Getting Someone to Say “Yes” Is Easier Than You Think!

Counterintuitive tips to make the sale

By Peter M. Vishton, PhDWilliam & Mary
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

Whether on the job or in our personal lives, making the sale is intimidating for many people. It doesn’t have to be. Professor Vishton shares some counterintuitive tips for getting a “yes” on a big sale.

Handshake in agreement
The “foot-in-the-door” technique increases the probability of getting a “yes” to a request by asking for something big at first, then following up with a smaller request. liPhoto By Krakenimages.com / Shutterstock

Get a “Yes” on Donations

If you want to get a “yes” to a request for a large donation to a charity, you can greatly improve your chances by asking for something small first. For example, for a donation phone call made in January, you could request a $20 donation to whatever cause you are generating money for. 

If you call again in March, and this time ask for $1,000, you will be more likely to get a “yes” than if you had not made the successful request in January. This example illustrates the foot-in-the-door effect

When people say yes to a small request, it changes how they think about their values. This result relates to the tendency of our brain psychology to increase its unconscious estimate of how important something—or someone—is based on past choices. 

An unconscious consistency reflex drives all of us to want to make decisions that match with our values. It’s just how the human brain is wired.

What if you ask for something really big the first time? Rather than starting with the $20 request, what if you had called in January and asked—not for $20—but for $10,000? It doesn’t seem like that should boost your chances of getting a yes to that second, $1,000 request, but it does.

Door-in-the-Face Technique

In order The person you ask will almost certainly say no to the big request. 

However, when you ask for the smaller thing, he or she will be more likely to say yes. As a counterpoint to the foot-in-the-door technique, this is referred to as the door-in-the-face technique.

When people haggle over a price for something, an element of this idea is present. If you want to settle on a particular price—say $1,000—and if the seller is asking for a higher price—say $1,500—then your best bet for your first offer is to aim below that $1,000. 

If you offer $850, then it leaves wiggle room for both the buyer and seller to make concessions. If you are steely and determined, you might get the seller to come down to $1,000 by gradually conceding a little more. Coming up from $850 to $900 to $950 and then $1,000.

Bargaining on Bar Prices

“My other favorite example of this comes from a not very highbrow reality TV show called Bar Rescue,” Professor Vishton said. “The producers of the program would target a bar-restaurant that was on the verge of bankruptcy.”

An expert bar fixer would come in and teach the bar owners how to run a profitable food and beverage business. In one episode, there was an extensive consideration of how to organize and price items on the menu.

The bar expert showed the owners a draft of the drink menu that he was about to have printed up. The owners were upset by the pricing. 

Some of the drinks looked familiar in terms of price: a beer was $4 and a martini was $9. The bottom fourth of the menu, however, was devoted to exotic cocktails priced at $20 and more. 

“Surely this was a mistake,” they thought. Perhaps the bar fixer didn’t understand the types of patrons that this bar attracted. 

“No one is going to pay $25 for a drink here. This is crazy.” 

The bar fixer smiled and calmly explained that those items weren’t on the menu in the hopes that people would buy them ever. 

Thus, the purpose of putting a $25 drink on the menu is for contrast. Compared to $25, $4 and $9 seem like a real bargain. Therefore, although starting with the higher price might be counterintuitive, it can help you to get a “yes” in the end.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
Image of Professor Peter Vishton

Peter M. Vishton is an Associate Professor of Psychology at William & Mary. He earned his PhD in Psychology and Cognitive Science from Cornell University. Before joining the faculty of William & Mary, he taught at Northwestern University and served as the program director for developmental and learning sciences at the National Science Foundation.

About Kate Findley 450 Articles
Kate is a writer, novelist, and blogger living in Los Angeles. She has been writing for The Great Courses since 2017. It incorporates her two favorite things: writing and learning.