may begin by making an ambitious proposal or a set of demands that they know the other party is unlikely to accept. After the rejection, they present a revised, more reasonable offer. The party initiating the negotiation hopes that the other party will reciprocate with concessions of their own.
  • Fundraising Campaigns:
    • Fundraising organizations often employ the door-in-the-face technique when seeking contributions. They may start by requesting a substantial donation, knowing it will likely be refused. Following the rejection, they then request a smaller, more realistic donation, which donors are more likely to agree to.
  • Advertising Discounts:
    • In the world of e-commerce and online shopping, retailers may display a product at a higher initial price with a prominent discount, creating the perception of a significant price reduction. Consumers, thinking they’re getting a great deal, are more likely to make the purchase.

Key Highlights of the Door-in-the-Face Technique:

  • Reciprocity: The technique leverages the psychological principle of reciprocity, where individuals tend to feel obligated to give back when someone makes a concession or favor.
  • Perceptual Contrast: It relies on creating a perceptual contrast between the initial, unreasonable request and the subsequent, more reasonable request, making the second request appear more appealing.
  • Consistency: The target individual is encouraged to be consistent with their actions. After rejecting the larger request, they are more likely to agree to the smaller request to maintain a sense of consistency.
  • Concession: The initial request is intentionally set high and is likely to be refused, serving as a concession by the requester.
  • Higher Compliance Rate: One of the primary benefits of this technique is that it increases the compliance rate for the target request, which might have been rejected if presented as the initial proposal.
  • Perceived Reciprocity: The person receiving the request feels a sense of obligation to reciprocate the concession made by the requester, even if the second request is more reasonable.
  • Preserving Relationships: By beginning with a large request, the requester aims to maintain positive relationships with the target audience. The initial refusal is expected, reducing the chances of damaging the relationship.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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