Dealing with dirty negotiation tricks: The good cop / bad cop strategy

When it comes to negotiation approaches, it’s no surprise that some negotiators use dirty tricks. Many of the participants in our workshops and programs are keen to learn how to counter these tricks – ethically – when they come up against them.

One of the most recognisable tricks is one you’re probably familiar with: the good cop / bad cop strategy. But what is it exactly and how do you deal with it?

The good cop / bad cop trick

Often depicted on TV by police officers in interrogations (hence the name), good cop / bad cop is a technique to watch for.

If you need a refresher, here’s how it works: Two negotiators (as a minimum) are involved as a combined party to the negotiation, with one taking up a role of the kind, friendly negotiator (the good cop) while the other poses as the tough negotiator (the bad cop). In some versions of this technique, they might take turns offering the tough or kind treatment, but the aim remains the same. The bad cop is all about intimidating you and generally making you uncomfortable, while the good cop offers you support and encourages you to let your guard down with them, with the aim of encouraging you to trust their recommendations to make concessions or ‘give in’.

Interestingly, while the good cop / bad cop routine is quite popular, it’s not actually an effective negotiation trick and is often met with annoyance or skepticism. Chances are if you come up against it, you’ll feel the same. So let’s look at how you can deal with it.

Tackling the good cop / bad cop trick

Your first option is simple. Point out your awareness of the good cop / bad cop routine and request politely that the parties involved rethink their approach. Most dirty negotiation tricks rely on your lack of awareness. By calling out the tactic explicitly, you’ll let them know that you’re not up for trickery, which requires them to change tune.

A second, more subtle way of putting a stop to this dirty trick, is to shift your focus to the good cop only. Direct your communications to the more accommodating of the negotiators rather than getting caught up in the power play. This ‘divide and conquer’ strategy can minimise the power of the good cop / bad cop routine.

In our next blog we’ll take a look at how to deal with another dirty negotiation trick… In the meantime, equip yourself for your next negotiation thoroughly and carefully with our free negotiation planner. Download it here. To learn more about interest based negotiation, we recommend the book “Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher & William Ury.”

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