Dealing With The “Good Cop, Bad Cop” Tactic

Negotiators need to know what to do when a good guy and a bad guy show up
Negotiators need to know what to do when a good guy and a bad guy show up
Image Credit: Stephen Poff

When we are in a negotiation to sell something to the other side, we need to be aware of the fact that the buyer that we are dealing with has an extensive set of tactics that they can use in addition to negotiation styles and negotiating techniques. As negotiators it is going to be our responsibility to determine when one of these tactics is being used on us and to take the appropriate counter measures. One such tactic is called the “Good Cop, Bad Cop” tactic and we need to understand it.

The Good Guy, Bad Guy Tactic

This tactic is a staple of movies that we have all seen. We know how it goes. In the movies, somebody gets arrested for a crime and taken down to the police headquarters where they are placed in an interrogation room. The first cop that comes in to question them is angry. He yells at them, tells them that he knows that they committed the crime and threatens them with physical harm if they don’t confess. Clearly he’s the bad cop.

This is the point in time that the other cop comes in. He pushes the other cop out of the room, apologizes for his behavior to the person who is being questioned, and then sits down. He may offer him some coffee or a cigarette. Clearly he’s the good cop. He then explains in a low, quiet voice that he wants to help him out, but that he’s going to need his help in order to do this. It never seems to take all that long and soon the suspect is spilling the beans to the good cop.

The good cop / bad cop tactic is something that buyers often use during a negotiation. The bad cop may be from any one of a number of different departments at the buyer’s company: he can be the buyer’s boss, another buyer, somebody from the legal department, or even an accountant. He’s not going to be happy with you, he’s going to be making demands and some of these demands may even be unreasonable. The good guy will be in the room, but he’ll just be sitting there quietly while the bad guy rages on.

Dealing With The Good Guy, Bad Guy Tactic

At some point in the discussion, the bad guy is going to become quiet. Perhaps he’ll even leave the room. When this happens, the good guy is going to start to speak. He’s going to come across as being both polite and friendly to you. He’ll probably make some demands of you; however, after having listened to the demands of the bad guy his demands will seem reasonable. He’s going to be so easy for you to deal with, that it’s going to be pretty easy for you to give in to his demands.

However, you need to recognize what’s going on from the start. The way that you are going to want to deal with this tactic is to allow the bad guy to go on. Allow him to talk and talk and talk. Your job is going to be to just sit there and listen to what he has to say. When he’s all done talking, now it’s going to be your job to deal with the good guy. The key here is to consider the good guy’s demands by themselves – do not compare them to the bad guy’s demands. By doing this, you will be able to more truly determine the cost of what he is asking for.

The reason that the good guy / bad guy routine works during a negotiation has to do with contrasts. What the bad guy does is to reduce your aspiration level. The end result of this is that the good guy’s proposals start to look reasonable to you. If you are not careful, you’ll end up agreeing to a deal that is tougher on you than you realize. The good news is that you should be able to negotiate with the good guy on a rational level.

What All Of This Means For You

In negotiations, the use of the good cop / bad cop tactic is very common by buyers. We are all familiar with this tactic because we have seen it many times in police movies. The bad cop comes in and yells at you, and then the good cop comes in and talks quietly with you. If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up spilling your guts to the nice cop just because you don’t want the bad cop to come back.

In negotiating, things operate in very much the same way. The principled negotiation will start off with the bad guy going on and on about why your product or proposal is not what his company needs and he’ll start to make impossible demands. He will eventually run out of things to say or leave the room. At this point in time the good guy will start to speak. In comparison to the bad guy, he’ll seem much more reasonable and easy to get along with. If you’re not careful, you’ll go along with his proposals. What you need to do is to ignore what the bad guy says and when the good guy makes a proposal, you need to evaluate it by itself, not in comparison to the bad guy’s proposal.

The reason that the good cop / bad cop tactic shows up in negotiations so often is simple – it works. As a negotiator you need to understand the power of this tactic and you need to keep your eyes open in order to detect when it is being used. Once you spot it, you’ll be able to use your countermeasures against it and this tactic will no longer have any power over you!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Once you recognize what is going on, do you think that there is any way to speed things up when the good cop / bad cop tactic is being used?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The goal of any negotiation is to always be using our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to keep things moving forward. We want to eventually be able to reach a deal with the other side. The only way that we’re ever going to be able to get there is if we can make progress on the various issues that have to be resolved. However, sometimes things can grind to a halt. One way that this can happen is if the other side starts to ask us “what if”. When this occurs, we need to be ready to deal with it.

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