Why the foot in the door phenomenon leads to blind obedience


Kevin Mangelschots

The things you don’t oppose grow a little in strength each time you don’t. This is called the foot-in-the-door phenomenon.

And while this sentence might seem a bit vague at first, after today, it’ll be crystal clear.

You should take immediate action when something is happening that you don’t like and that you know you should address.

Because if you don’t, the thing(s) you don’t want and don’t oppose will grow slightly in strength each time you don’t. Simultaneously, making it just that tiny bit harder for you to speak up and undertake action every time you refrain from standing up for yourself.

Let’s start by explaining what the foot-in-the-door technique entails.

Why you shouldn't fall victim to the foot in the door technique

  • To prevent the problem from growing larger

    As the above example has already demonstrated, what you don’t oppose grows a little in strength each time you don’t. And things can get out of hand much quicker than we expect.

    The best way to prevent events from spiraling out of control is to immediately confront what bothers you. It doesn’t matter if it’s work, social, family, or romantically related.

    Speak up as soon as possible to prevent the problem from becoming larger and eventually snowballing out of control. It’s better to engage in the short-term conflict that’s necessary to solve the concern, rather than letting the issue grow in size.

    Don’t sacrifice your future happiness and contentment for a short-term reward, which is basically what you’re doing when you don’t confront the difficulty in the present. You avoid that uncomfortable, stressful period wherein you need to put in the time, hard work, and energy to resolve what’s bothering you.

  • To keep yourself from becoming resentful

    You can try to fool yourself, but we human beings almost always know when we should speak up. And we end up berating ourselves when we don’t. Being influenced too much by the foot-in-the-door technique can lead to anger, resentment, and even vengeance if taken too far.

    A good relationship should be between two people on more or less equal footing. Reciprocal respect is the key factor here. It’s neither good to be the oppressor, nor the oppressed.

    Both of those relational positions are unhealthy to be in. So a balance should be struck to create a healthy and long-lasting relationship.

  • It teaches you to become courageous

    A funny, satirical image with the sentence, “courage is contagious” written underneath it.

    Speaking, and standing up for yourself means you’ll often have to engage in short-term conflict to gain long term contentment and to prevent yourself from becoming oppressed.

    This is hard and challenging for most of us. The majority desperately tries to avoid conflict because it makes us feel anxious, and sometimes, even afraid.

    This means that it requires a lot of bravery to stand our ground and to face the conflict directly, despite the negatively associated feelings and possible dangers that go along with this hopefully verbal confrontation.

  • It informs you to speak up and stand up for yourself

    Standing your ground is an ability that needs to be learned and nurtured through trial and error.

    Our brains are more plastic when we are young compared to when we get older. This means that it’s easier to learn these vital life skills early on in our development, rather than having to create them when you are already a mature person.

    Learning to defend yourself verbally and physically will last you a lifetime if you learn it early on in your life. That means that it’s in your own best interest to do so.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does the “foot in the door phenomenon” mean?

A sign describing the door in the face psychological technique.

The foot-in-the-door phenomenon, also commonly called the door-in-the-face technique, is considered a compliance method in psychology. It explains that people who have first agreed to something, which is usually a smaller request, tend to comply later on with a larger request.

This can cause issues in the immediate and distant future such as blind obedience, not being respected, being overworked, and even becoming angry and vengeful due to being taken advantage of.

Examples of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

Let’s use a common workplace-related example that people might relate to.

Your boss asks you to do an extra, unrelated task that isn’t included in your work duties and job description.

In reality, you don’t want to do it because it doesn’t belong to your work duties. But you figure that it’s easier to carry out that extra task quickly, rather than settling for the backlash you would receive from speaking up against your boss and not executing the additional labor.

But despite your kind gesture and effort, the only thing that ends up happening is your boss asking you increasingly frequently to do something that doesn’t belong to your work duties. Not only that, it becomes harder and harder for you to say no as well because, “Well, I did it before, so I can’t say no now.”

Furthermore, you’re priming your behavior to be submissive and to answer yes instead of standing up for yourself and saying no when the situation demands it. This makes it even more difficult for you to decline a request when such an event arises in the future.

The quote, “saying yes to happiness means learning to say no to things and people that stress you out” written on a brown background.

Ultimately, what ends up happening is that the employer finds it normal that you are the one performing those extra tasks. Even though they are not part of the job description you are the one that ends up growing increasingly angry and resentful for not speaking up, and because you know perfectly well that your chief is exploiting you.

The boss ends up as the tyrant in the professional relationship and the employee as the submissive slave who can’t say no to any request. And no matter how toxic their relationship has become, both are to blame for this development.

The supervisor shouldn’t have taken the extra effort of the employee for granted, and the person in power shouldn’t have kept asking for this extra endeavor of the same person. But at the same time, the employee is not free of blame either. They should have spoken up from the very beginning to prevent this development from happening.

Chances are that their professional relationship would not have ended up this tyrannical and unbalanced.

Foot in the door phenomenon synonyms

Foot in the door has many synonyms, such as:

  • Door in the face
  • Means of access
  • Opening wedge
  • Point of entry
  • First step

While the wording is different, the meaning remains by and large the same.


Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

It’s certainly tempting to sacrifice our long-term contentment and happiness for the immediate reward we would receive from not engaging in the temporary conflict that’s necessary to prevent things from getting out of hand. Still, the foot-in-the-door technique can be devastating if left unchecked.

Yet, your best option to prevent getting oppressed, resentful, and taken advantage of is speaking and standing up for yourself as quickly as possible. Taking the bull by the horns, so to speak.

And while defending yourself can be challenging, it’s certainly a vital life skill that everyone can learn with enough practice and determination.

If you don’t learn to stand your ground, then you kill your unborn self. And nobody knows how good, successful, and efficient you could become if you had the ability and willingness to stand up for yourself and to chase after the goals you want to achieve.

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