In the fourth series of American sitcom Modern Family, two of the characters Cam and Claire decide they should work together to renovate a house, and then sell it on. Throughout the course of the project, many disagreements arise, and so to get his way, Cam uses a negotiation technique he calls the “Trojan horse”. In a nutshell, he asks for something more expensive and wild than what he really wants, so that when he pitches his actual idea (which seems much more sensible and affordable in comparison), Claire will think it isn’t so bad, and be more amenable to saying “yes”. This is the door-in-the-face (DITF) tactic, and Cam uses it to negotiate what he wants.
There are many proposed explanations for the effectiveness of the DITF technique. It could be that refusing the initial request creates a feeling of guilt, so people comply with the second request to reduce this guilt (O’Keefe & Figge, 2006). Alternatively, perceptual contrast makes the second request seems much less costly in comparison to the first. Likewise, if the second request is perceived as a concession, in order to reciprocate, the other person will also want to make a concession, by complying with the second request (Cialdini et al., 1975). A fourth possible explanation is to do with self-presentation. Upon rejecting the first request, people worry that they will be perceived as unhelpful, so they are more inclined to comply with the second request, demonstrating their positive qualities (Pendleton & Batson, 1979).
Millar (2002) examined differences in self-presentation between strangers and friends. Participants were told to make a large then a smaller request (DITF condition), or just a small request (control condition), either to a friend or stranger. Firstly, Millar (2002) found that the DITF technique was more effective than just coming straight out with the smaller request, regardless of the relationship. However, those who were asked by their friends reported feeling significantly more concerned about their self-presentation when they were in the DITF condition, suggesting that the DITF technique will be particularly successful with close friends.
This might explain why Claire is so easily persuaded by Cam’s technique – they have a close relationship, so she is more motivated to avoid looking bad, and hence makes a concession and agrees to his later requests. Some might call it manipulation – Cam would call it successful negotiating.
Cialdini, R., Vincent, J., Lewis, S., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 206-215.
Millar, M. G. (2002). The effectiveness of the door-in-the-face compliance strategy on friends and strangers. The Journal of social psychology, 142, 295-304.
O'Keefe, D. J., & Figge, M. (1997). A guilt‐based explanation of the door‐in‐the‐face influence strategy. Human Communication Research, 24, 64-81.
Pendleton, M., & Batson, D. (1979). Self-presentation and the door-in-the-face technique for inducing compliance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5, 77-8 1.