We're indebted to many researchers and thousands of salespeople for this one. It's been extensively field-tested.

It can be used in dodgy, manipulative ways, but you can use it honourably. The ethics depend on the context, so I'll have to leave the ethical issues to you to mull over.

It's the consistency principle, known to salespeople as the 'foot-in-the door technique'.

Here's how it works.

Once we humans have taken a small step, we are more willing to take more steps in the same direction.

It's extraordinarily powerful.

An example?

Researchers asked home owners to allow them to put a 2 x 1 metre sign on their front lawn. The sign just read 'Drive Carefully' They told the home owners it was part of a campaign to encourage drivers to slow down in the neighbourhood. Only 17 per cent of home owners agreed to the big and not-very-useful sign.

One change to the request lifted the success rate dramatically.

The researchers invited homeowners in the same neighbourhood to place a small sign in their window reading, 'Be a safe driver'. Almost everyone agreed.

Two weeks later, different people turned up asking those homeowners to agree to the big 'Drive Carefully' sign on the front lawn. This time 76 per cent agreed. Two weeks earlier, in front of other people, they had defined themselves as responsible citizens. Agreeing to the big sign was a stretch, but consistent with being a responsible citizen.

Apparently, our need to be consistent with past behaviour, as well as attitudes, actions and statements, becomes more intense with age.

Use the consistency principle at work

Need to build a cooperative relationship with suppliers, clients, ratepayers or colleagues? Thank them for their cooperation, helpfulness or interest then stand by for more of it.

Need volunteers to get things done? Ask for those who'd be interested to sign up (preferably literally) in a meeting. Thank them at the next opportunity for making a commitment to getting things done.

Want your clients or colleagues to complete a survey? Ask them first if they would be interested.

Fed up with 'no-shows'? When taking appointments, ask, 'If your plans change will you call and let us know?' (That particular question has been well tested with great results.)

The consistency principle at home

Need to exercise more? Begin with regular jogs around your block.

Want the kids home before you start worrying? Don't just tell them. Agree on a a deadline and get them to make a commitment to it.


Interested in a workshop on emotional intelligence (thriving at work)?