How to Use the "Door in the Face" Technique to Get What You Want

05/06/2015 02:44 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016

What are some counter-intuitive ways to influence people?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


One interesting, and counter-intuitive, way to get what you want is the Door-In-The-Face (DITF) technique. The idea is to intentionally get rejected, then retreat, and ask for something smaller.

It's the opposite of the more popular, foot-in-the-door technique, where you ask for something small, gain a concession, and then ask for something bigger.

In the DITF scenario, you first make a large request that you expect the respondent will say no to. Then after getting the metaphorical slamming of the door in your face, you ask for a second, more reasonable request.

The classic door-in-the-face experiment was conducted by Cialdini, Cacioppo, Bassett, and Miller. The researchers asked students to volunteer with juvenile delinquents for two hours a week for two years. The researchers expected nearly all students to refuse this large request.

And then, immediately after they got the door slammed in their face, the researchers asked the students to chaperone the juvenile delinquents for "just" a one-day trip to the zoo. And guess what? 50% agreed to chaperone the trip to the zoo as compared to 17% of participants who only received the zoo request.

Cialdini also found an interesting side effect. 85% percent of the people in the concession group actually showed up to volunteer at the zoo, compared with only 50 percent of the group that did not go through the concession process. Concession not only got people to say yes, it also increased their commitment to the action!

Why does the DITF work? Partially because of the contrast principle. The psychology here is similar to anchoring techniques retailers use to get people to spend more money. In comparison with the larger initial request, the later request seems small, and therefore more reasonable.

DITF also works because it can make people feel social responsibility. For example, when the person refuses the first request, they can feel guilty or worry that they look bad. The second request gives them the opportunity to assuage that guilt and provide them with an easier path to looking better.

The DITF technique was originally thought to be most effective when the requests being made have a socially valid element, like the example above. However, it can also be used for commercial gain. For instance, next time you are out at a restaurant you may notice technique at work.

Nicolas Guéguen, Céline Jacob, Sébastien Meineri researched the effects of the DITF in a comparative study to get customers to purchase tea or coffee at the end of the meal.

In this study, the servers were instructed to ask their customers if they wanted dessert. When they were turned down, the servers were then instructed to ask the customers if they wanted tea or coffee instead.

The results show that the number of customers who said yes to tea or coffee nearly doubled if the servers asked immediately after the customers said no to dessert. When the server waited another couple of minutes before coming back to ask the question, more customers said no.

Is your server attempting to use the DIFT technique by asking if you want a cocktail, appetizer, salad, or dessert? Probably.

Also, keep this counter-intuitive technique in mind next time you want to influence someone. For instance, if you have your eye on a modest pair of flip-flops, it may not hurt to first ask for these fancy new shoes, or some Christian Louboutins.

More questions on Quora: