Claiming Value in Negotiation: Do Extreme Requests Backfire?

When claiming value in negotiation, it can help to follow up an extreme request with a moderate one, classic negotiation research suggests. But this strategy has some key limitations.

By — on / Dealmaking

Claiming value in negotiation

Negotiators often wonder how they can get the biggest slice of the pie when claiming value in negotiation. Certain deal-making techniques can be useful, such as the well-known “foot in the door” technique, which is designed to get people to comply with a large request by securing their agreement to a smaller one first, and the “door in the face” technique, which involves following up an extreme request with a moderate one. But according to new research, the door-in-the-face technique needs to be attempted with care in negotiating and deal-making.

Keeping the Door Open

In a classic study from 1975, Arizona State University professor Robert Cialdini and his colleagues sent research assistants around campus posing as employees of the county’s juvenile detention center. They stopped people randomly on walkways and asked them if they would consider chaperoning a group of juvenile delinquents on a day trip to the zoo for no pay. Not surprisingly, 83% of those asked passed on this unusual request.


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Next, the research assistants approached different people with an even bolder request: Would they be interested in being considered to serve as an unpaid counselor at the juvenile detention center? They were told this volunteer position would require two hours of their time each week for a minimum of two years.

Not surprisingly, everyone asked said no. The researchers then asked them if they would instead be willing to consider chaperoning a group of juvenile delinquents on a day trip to the zoo for no pay. A full 50% said yes, they would.

Why did people become so willing to agree to consider the significant request after turning down a much larger one? According to Cialdini and his team, when we back down from an extreme request and ask for less, the other party feels compelled to reciprocate the “concession.” The norm of reciprocity compels us to try to repay in kind what someone else has “given” us.

In the context of claiming value in negotiation, Cialdini calls the strategy the “door in the face” (DITF) technique, playing on the image of a homeowner slamming the door in a salesperson’s face after she makes a ridiculous request. When making business deals, if a negotiator follows up the extreme request with a more moderate one, the proverbial door may stay open.

Will They Get Even?

Given that DITF has been studied only in one-off interactions, Professor Ricky S. Wong of Hang Seng Management College in Hong Kong and his colleagues wondered whether it could have a negative impact on a second negotiation with the same counterpart. If we sense that someone used the DITF technique to gain an advantage, we may try to “get even” by demanding more ourselves.

For their first experiment, the researchers divided 180 undergraduate students into the role of buyer or seller. The buyers were trained on how to use the DITF in a natural manner. They were then told to ask the seller they were paired with for the lowest price possible for a display screen and then, if their offer was rejected, to immediately make a more moderate request. By contrast, buyers in the control group were simply told to negotiate as they saw fit.

After the first negotiation, some of the sellers were educated on negotiation strategies such as DITF and asked whether they thought their counterpart had used any of them. Next, the same pairs engaged in a second sales negotiation, playing the same roles. After that negotiation, those in the role of seller were told they’d be codeveloping a new product with someone and could choose between working with the same counterpart or a new one.

In the experiment, sellers who detected that their counterpart used DITF in the first negotiation, as compared to those who did not, made more demanding opening offers in the second negotiation and reached better outcomes. They also viewed their counterpart as less trustworthy and were more likely to choose a new partner for the collaborative project.

The results seem to suggest that for claiming value in negotiation, using DITF to negotiate a deal could backfire if your counterpart senses that you have attempted to manipulate him or her. Keep in mind, then, that if you hope to do repeat business with someone, persuasion tactics such as DITF could backfire over time.

What strategies have you found to be effective for claiming value in negotiation?

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One Response to “Claiming Value in Negotiation: Do Extreme Requests Backfire?”

  • This sounds exactly like what is happening in DC regarding “The big beautiful wall”.


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