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Escalation of Commitment

Escalation of commitment (also known in persuasion as the “foot in the door” technique, or a “consistency trap”, or a “compliance ladder”) consists of asking something small so that you can start asking more and bigger things afterwards.

There are two main persuasion techniques, and this is one of them:

  • The “door in the face” technique, which is the opposite of this. You ask for something big, to get rejected and then ask for something small, which will work (you get the “door slammed in your face” so you can then ask for something smaller);
  • The “foot in the door” technique, which is this one. You start with something small, whatever it is, and then ramp it up (you get your “foot in the door” to crack it open, no matter how small, and then you slowly open it more and more);

You can escalate multiple types of elements:

  • Favors (small favor to medium favor to big favor);
  • Mandatory actions (small mandatory action, to medium one, to big one);
  • Agreeing (small agreements, to medium ones, to bigger ones);
  • Seeding (making a small mention to something, to mentioning it more, to finally speaking about it);
  • Learning (which is Indoctrination) (learning a bit about you, more about you, a lot about you);
  • Money (asking the person to buy a small thing, then a more expensive, then a much more expensive one);

Underlying Psychology/Biases

Escalation of commitment is the canonical example of a consistency trap. You get someone to do one small thing, and then you can progressively ramp it up to ask more and more of them. As with other consistency traps, it works due to the principle of consistency. As humans, we don’t want to contradict our image. So when we say or do something, we tend to act in accordance with it.

  • If you can just get someone to do a small favor, or buy a small thing, they will keep taking more actions in support of it, buying more or doing more;
    • It’s how people start doing a friend a favor and end up becoming stuck in it;

Sub-Techniques

  • Gratefulness
    • You can double receptiveness at each stage of the journey by thanking the person for the previous action;
      • E.g., “John, thank you so much for booking the call on your website. May I now ask that you fill this form?”;
  • Micro-agreements
    • Using escalation of agreements in specific;
    • Throughout a conversation, constantly making small points and asking the person to agree with them;
      • “I think that [ABC]. Does this make sense?”. “Oh, yes”;
      • “So it makes sense that [ABC] here. Do you agree?”. “Oh, sure”;
      • “Given that you agree with [ABC] and [DEF], I think that our product would be a fit. Does this make sense?”;
  • Seeding
    • Just mentioning, as time goes by, more and more that you will need to talk about something;
    • “Boss, I know we can’t discuss my salary now, but we’ll talk about a raise next month, right?”. “Sure”;
    • “Boss, I know it’s not today, but next week we’re going to talk about a possible raise, right?”. “Sure”;
    • This helps the person anticipate the action and they’re not caught off-guard;

Examples

  • Favors to friends
    • If a friend asks a favor from you and you do it, chances are they will start to ask more and more, and you will deliver. You’ve been escalated;
  • Charities
    • NGOs are great at escalating commitment. Just sign this petition. Just subscribe here. Just make a small payment. And so on;
  • Gambling and addictions
    • A darker type of escalation of commitment. You gamble a little, then it doesn’t satisfy you anymore, so you gamble more, and on and on;
  • Sex and relationships
    • In many cases, people have sex or get together for random reasons, but because they took the initial action, they ramp it up and create a relationship, even when the initial event was completely random;
  • Marketing funnels
    • A marketing funnel works precisely in this manner. Just subscribe to get this piece of value. Now just buy a low-value product. Now just buy a medium-value one. And so on;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • Escalation of commitment is all about starting small, then ramping it up. As the name says, you ask for something small, and once the person is committed, you escalate their commitment more and more;
  • Anything can work. You can escalate favors, mandatory actions, agreement, or others;
    • A specific type is decision seeding. You start mentioning that you’re going to talk about something later, and the person becomes progressively more warmed-up to it;
  • It works due to consistency traps. We want to stay consistent with our image. So we do the initial action, and then do more subsequent actions that keep up with the first;