Intent Labeling

Intent labeling is the name given to the group of techniques that consist of making a person crystalize their commitment in the first person. It includes techniques such as:

There are some techniques that work through failed intent labeling. In short, you challenge the person to make something explicit, but they can’t, and due to that, it has the opposite effect as labeling it. These include:

In its base form, intent labeling can be summarized as “make them say it in the first person”, and can be considered a one-sided version of the Code of Conduct.

Underlying Psychology/Biases

Intent labeling works as a consistency trap. In short, once the person says, in the first person, they will do something, they are much more likely to act in accordance with that initial action or decision. It’s not bulletproof, but it is a powerful persuasion technique.


In its base form, there are two main ways to leverage intent labeling:

  • The first is to make the person confirm their action in the first person;
    • Usually, either in a verbal or written form;
    • Verbal:
      • “John, please repeat back to me, I will be here on time tomorrow“;
      • “I will be here on time tomorrow”;
    • Written
      • Having an element such as a Code of Conduct, but instead of the person just signing it, there will be a blank line where they actually have to write, in their own handwriting, “I comply to terms [ABC]”;
  • The second is to use active choice
    • Instead of using passive choices, such as asking: “Will you buy this?”
      • “Yes”
      • “No”
    • You use active choices, such as, “What will you do?”
      • “I will buy this”;
      • “I will not buy this”;
    • In this specific case, you can even enhance the active choice with a form of perceived contrast;
      • “What will you do?”
        • “I will buy this and benefit from [ABC] and [DEF]“;
        • “I will not buy this and miss out on [ABC] and [DEF]“;



  • “Repeat back to me”
    • When you ask someone to repeat back to you, “I will do this”, you are using intent labeling;
    • Once they say it, they are much more likely to do it;
  • “Where is this going?”
    • Frequently heard when a person wants to know where a relationship is going;
    • Same exact principle – they are forcing the other person to state, in the first person, what they’re planning on doing;
  • Terms and conditions
    • Nowadays, to accept the terms and conditions of an application, you can’t just click “Accept”, but have to wait a few seconds, and possibly scroll through the whole text;
    • The idea is, again, to make it seem as if your action is more explicit;
  • Happening here
    • When there’s a big mismatch in expectations, one of the people involved may ask, “What do you think was happening here?”. They are forcing the other person to state it;
  • “What did you love?”
    • When a coach or consultant asks, “What did you love about the session?”, they are making the person actively state it, so it’s more conscious in their mind;
    • It’s also an example of eliciting a reason;
  • “You have to say it”
    • You see this frequently in movies or TV shows. Someone owes somebody else a favor, and they are trying to implicitly get them to do things in return. But the first person will say something as, “If you want me to do the favor, I will, but you have to actively say it. To say the words“;


  • Software confirmations
    • In some software, in order to delete things, you will need to confirm it. In some, you will need to go even further. For example, the email provider ConvertKit shows a pop-up with a text box where you have to actually type “DELETE” instead of just clicking a button. It makes it first-person;
  • “One-question surveys”
    • You see this in both personal development and email marketing;
    • In personal development, in seminars, the speaker will ask something as, “Do you want to change your life?”, and people will say, “I do!”;
    • In email marketing, to build hype for a product, some experts will ask, “Do you want to change [ABC]?”, and there’s a link with the text, “Yes I do”;
  • Conference feedback
    • Usually, at the end of a conference, the organizer will ask everyone to say what they got out of it, or even to come on stage and say it in front of everyone;
    • This makes them say it out loud and consolidate their lessons and their liking actively;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • Intent labeling is all about crystalizing someone’s commitment. Once they make it more explicit – usually in the first person – they are more likely to act in accordance with that decision;
    • It can be leveraged in both verbal and written formats. Written is always more powerful, naturally, but the other one also works;
    • A powerful method of using it is active choice. Giving the person active choices versus passive ones;