The foot-in-the-door phenomenon comes from the foot-in-the-door technique, which vaguely alludes to a salesman who literally puts his foot in the door so you can’t slam it in his face. The idea is that if you will at least listen, then maybe you will buy. Or to put it in psychological terms: if you want someone to do something big, first try to get him to do something small. The phenomenon is the tendency for people to agree to a large request after they have agreed to a much smaller one.
So if you want your buddy to help you move to a new home, you might first try asking him if he will help you move your sofa. Once he agrees to the sofa, you can try the living room furniture, and before you know it he’ll be loading those boxes you haven’t unpacked since the last time you moved.
Now there is also a reverse process here, where what you really want is just the smaller item but to get it you first request a much larger one. "Say Bob, can you spare the weekend to help me move my six-bedroom house full of sofa beds and steamer trunks? No? Well then could you help me move just this table?"
That is called the door-in-the-face technique. Meaning, you expect to get the door slammed in your face by making the big request, but usually you can get the smaller one because… well, because you guilted him into it.
Now you ask, as you often do: "What has this got to do with poker?"
Congratulations, you made the final table! Ten players are moving to the final table, taking their chips out of the racks and ordering new drinks. They are also checking the payouts on the screen and it says nine players are being paid and most of the money goes to first and second place. If you are one of the medium stacks, this is the perfect time for you to make a suggestion: “Hey, how about we give tenth place a save? Give him back his money.” Usually, players will agree to this and just as usually the money comes out of the first-place prize. So you give nothing away and you are identified as the guy who is willing to make a deal.
Later, the table is down to six or seven players and you are still a medium stack, maybe you have even slipped a bit, but you were the guy who made the generous offer to give tenth place some money. Now, when you start talking about a deal, people will listen to you. You got them to agree to a little deal, now you are going for a bigger one. It’s the old foot-in-the-door technique and the other players are psychologically more likely to accept the idea of a chop from you, because of the first smaller deal you got them to accept.
Since we all know that split prize pools tend to give everyone cash that is more than third place and less than second place, you are probably always going to come out better with a deal than without. Unless you are fairly sure of a second-place finish with a shot at winning the whole thing, you want the deal.
One caution about the door-in-the-face technique, where you make an outrageous deal offer in hopes of getting one not as good but a lot fairer – that seldom works in poker. Make a bad offer and the other players will remember it. So, go with the foot-in-the-door, make a fair offer and build up goodwill for the final deal. And if you suddenly hit a run of cards and take over the chip lead, well, try the foot-in-the-mouth technique: Be quiet and win it all!