Byron's Babbles

Opening The Door To All Possibilities

Posted in Buy In, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Vantage Points by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on June 11, 2021

Yesterday in a discussion I was a part of an individual said that we might just need to use the “get a foot in the door” technique. This immediately felt very coercive to me. It was a good discussion and now we had someone wanting to already take a step toward her own ultimate goal. In fact the group was leaning away from some of her ideas. Because this was a policy discussion, suggestion or use of this approach would be a very binary and old industrial model way of doing things. The context here was very different than someone wanting to get a foot in the door so someone, for example, could become familiar with the good work you do. The foot in the door technique referred to in the meeting was a compliance tactic that assumes agreeing to a small change increases the likelihood of agreeing to a second, larger change later.

This has actually been studied extensively. Initially you make a small request and once the person agrees to this they find it more difficult to refuse a bigger one (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). Why does it work so well? Because we like consistency and we like to be consistent. So, for the technique to work, all we have to do is have the second, larger request, be consistent with or similar in nature to the original small request. Do that and the technique will work (Petrova et al., 2007).

This theory was tested in 1980 in my own state of Indiana. Residents were called by Sherman (1980) and asked if, hypothetically, they would volunteer to spend 3 hours collecting for the American Cancer Society. Then, the same group of people were called by a different person three days later and actually asked for help – 31% agreed to help. Of the group that did not get the hypothetical ask, only 4% volunteered to help.

This feels very disingenuous to me. I can think back, even recently, to where this has been done to me in some form or another. This is another form of getting to “buy in.” Which as I always say if you have to go get “buy in” you’ve already failed. Why not do the work of including stakeholders from all vantage points with all different diverging and converging views to start with. Only when everyone has been heard and had a part in the crafting of ideas, can the door be open fully.


Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: the foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of personality and social psychology, 4(2), 195.

Petrova, P. K., Cialdini, R. B., & Sills, S. J. (2007). Consistency-based compliance across cultures. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(1), 104-111.

Sherman, S. J. (1980). On the self-erasing nature of errors of prediction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(2), 211-221.


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