The door-in-the-face (DITF) technique is a well-known psychological compliance technique that recently has come under scrutiny with regard to its practicality. The technique is commonly used by parties in negotiations.

The technique in essence works in the following manner. An individual is presented with a large request that is likely to be turned down. Once that request is rejected, the individual is then presented with a more reasonable request. The individual is more likely to accept the second, more reasonable request, after denying the first request, when compared in isolation to only being asked the reasonable request. For instance, imagine an employer is asked to provide a pay increase of $20,000, followed by a request to provide a pay increase of $5,000 when the request for $20,000 is rejected. The employer is more likely to provide a pay increase of $5,000, more reasonable request, after denying the first one, than if they were asked to provide a pay increase of $5,000 in the first instance.

According to Arizona State University professor Robert Cialdini and his colleagues, the original conductors, and publishers of the experiment, when a request is rejected and subsequently a lesser request is proposed, the other party sees this as a concession and feels a sense of obligation to reciprocate the concession. It can also be explained by the refusing party experiencing a sense of guilt for denying the first request, and subsequently, being more open to accepting future requests. In the experiment, Cialdini and his colleagues asked participants to accompany a group of young criminals to a zoo for free. Only 17% of participants agreed to do this. Then, different participants were asked to volunteer for a young criminal’s centre for a period of 2 years in the role of a counsellor. Most participants (unsurprisingly) said no, however, when a second request was made to accompany the young criminals to a zoo, 50% agreed to participate.

In theory, this can be a very useful tool in the context of negotiations, however, Cialdini and his colleagues only studied it in one-off interactions.

A more recent experiment conducted by Professor Ricky S. Wong of Hang Send Management College in Hong Kong has explored the possibility of impacts on subsequent negotiations. In this experiment, there were two rounds of negotiations. For the first round, some buyers were educated and instructed to use DITF, with the control group instructed to negotiate as they see fit. After the first round, the sellers were also educated on DITF. In the second round of negotiations, the sellers that detected that the buyers were employing the use of DITF obtained better results than the sellers that did not detect the buyers using DITF. The same sellers that detected their buyer’s use of DITF made more demanding offers and viewed their counterparts as less trustworthy. In the second round of negotiations, when given the opportunity, they also chose a new partner for a collaborative project if they detected the buyer using DITF.  

It follows that if your negotiating counterpart detects manipulation, they will likely draw negative inferences and reciprocate those findings, much like if they drew positive inferences from a supposed concession and reciprocated those findings.

These findings may suggest the use of persuasion techniques may ultimately result in worse outcomes for repeated negotiations. In a small commercial environment like New Zealand, DITF and other persuasion techniques must be used with care; if the use of DITF is detected, future commercial relationships could be compromised.

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[1]     Robert B. Cialdini, Joyce E. Vincent, Stephen K. Lewis, Jose Catalan, Diane Wheeler, and Betty Lee Darby Reciprocal Concessions Procedure for Inducing Compliance: The Door-in-the-Face Technique (Arizona State University, 1975).

[2]     The Door in the Face Technique: Will It Backfire? (Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, 2021) retrieved from: