One of the courses I am teaching is Employment Dispute Mediation in which I am essentially teaching the students how to mediate. We are at the point of discussing persuasive techniques and bargaining tactics. One of them intrigued me because although I have used it, I did not realize it had a name: the “Door-in-the-Face” Approach in which “…the ability to gain the acceptance of a target request is enhanced by a person’s asking for more than he or she wants, having that request rejected and the asking for his or her target.” ((Frenkel, Douglas N. and Stark, James H., The Practice of Mediation (Wolters Kluwer, New York, 3d.ed. 2018)  at 291.)

According to a recent blog post on the Harvard PONS, (“The Door in the Face Technique: Will it Backfire? by Pons Staff, January 14, 2021), this tactic stems from a 1975 study conducted by Arizona State University Professor Robert Cialdini and his colleagues. Initially, the professor had his research assistants walk around campus posing as employees of the county’s juvenile detention center.  They would randomly stop people and ask them if they would be willing to chaperone a group of juvenile delinquents to the zoo on a day trip for no pay? As you might suspect, 83% said, “no”. (Id.)

The research assistants then approached another group of people, randomly with a different and more onerous request: would they be willing to work without pay as a counselor at the juvenile detention center for two hours a week for at least two years?  Again, you have probably guessed correctly: 100% said “no.” (Id.)

But then, this is where it gets interesting. The research assistants then asked this same group of people whether they would instead be willing to chaperone these juveniles on a day trip to the zoo for no pay.  This time, the response was different: 50% said “yes”. (Id.)

Why? Cialdini states it is based on the principle of reciprocity: “when we back down from an extreme request and ask for less, the other party views this as a concession and feels compelled to reciprocate it.” (Id.) Specifically:

In the context of negotiation and persuasion, Cialdini refers to the strategy of following up an extreme request with a moderate one the “door in the face” (DITF) technique, playing on the image of a homeowner slamming the door in a salesperson’s face after she makes a ridiculous request. Research suggests that if a negotiator follows up the extreme request with a more moderate one, the proverbial door may stay open. (Id.)

But be careful! This technique could backfire by virtue of the reciprocity principle: the other person sensing she is being manipulated, could use the same technique on you. In a more recent study in which Party A negotiated twice with Party B, the researchers found that if Party B believed that Party A had attempted to manipulate her during the first negotiation, then in the second negotiation between these same parties, Party B made more demanding opening offers, (i.e., more outrageous, or extreme demands) and reached better outcomes. Not surprisingly, Party B viewed Party A as less trustworthy and in fact, preferred to work with someone else for the third segment of the experiment.(Id.)

So, while this tactic may be one for your toolbox, remember that the principle of reciprocity DOES work both ways- in your favor and possibly against you!

… Just something to think about.


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