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Beware of big asks that get scaled down

Life & Work

Beware of big asks that get scaled down

Wednesday September 06 2023

People are more likely to agree to a smaller request after first declining a larger one. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Imagine a corporate manager, Nekesa, who understands the power of persuasion. She approaches her team with a gargantuan project that she knows they cannot possibly complete in the given timeframe.

The Friday afternoon before a long holiday weekend, she asks the team to rewrite the 40-page strategic plan by Sunday evening. The five-member team is aghast with disgust at the incentive request.

But Nekesa does not seem phased. Met with obvious reluctance, she then downshifts her request to a much smaller project that she had held in her mind all along.

She then requests them to instead add an additional five-page industry risk analysis to the strategic plan instead of a complete rewrite and have it done by Monday morning instead of Sunday evening.

Though Monday is still a holiday. The team agrees, knowing they will still lose their holiday weekend with their families, not recognizing that they have just been manipulated by a technique known as "Door-in-the-Face."

Research by psychologists Oliver Genschow, Mareike Westfal, Jan Crusius, Léon Bartosch, Kyra Feikes, Nina Pallasch, and Mirella Wozniak revisits a classic principle in social psychology called the Door-in-the-Face (DITF) technique.

They aimed to replicate the pioneering work by Robert Cialdini, Joyce Vincent, Stephen Lewis, Jose Catalan, Diane Wheeler, and Betty Darby back in 1975, which proposed that people are more likely to agree to a smaller request after first declining a larger one.

The study confirmed that this strategy still holds true, even when conducted across different continents and cultures, thereby debunking raging criticisms in academic and businesses that social psychology findings are specific to time and place.

Their research suggests that the principle behind the DITF technique, which is reciprocity, remains a robust psychological trigger for humans.

Many of us readers of the Business Daily can remember certain bosses over our careers that came up with the most ridiculous demands within the shortest turnaround times possible.

Inasmuch, employees must take note that managers like Nekesa could misuse this psychological technique to manipulate you into agreeing to tasks or projects that you would normally decline.

Beware of the big ask that gets scaled down to something more reasonable. While it may appear as though your boss is making a concession, they might have planned to request the smaller task all along.

Look at each request individually and weigh your decision on the merits of the appeal alone, not in total.

In the corporate setting, it becomes imperative for human resources departments to include ethical considerations in their managerial training programs.

Managers must receive education about the responsible use of psychological techniques like the DITF method.

Knowing its power to manipulate, it proves crucial to impart the importance of ethical boundaries in its application to avoid exploitation of employees.

Sales professionals, however, can find ethical ways to deploy the Door-in-the-Face technique. As an example, a car salesperson could initially suggest the highest-end model with all the optional features.

When the customer balks at the price, the salesperson can then present a more reasonably priced model.

Here, the salesperson uses the DITF technique not to manipulate but to better understand the customer's comfort zone when it comes to pricing.

In conclusion, the Door-in-the-Face technique represents a timeless psychological principle with practical applications and ethical considerations.

Managers must be trained to use such techniques responsibly while sales professionals can ethically utilise the principle to find the sweet spot that meets their customers' needs without violating trust.

The lesson here? Psychology offers powerful tools for persuasion, but with great power comes great responsibility.

Have a management or leadership issue, question, or challenge? Reach out to Dr Scott through @ScottProfessor on Twitter or on email at [email protected].