The foot-in-the-door technique can deceive us



MY READERS on social media, including real, nosy friends are constantly asking me how I get lots of ideas to write two weekly columns for two different national broadsheets. At first, you don’t realize their motive, but after listening to several questions, one after another, their actual words when summarized would appear something like this: “How do you keep yourself clean, over and above the AC/DC (attack-collect, defend-collect) opinion writers?”

You don’t know where those series of questions are going. But it’s always a good opportunity to talk to these people, who at times would also give me some ideas on what topic to write about. Like the young Jonathan (not his real name), who asked the following:

“What do you think of volunteer workers in non-profit organizations (NPOs)?”

After several years of pursuing the same regimen with many NPOs, I’ve discovered the secret of marketers masking themselves as volunteers. They volunteer their time, money and effort to give their brands and programs a great push in the bush. Of course, you’re welcome to do just that as NPOs are always on the lookout for moneyed sponsors. But what if you’re simply an employee representing a company?

What’s your motive? The answer depends much on your personal circumstances. If you’re single, an NPO is a good place to meet your future lifetime partner. It’s also where the hidden job market is located. If you make people marvel at how you do things for them, wait for some time, until a job offer comes to you without you even asking for it.

Really, NPOs can be a good platform to showcase your leadership potentials.

I happen to do volunteer work for an employers’ organization. The job was to assess several private companies on their compliance with social and labor legislations. That was more than 10 years ago, before President Rodrigo Roa Duterte started cracking the government whip against “endo” employment.

I agreed because the project was a piece of cake and the offer was sweetened with good money courtesy of a multinational funding agency. It looked promising until the project manager requested me to write a lengthy report and to spend some nights out of town, and other time-consuming tasks that were not in the original agreement.

My readers’ questions and my experience with that employers’ organization are good examples of “foot-in-the-door” technique, which has its own equivalent in the “laying the predicate” strategy lawyers use.

In psychology, the “foot-in-the-door” technique is manifested when compliance with a small, harmless request is followed by two or three small requests (sometimes more than four), made one after another. The interval does the trick so that you will not know what is hitting you.

The first, lesser request acts as an innocent or innocuous opener, like the door-to-door salesmen putting their feet in the door to prevent the occupant of the house from shutting it. But let’s simplify it this way.

Imagine that you have a friendly neighbor who asks you to keep an eye on his house while their family is on vacation in Tokyo. Without blinking an eye, you said “yes” right away. After all, his house is in front of yours, except that his property is 30 times more valuable than yours, which probably means he has like around 1,625 spy cameras inside and outside his house. But never mind the cameras.

It’s a small request you don’t mind favoring a good neighbor. What if, after two days, you received an urgent private message on Facebook from your dear neighbor: “I’m very sorry, my friend. I forgot to ask. Do you mind collecting my utility bills and newspapers so that they do not attract the attention of thieves? I forgot to tell you that I sent my three maids home to the province for a vacation,” he says with an emoticon.

He told you that the key to the steel front gate is under the pot of a recycled truck tire, now home to a bunch of beautiful white roses, fronting his house. He went on. “While you’re inside the garden, please water the garden and feed my lonely dogs and cats,” he says like a meek lamb.

The question is: Would you do it? If you’re like most people, chances are, you will oblige with this additional small request followed by another small request, no matter how they require much of your time and energy, and a bit of grief. You may even question your blind compliance. You tend to behave consistently fulfilling small requests, one after another.

But that’s how we behave. The same applies to you and this writer. Therefore, to avoid the speculation, lay your cards on the table. Try it, and prepare for the outright rejection.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts on Elbonomics.


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