Giving is one of the most powerful principles to trigger reciprocity in the other person. Depending on the accelerators used, someone can give something small and obtain something much more valuable in return.

Underlying Psychology/Biases

Giving works by triggering reciprocity, and creating an obligation to give in the other person.


There are five key accelerators to giving:

Included in UPP:

  • Giving first
    • Usually, the first person to give triggers reciprocity in the other person. By giving first, you can make the other person be in a state of owing you something, versus being the one caught in the reciprocity trap;
  • Giving unexpectedly
    • The effect of giving is a lot higher when the giving is unexpected, as the person will feel more valued and caught off-guard;
    • By that same token, giving in a predictable manner (at set dates, or in a transactional manner) will have a lot smaller effect;
  • Giving with a sacrifice
    • People value something more when they know you have to make an effort to obtain it;
    • When giving, state the sacrifice you’ve made to make the person value the gift more;
    • Be careful with the tone
      • You don’t want to seem like you make too much effort at all times (needy);
      • You want to seem someone high-value and with abundance that made a specific effort here for this person (personal touch);
  • Giving something personal
    • Giving something generic is not bad, but giving something the person wants in specific is more valued;
    • You can literally just give something the person has stated they want, which will be more valued;
    • Something tailored or customized works in the same way (why recommendation algorithms work so well);
      • Would you prefer a general Spotify playlist or one “Tailored to you?”;


  • Mentioning the expected reciprocity
    • When giving something, stating, “I know you will do the same for me when the time comes”, or similar;
    • It’s a type of intent labeling, where they’re crystalizing they will do something for you later;

Additionally, a technique you can use is not giving the person a chance to refuse

  • You can leverage the gift or the medium to make a return impossible;
  • E.g., offering a coupon via email that can’t be returned, or giving something that you “can’t take back due to policy”;
  • This can force the person into a reciprocity trap, but a smart person can realize, and this can backfire;



  • “Let me throw this in”
    • Interrupting a conversation to say, “Hey, let me just throw this in” is a great example of unexpected giving;
    • I do this as a coach. Randomly saying, “Hey, let me just throw in an extra session”, or “Hey, let me throw in a small discount”;
  • “This is a one-time thing”
    • Telling someone that what you’re giving is something that costs you a lot and that is just for them is giving with a personal touch and showing your sacrifice;
  • “I thought of you”
    • When you buy someone a specific book, or recommend an article, or do anything else that you know the person will enjoy, you show you paid attention. Just for them;
  • Goodwill
    • Many internet marketers and creators, including Frank Kern, follow a logic of “just give a lot of good stuff for free, and the person will come back to buy something paid”. It’s genuine goodwill;


  • Negotiation
    • Making concessions in negotiation can be considered giving with a sacrifice;
    • You can say, for example, “I will make a concession on this point, that is negative to us… but let me ask for this in return”;
  • Hare Krishnas
    • The Hare Krishnas were known by giving in order to get a donation;
    • They would take a flower and give it to random people walking by. In many cases, they would pin it, not allowing the person to reject the gift;
    • The person would then feel an obligation to give something back;
  • Zeroed-Out Receipts
    • When someone does free work, if they just mention it, it may easily be forgotten;
    • But by invoicing the person and creating a receipt, both with $0 value, the person is now showing their sacrifice in performing this work for free;

Commercial/Known Uses

  • Frank Kern‘s movement of goodwill in internet marketing;

Key Takeaways

  • Triggering reciprocity is all about giving. Being the first triggers it, not being the first makes you have it triggered it on you;
  • There are multiple accelerators that can amplify what you give. Being the first, giving unexpectedly, with a sacrifice, with a personal touch or making the reciprocity intentional all increase its effect;
  • You can force the person to accept the gift by making it something that cannot be returned. This can work for most people but will backfire for some;