A very common and very effective negotiating tactic is called “Good Cop/Bad Cop”. This tactic involves two or more negotiators who work as a team. The good cop seems sympathetic to your interests and tends to be a good listener; additionally, the good cop tends to provide information and often tries to explain the position and interests of his or her team. The good cop seems to value the relationship with you and wants to preserve the relationship for the future.
The good cop tends to ask a lot of open-end questions as a demonstration of his or her interest in you. Don’t be fooled. The good cop is playing a role in tandem with the bad cop. The ultimate goal of the good cop is get information from you that will helpful in the negotiation (translation: the good cop wants to trip you up in saying something that you had not intended) or get concessions from you.
In contrast, the bad cop is blunt, inflexible, and impatient. As the heavy in this negotiation team, the bad cop typically has the authority to make the decision now. Sometimes the bad cop is not in the first meetings; instead, the good cop threatens that if you cannot get the negotiation worked out, you will have to speak with the bad cop. Other times you find both the good cop and the bad cop in the same meeting. The bad cop tends to be negative and will dismiss options and be critical of brainstormed solutions.
The bad cop/good cop tactic can be very subtle or can be so “over-the-top” that it is silly. I have witnessed demonstrations of this technique where the good cop and the bad cop disagree so openly with each other that you think that they are not on the same side. Conveniently, most people are such bad actors that you will see right through this charade.
A very effective way to retaliate against this nasty trick is to confront them with a statement like, “You two don’t seem to agree on what you want to achieve today. Maybe we ought to take a break so that you two can work things out”. The boldness of your comment often will stop them in their tracks and will often be met with nervous laughter on their part; typically, this is enough to get them to stop the act and get the negotiation back on track.
Thus, the key in handling a good cop/bad cop dirty trick is to first recognize it and then confront it. More often than not, that is all it takes.
John Bradley Jackson
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