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How I can change your mind: compliance techniques and art of persuasion explained

Updated on October 27, 2012


Every wonder how scam artists do it: swindle some of the smartest people and got a ton of money? Do you ever wonder would you ever fall for that, and telling yourself "no way"?

You will, unless you learn to recognize the common factors among the compliance techniques, recognize them being used on you, and deduce the reason why.

This is not about being gullible. That requires stop believing in things without sufficient evidence. The fix for that is skepticism, demanding proof.

This is not about getting scammed, where you received false information and misrepresentation of the factors you need to make a proper decision. The fix is look beyond the "spin" and look at the raw data, discern logical fallacies and get at the real truth.

This is about being persuaded to do something you normally would not do.

I am not talking about the fancy hypnosis, brainwashing, and that sort of long-term persuasion. I am talking about simpler tricks people can use to change your mind about various things. Call it salesmanship, call it propaganda technique, call it whatever you like. It is about changing your mind.

A Compliance Example

Let's start with an example of "compliance" technique.

Let's say you got an e-mail from a friend to sign an online petition where your friend asked you to read the petition with a cause you agree with. All you need to do is type in a few words, voila. Done. You clicked on the link, checked the website, agreed and "signed" the petition.

A week later, the same friend asks you to donate $20 toward the same cause on a fund drive.

Are you a) more likely to say yes, b) less likely to say yes, or c) no difference?

If you guessed a), you are correct! Research says the person who was subject to this "conditioning" was twice as likely to say "yes" to donation than a person who was NOT subject to the conditioning.

This is known as the "foot-in-door" technique. Once they got you to commit on something small, you are more likely to commit to something bigger. It was sometimes describes as "getting a small yes from you, and work on bigger and better yes later".

Another example: let's say you're in school, and a friend is having problems with homework and asks you for just one answer. You help him that time. Next time is more than a few questions, then entire assignments, projects... and so on.

There are many other compliance techniques which will be discussed.

The Six Factors of Compliance

There are generally two ways to induce compliance: appeal to logic, or appeal to emotion.

Appeal to emotion involves one or more of the six factors below, as defined by Robert Cialdini (though he called them "weapons of persuasion").

reciprocity factor - if someone does something for you, then you feel more obligated to do something for them. (appeal to guilt to reciprocate)

commitment factor - if you make a small commitment, then you will be more likely to commit to something larger in the future . (appeal to guilt to NOT say no)

scarcity factor - you (and I) desire the scarce object(s) more than commodities (appeal to greed)

conformity factor - if everybody has one, then you need it too. (appeal to envy)

authority factor - if an "authority" you recognize endorses the product, you will like it more (appeal to envy / idolatry)

likability factor - you are more likely to like a product or individual if it is associated with someone / something you like. (appeal to attachment/like/love)

For example, the foot-in-door example above exploits the "commitment factor" and the "likability factor". The likability factor got you to commit to the small action (petition), and commitment factor likely got you to the bigger action (donation).

The Five Common Compliance Techniques

There are five common compliance techniques

  • Foot-In-Door
  • Door-In-Face
  • Low-ball
  • Ingratiation
  • Reciprocity

All of them adds a factor into your evaluation, so you can be induced to "solve" a mental conflict in their favor. Such a conflict is known as "cognitive dissonance", which happens when you have two conflicting ideas in your head. For example, "I don't need to buy a vacuum." vs. "The salesman says I need this vacuum."

So how do you resolve this conflict? Normally you had already evaluated the decision "buy vacuum cleaner -- go / no-go?" and determined it to be "no-go". However, the cognitive dissonance force you to re-evaluate the equation, and salesperson use techniques such as foot-in-door to add an extra factor or two and change the balance of the equation.

The foot-in-door technique adds a "commitment factor" (he's already in so I may as well listen to his sales pitch) and "likability factor" (he seems to be such a nice young man) to the equation. Instead of evaluating the same factors (which did not change), you are induced to add new factors to consider (this vacuum really is better than my old one, my family health is important and dust filter is great... ) and thus, reached a new decision: buy the vacuum.

