Business Negotiation, Negotiation Tactics July 11, 2011

Playing the good cop-bad cop negotiating tactic

If you ever watch crime shows on television (think Law and Order, for example), you have seen the good cop-bad cop tactic. One cop is always the more understanding one and the other is rude, mean, even physically threatening. Of course, this makes the suspect want to confess to the good cop in order to avoid being harassed.

The same tactic is often used in business negotiations. Here the bad “cop” takes a tough stand by making unreasonable demands and acting aggressively whereas the good “cop” follows the bad “cop” and makes demands that seem reasonable after the bad cop’s antics. Plus, the good “cop” comes across as both reasonable and pleasant, making the other party want to do business with him or her.

The key here is that the bad cop sets up the good cop to seem reasonable and someone you can do business with.

A bad cop in a negotiation can be real or made up. Good bad cops are pricing persons, lawyers, accountants, the boss, committees or even bankers. Additionally, company policy, credit rules or procedures can also play the bad cop role.

If you are dealing with a good cop-bad-cop situation, the first thing you must realize is that both “cops” are on the same side—they both want to get a deal. You can also use one of these counter-moves:

  • Let the bad cop talk endlessly.
  • Protest the bad cop to a higher authority
  • Walk out
  • Blame the bad cop for any turn in the negotiation
  • Predict who will take the bad cop role and pay close attention

Have you dealt with a good cop-bad cop tactic, or have you used it yourself? What worked best and what didn’t? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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