Removing Exits

The set of techniques used to remove exits try to cut off a person’s options and licenses in order to prevent them from leaving. It overlaps with illustrating loss to a degree.

Underlying Psychology/Biases

This group of techniques works by both triggering loss aversion and the sunk cost bias (the same ones as for illustrating loss), but also manually removing the person’s licenses to do other things than your task (take more time, leave, etc).


There are four key ways to achieve this:

  • Disarming the person’s licenses
    • Similar to what we explored in limited access, but more explicit here;
    • You want to tell the person to their face, “You cannot do [ABC]”;
      • “If you’re thinking we’ll be available next week, we won’t“;
      • “If you think you can buy this next month, you can’t“;
      • “If you think you can purchase other products, you can’t“;
  • Associating bad behaviors with undesirable personality traits
    • You take the behavior you don’t want the person to take:
      • Quitting at the last minute;
      • Choosing another option;
      • Being late;
      • Etc
    • And you pair it with an undesirable personality trait:
      • Being unreliable;
      • Being untrustworthy;
      • Being a flake;
      • Etc
    • For example: “John, I’m so glad that you’re a decisive person who invests in things of value. So many people change their mind at the last minute. It’s such a sloppy thing to do, isn’t it?”;
  • Preempting doubt
    • One of the types of preempting labeling;
    • What you do is you illustrate how you have already doubted this yourself, but changed your mind;
    • The idea is to communicate something like, “I have already doubted this myself, but it didn’t work, so it’s not worth doing it”;
    • “John, I confess I’ve had some doubts about this myself, but after weighing the pros and cons, I realized that this doubt was unfounded, and this really is the best product”;
  • Inquisitorial confirmation
    • This is when someone is thinking of taking the “wrong” action and you guilt them into not doing it;
    • You simply ask them if they want to leave in an accusatory manner (therefore the “inquisitorial”);
      • “John, do you really want to leave now?”;
      • “Mark, are you really want to change your mind last-minute and go with another product?”;


  • “Are you sure?”
    • Same example as for illustrating loss;
    • Documents or videogames, when you try to leave without saving, will ask you, “Are you sure you want to leave? You’ll lose all unsaved progress”;
  • “I hate people who do [ABC]”
    • When you tell someone, “Oh, I hate people who are late/interrupt others/are flaky”, you are revealing more about yourself, sure, but you’re also sending a message about what is acceptable to you;
  • Limited access
    • Stating there is a limited number of seats, a limited timeframe or others helps cut off the person’s options and licenses and drive them to do your ask;
  • “Just so that we’re clear”
    • When you and a person seem to have different expectations, and you say, “Just so that we’re clear, are you expecting [ABC]?”, you bring it out into the open. And if they were trying to informally get you to do something, but don’t have the courage to actually say it, you cut off their exit;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • One method is cutting off their licenses or options.
    • If they thought they could wait, they can’t;
    • If they thought they could buy from another person, they can’t;
    • Etc;
  • Many of these techniques revolve around guilting or shaming the person into not doing something;
    • Are you really going to leave last-minute?”;
  • They work by making the other options the person has more effortful. They won’t prevent someone from leaving, but they do make the other options seem like a lot more effort;