Foot-in-door technique

The foot-in-door technique came from the days of door-to-door salesman, where people actually come to your door to sell you things. If they can get you to open up and invite him in, so he can deliver his pitch, he has a MUCH better chance of making a sale then being shut outside the door.

In modern days, foot-in-door technique describes the persuasion technique where A persuades B by getting B to agree to something very simple and small, then up the ante slowly to persuade B to commit to larger and larger things. It exploits the "commitment factor" of compliance.

  1. A makes a tiny price offer of idea/product to B, that is surely to be accepted
  2. B accepts the offer
  3. A makes a larger price offer of a related idea/product to B
  4. B feels more committed to accept than if the second idea was offered WITHOUT the first smaller idea.

The smaller idea/product could be free product sample, trial size, free offer, demo, and so on. as well as smaller commitment like quick petition, Facebook "like", and so on.

This is especially apparent when the "something" is a public stance, such as friendship, activism (like environment / organic food), and so on. Psychologists postulated that the initial small action had committed B to a particular public image that B is reluctant to change by refusing the later "larger" commitments. For example, someone who signed a petition for beautiful city may be reluctant to refuse to put up an ugly sign that proclaimed the same. In another example, someone who had helped out a friend with one answer in homework may be reluctant to change his image of "helpful friend" by refusing to help with a full assignment. In both cases, the "commitment factor" became a part of evaluation instead of purely evaluating the decision on its own merits.

Foot-in-door technique works well online, where you can present a positive image by selectively hiding information, and get people to commit by registering an account for free. You then reel them in by adding requirements later for registered members to enter more and more information, such as real name, birth date, and so on. As they have already registered, they are more likely to comply with the request for real name, birth date, and so on than if you had requested all that info in the first place.

Door-in-face technique

Door-in-face technique initially appears to be reverse of foot-in-door technique, but it is actually quite different. Door-in-face works as follows:

  1. A makes a ridiculously high price offer for the product/idea to B that is sure to be rejected
  2. B rejects the price offer
  3. A then lowers the price to a more reasonable price, but still high
  4. B is more likely to accept the still high price than if the price was offered without the initial ridiculous offer.

Door-in-face technique exploits the "reciprocity factor", as A appeared to have made a concession, prompting B to make a concession as well, such as accepting the offer. Again, an external factor was added in your go/no-go decision.

Door-in-face technique relies on reciprocity, which is a "guilt" response, and thus does not work that well in the online world mainly due to the anonymity. Door-in-face works better when you are face to face or in small groups, and are often done at sales seminars.


Low-balling is a sales technique that came from car sales. The salesperson will promise a low price to get the "victim" to accept the offer. Once the offer is accepted, the salesman then will change the terms and revise the price upwards.

Low-balling involves 4 steps:

  1. Propose an attractive price on an idea/item that will SURELY be accepted by "recipient", but is NOT the real "price" (which is higher).
  2. Maximize recipient buy-in, by getting both verbal and public commitment
  3. Emphasize to the recipient that recipient accepted of his/her free will
  4. Change the price to the "real" price. The person/buyer may complain, but they should agree to the change if the low-ball is managed correctly.

Low-balling does not have to do with a price. In a classic low-ball experiment, two groups of students were selected for an experiment. Group A was told that they need to show up at a reasonable time, like noon. Once they agreed, they were told that the meeting was changed to 7AM, but they can back out. Group B was simply told that the they need to show up at 7AM. In Group A, 95% of the people showed up at 7AM, nobody had backed out. Group B only had 25% of people showed up.

Low-ball is very similar to foot-in-door technique because both exploit the "commitment factor". Once the "victim" has been publicly seen agreeing, even if the agreement is changed he felt he had to honor the agreement even if it had been changed. Instead of re-evaluating the go/no-go decision based on the NEW factors, you felt you have to stay with your prior decision.

Scams often use low-balling by presenting a beautiful low price for incredible offer, only to hit you with hidden surcharges / taxes / fees later.

A related technique is "up-selling", where you are looking for one thing, but were convinced into buying something bigger / faster / smarter / better. The illegal version is known as bait-and-switch, where the store offers something incredibly cheap, but when you got there, you are told it's "sold out", and you are offered this more expensive model instead.

Low-balling is often used in online scams where the "whole truth" can be hidden through various means, such as disabling of comments (so nobody can add additional info such as links to rebuttals), hide information behind a registration wall (for members only), and so on.


Ingratiation is an exploitation of the "likability factor". The term was coined by social psychologist Edward E. Jones where he explained that A is better able to influence B if B likes A. Therefore, if A can influence B's opinion of A, then A can better induce compliance on B.

Jones detailed three ways that A can use to improve his/her likability by B:

  • Flattery -- say nice things about B, you're the man!
  • Opinion Conformity -- say things that affirms B's opinions... we think alike!
  • Self-Promotion -- say nice things about A, so B looks at A differently

History has always looked badly upon ingratiation. The term "sycophant" (also known as "yes-man") was invented to describe someone who only say nice things and yes instead of offering real opinions. And self-promotion is often considered "vanity" and "excessive pride", and that is one of the Christian's Seven Deadly Sins. However, that haven't stopped scammers from exploiting ingratiation.

In fact, there's a special name for fraud committed with ingratiation: affinity fraud.

Ingratiation works better offline than online, but is often used in get-rich-quick schemes where they promise "up 10000 USD in a week", "life-changing income", and so on and so forth, mainly through self-promotion, esp. through the use of "testimonials", like "I made $20000 in a month! Thanks!" and "if they can do it, so can you! Wouldn't you like to join them?"


Reciprocity is a technique that exploits the innate human need for "fairness". You give something, I give something. We are even. If A appears to give up ground, B feels a need to give up ground in return. Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. Same idea.

The way Reciprocity technique works is as follows:

  1. A prices the item/idea at a higher than normal price
  2. B disagrees with the price and do not purchase
  3. A lowers the price to the "discount" price
  4. B is now more likely to accept the "discount" price than if the "discount" price was presented first without the initial higher price

This is related to the door-in-face technique, except the initial price is not ridiculously high. It is sometimes classified as "reciprocal concessions".

Reciprocity works because humans are social animals and are taught from birth to be social and thus, upon receiving a favor, should return a favor, or run the risk of becoming an outcast.

Scammers exploit this by giving what appears to be concessions (may not be) to induce you into make large concessions on your end. They don't work that well online due to the anonymity factor, as there is less guilt in not conceding to someone you can't see.

Propaganda: changing a lot of minds together

When attempt is made to change many minds together, i.e. influence a group of people, it is called propaganda.

Propaganda actually came from religion. In 1622 Catholic Church established "Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith" in Rome, and later "College of Propaganda" was born to help spread the virtues of Christianity. For hundreds of years, it was viewed as honorable, until World War I. Nations used propaganda to help with the war effort. When the war concluded, which lead to the rise of communism and fascism, both heavily used propaganda both within and without to aid their diplomatic and war efforts. That is when propaganda gained a negative reputation.

Modern propaganda usually works by concealing the truth, or most of the truth, but the techniques were perfected way back when. Here are some of the tactics used:

  • Make broad positive statements (never even mention the negative side) (remember "Baghdad Bob" proclaiming that Iraqi army was destroying the Imperialist army?)
  • Link the item/idea being promoted with "good" virtues, like patriotism, good life, health, etc.
  • Link opposing item/idea with "bad" virtues, like sin, poison, enemy, etc.
  • Present a distorted version of the truth, one that suits propagandist's purpose (ex: Hitler calling Roosevelt and Churchill "warmongers")
  • Heavy use of slogans, keywords, jingles, and/or symbols to make the ideas "sticky"

Scams use the same techniques, esp. online scams, where they need to reach a lot of people to be effective. But they deal with the same appeal to emotion with the six factors and the five techniques above.


When your emotion is being manipulated, you need to watch for someone "pulling the strings" to make you turn a certain way, and ask yourself, why? Some of the manipulations are quite subtle, such as the five techniques discussed. The commitment factor engages the "guilt" emotion, probably without even you realizing it. Instead of just thinking with your head (logic), you are throwing in your heart (emotion) into the equation, and that just won't work out for you.

Watch for the various techniques being used on you, and make your decisions wisely. In the future, we'll discuss more propaganda techniques such as lies and lie by omission, denial, and more.


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