Get Your Foot in the Door

NIMBY Notes February 2001

Why is it so important to get supporters to sign petitions or endorsement cards before asking them to attend a public hearing? A sociological study conducted in the mid-1960s offers a stunning example of the "foot-in-the-door" technique. Researchers went door to door asking homeowners to comply with a seemingly trivial request: to place a 3-inch by 3-inch card in their front windows reading, "Be a Safe Driver." Two weeks later, sociologists went back to those houses seeking permission to install an enormous and hideous billboard in the front yard reading, "Drive Carefully." Just 17 percent of those who had refused to post the tiny card in their windows agreed to the larger billboard request. Of those who had innocently agreed to post the card, however, a whopping 76 percent allowed their front lawns to be ruined by the billboard. Having casually agreed to the initial request, these people suddenly felt both internal and external pressure to maintain their cooperative, pro-safe driving behavior. Within a business context, it's obvious that someone who offers even tepid initial endorsement of your project is more likely to take further compliant action than someone who never makes that first commitment.

Color My World

The colors you use on your persuasive materials can make a material difference. Almost 44 percent of participants in a sensory test thought the color orange was "distressing." Blue makes people feel both calm (40 percent) and secure (44 percent). Red is exciting (65 percent), but it can also give rise to hostile feelings (25 percent).

Giving Neighbors the Eye

Intensive eye contact is one of the most effective tools in your outreach toolbox. You are most likely to come across as attentive, sincere, friendly and persuasive if you maintain deep, meaningful eye contact with the person you're talking with. But what does "deep, meaningful eye contact" really mean?

  • Direction: For starters, you don't really use both your eyes to look into both eyes of the person you're talking with. Ninety percent of people use their right eye to look into the right eye of the other person, even if they're left-handed. The left eye is generally only used for depth perception. To test this theory, use your left eye to look into the left eye of another person. Feels awkward, doesn't it? This bit of trivia also explains why you should always wear your name tag on your right shoulder: people should be able to easily shift their glance from your right eye directly down to your name, without having to cross over your face to the other shoulder.
  • Frequency: The average speaker makes eye contact 40 percent of the time when talking, although a very powerful speaker or someone trying to look very sincere will make even more eye contact while speaking. The average listener looks at the other person somewhere between 60 and 75 percent of the time when listening, although a more submissive or attentive person might engage in almost continuous eye contact while listening.
  • Duration: Good eye contact doesn't mean staring like a lizard. When two people are gazing into each other's eyes, the average eye-to-eye contact lasts barely a second before one person or the other glances away. When one person is looking at the other without reciprocal eye contact, the glance lasts around 3 seconds. Longer gazes can express dominance or friendship, but someone who stares too intently into the eyes of the other person can convey inadvertent messages of aggression or sexual attraction.

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