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Good Cop, Bad Cop

Brian Buck
© Scotwork NA

“Do it or we walk!” threatened the fist pounding buyer. As you contemplate what to do, the level-headed buyer chimes in with, “I’d hate to see us walk. I know you guys are trying hard and I really like you, so maybe there’s something else you do?”  Sound familiar? It should because it’s a negotiation technique based on the same Hollywood cliche that you see in just about every cop movie out there. It’s the old good cop, bad cop routine. It’s easy to spot, so what do you do when it happens to you?

This is an easy tactic to execute. It doesn’t take much to have one person be nice and one person be mean in your negotiation. It’s that simple. The reason people do it is because it can be effective under certain circumstances. The psychological science behind this is the “fear-then-relief response”. When people truly experience “fear-then-relief” they can become disorientated and make bad decisions because critical thinking becomes severely impaired. Here are some tips for preventing and dealing with good cop, bad cop:

Be Prepared

Fear is often driven by our lack of understanding of the unknown and our perception of the impact the unknown will have on us. Negotiations are already stressful for many reasons. Add to that not knowing how the negotiation will go, or understanding the variables in play, or even where your own areas of flexibility might be can cripple a negotiator. Then it all takes is the pressure of a “bad cop” to make the fearful negotiator crumble and give everything away to the “good cop”. If you minimize the unknowns and walk into a negotiation prepared, you will be far less likely to give into fear.

Use Time In Your Favor

Pressure builds over time. If you are in the middle of a good cop, bad routine and are feeling the pressure, take a break; walk away and gather your thoughts. Don’t let the pressure build. When you take the break, go back to your preparation and decipher what you are being told. Is it logical? Is it consistent with the dialogue thus far? Is it warranted? Then seperate out theatrics from reality and go back in with a clearer head.

Hold Up The Mirror

Often time good cops and bad cops contradict themselves. The good cop says, “everything is going to be ok” while the bad cop is saying “we’re going to walk”. When you hear these inconsistencies, point them out. Something as simple as, “Before I can continue to negotiate I need you to tell me if we are actually trying to find a solution or if you are really going to walk.” It forces the good cop and bad cop to align. It’s impossible for them to say “both”.

The next time you run into good cop bad cop, don’t give into the fear. Instead, exploit it to your advantage and turn the tables in your favor.


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