How to Get What You Want From People [Study]

Pengion visits researchers

Image via Wikipedia

I stumbled across a very interesting research study from 1966 yesterday. It was about how to get people to say yes to your requests. Two researchers—Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser decided to test out how to get people to do something they would not normally do.

They went door to door in a small neighborhood and asked people if they would put a large sign on their front lawn that said “Drive Carefully.” Only 20% of people said that they would put the sign up in their yard. I was actually surprised a full 20% said yes, but it was still a small percent. Then they tried asking people if they would put a smaller three-inch sign saying “Drive Carefully” in their window, many more people said yes to this. Then the researchers came back three weeks later and asked those same people to put the much bigger sign in their yard. This time 76% of the people said they would put the larger sign on their lawn.

What does this study tell us? A LOT. It is the perfect example of how asking for a small request first will help you get a ‘yes’ to bigger request later. Why does this work? I theorize that people who put the first small sign up began to believe that they were helpful. They also went into a mental as well as physical agreement with the researchers to drive safely. In fact, these people most likely felt like very good citizens for putting the sign up. Therefore, when researchers returned and asked for the larger sign, they had very few barriers to break. The homeowners had already been in agreement with the researchers, had already thought of themselves has helpful citizens and they had already changed the look of their house by adding a message. Making it bigger, would take very little mental change and this is why 76% said yes the second time.

We can absolutely adopt this in our own lives. I have already begun to use the ‘foot-in-the-door’ technique. We must get people used to the idea of a) saying yes to us b) being helpful. Start with a small ask and you will get a yes to the big one.


Jonathan L Freedman and Scott C Fraser. “Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 4(2), 195-202.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply