How Persuasion Works

We all want people to do the things we want of them. But the question is how? Psychologists have studied the art of manipulation and found several techniques that seem to work.

One is called the door-in-the-face technique. You start by asking for something outrageous; when that’s turned down, you then ask for something reasonable. A boss may ask an employee to work weekends for a whole year, for example, and when that request gets turned down, the manager might ask for a report to be turned in by Friday. The outrageous request reframes the real request to make it sound reasonable.

Another technique is known as fear-then-relief. Here, you tell someone he narrowly dodged a bullet and take advantage of his relief to make your real request.

The best-studied technique of all is the foot in the door. The panhandler who stops to ask you the time before asking you to spare a buck is employing the technique. In contrast to the door in the face, the foot in the door starts by making a very small, easy-to-accomplish request, and then follows up with the real request.

A new technique that works is for one person to make a highly unusual demand and another person to immediately follow that with something quite reasonable. It’s a slight differentiation on the door-in-the-face technique because it uses two people to manipulate a single person.

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