The foot-in-the-door technique – How to apply it in the business world?

The so-called Foot in the door technique (FITD) is a strategy, or better yet, a compliance tactic used to persuade people to agree to a particular action. It assumes that agreeing to a small request increases the probability of agreeing to a later, more significant request: 

One assumption about compliance that has often been made either explicitly or implicitly is that once a person has been induced to comply with a small request he is more likely to comply with a larger demand. This is the principle that is commonly referred to as the foot-in-the-door or gradation technique and is reflected in the saying that if you “give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.” (Freedman & Fraser, 1966)

FITD tactic is well-researched and it got its name as a reference to what door-to-door salesman used to do back in the day. They would keep the door from closing with their foot, giving the customer no other choice but to listen to what he has to say.

This technique is based on two things. The first is that the initial contact creates a connection between the person asking for a request and the person asked. The second and more important is that it creates a new image of themselves for the person who accepted the request. They now see themselves as the type of person that cares about a certain cause or a type of person that is more invested in something than they were just a minute ago.

The term for was coined by Johnathan Freedman and Scott Fraser of Stanford University in 1966. At the time, these two conducted two experiments to prove this new theory.

The first experiment involved 156 housewives and several home interviewers. The foot in the door was a simple phone call that led to a 2-hour interview in their homes. In the second experiment, the subjects were asked either to put up a small sign or to sign a petition, and the issue was either safe driving or keeping California beautiful. The bigger request was to install in their front lawn a very large sign which said: “Drive Carefully.” 

What the reaserchers realized, is that the compliance is greater in the case when the second larger demand is proposed after a smaller previous one. According to Kiesler, the FITD concept could be defined as the binding between the individual and his acts or her decisions. In a given situation, the level of commitment corresponds to the conditions under which the act is carried out. Of course, the very effectiveness of this technique depends on certain conditions – the effects produced 10% to 20% more behaviors in a situation of “compliance without pressure”.

Also, it is determined that the FITD technique might improve not only the action rate but also the quality of actions

And as for the publicly carried out FITD, the public commitment is directly related to the public image or the social reputation. Therefore, a public request increases the sense of responsibility. Do you also see how many opportunities are here effectiveness wise?

How can FITD be used to create a more efficient work environment? 

When conducted within an organized system FITD actually showed a positive influence on not only employees’ attitudes, but their overall behavior as well. Since the research, it has been used widely to enhance the quantity and quality of professional actions. 

Team motivation

The FITD stimulates employees’ autonomy and responsibility, and as a result, they act more and do better. The research has been continued within the frames of an industrial context, and its results can help us see how possible it is to influence other aspects of peoples behavior. One question that is often asked today is if FITD effects can be used to promote employees’ self-training.

If the team agrees to a small step, we might be able to introduce bigger changes with less friction. For example, if our team first says “yes” to writing down one thing that they could have handled better at the end of each week and how they could have done it, then introducing a more complex work management system might be met with less resistance. As our employees have already started to feel like they are the type of people that would go the extra mile to improve their work performance, the new change just feels like an extension of that rather than a novelty.

A digital foot-in-the-door

As online communication gained momentum, researchers confirmed that digital foot in the door works just as well as it does in person.

In one study, they emailed half the participants, asking for help with a file conversion issue, then followed up with an unrelated request to fill out a survey. The other half were sent the survey request directly.

Almost 76% of the initial respondents completed the 40-question survey; while only 44% of the others did the same. 

Their research team had a very clear conclusion – the “electronic foot-in-the-door” is as effective as it is in real life.

While there is no way to know for sure the exact results of using this technique, it has proven itself to be a useful option in many situations. From motivating team members to giving us a better start with new clients, FITD is definitely something to keep in mind.

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