What You'll Learn
  • Negotiators who want to say "No" blame it on their "Bad cop" or "Bad guy" as away to preserve the relationship and keep negotiations positive
  • Used properly and sparingly, this tactic helps you to avoid saying "No" when you want to say "No," and can buy you time to think
  • Overused, this tactic can backfire
  • Defenses against Bad cop include naming the tactic and Probing

Recognize Good Cop/Bad Cop

Insinuating you are empathetic to the other side's position, but insisting you must consult a member of your team who constantly objects, is unreasonable, or won't agree.

Good cop/Bad cop is one of the oldest negotiating tactics. It is commonly called Good guy/Bad guy. The word "cop" is a slang term in English that describes a police officer, or more generally someone who has the authority and credibility to say "No" and "Yes."

Negotiators who want to say "No" blame it on their Bad cop as away to preserve the relationship and keep negotiations positive. Blaming your Bad cop for being the naysayer also provides an opportunity for you to go to your counterpart's defense later and achieve a solution for which you will be credited by the other side.

Three scenarios where you will find Good cop/Bad cop

  1. Good cop and Bad cop together in the room. The most traditional usage involves two people on one side who are both present at bargaining, one of whom constantly objects and disagrees (the Bad cop), and the other who pushes the Bad cop to give a little more (the Good cop). The idea is that we want to work with the Good cop because he is so much more reasonable than the Bad cop so we agree to the Good cop's proposal, even though it does not address our interests or bring in much more than our Least Acceptable Agreement.
  2. Bad cop visits and Good cop remains. The Bad cop visits the negotiators early in the Bargaining Stage, but is not thereafter present. The Bad cop, a person who is known as a tough negotiator or who is perceived as less reasonable, cautions that she hopes they can all work together, but she needs to see a great deal of movement from the current positions. The Bad cop leaves and, thereafter, the Good cop constantly refers to the Bad cop and her message as a way to reject proposals and generate concessions without saying "No." Instead, the Good cop reminds the other side of the Bad cop's message and how she will not find the proposal sufficient.
  3. Good cop alludes to absentee Bad cop. The negotiator graciously avoids saying "No" by alluding to a Bad cop - another person of authority not in the room who simply won't approve or agree to the proposal.

Expect this tactic to be used as part of one of these Negotiation Strategies (competitive, collaborative, avoidance, accommodation, compromise) and in these stages of the Negotiation Process (Preparation, Exchange, Bargain, Conclude, Execution).

Negotiation Strategies: Collaborative (#2 & #3); Competitive (#s 1 & 2)
Negotiation Stages: Bargain and Conclude


Use Good cop/Bad cop in Collaborative Negotiations

When you need to say "No," have your Bad cop say it for you by alluding to the absent Bad cop.

Used properly and sparingly, this tactic helps you to avoid saying "No" when you want to say "No," and can buy you time to think. You allude to the existence of a Bad cop:

  • "I don't think I could ever get this approved by Legal."
  • "The auditors would never go for this."
  • "The last time I accepted a deal like that, my spouse threatened to leave me."

Who can play the role of the Bad cop?

  • Experts and advisors: Attorneys, Auditors, Government Regulators
  • Persons of equal standing: Partners, Spouses, Members, Colleagues
  • Those perceived as having greater authority: Bosses, Board of Directors, Home Office, Owners
  • External pressures: The market place, consumers, media, the economy

Defend Against Good cop/Bad cop

There is no real way to prevent the use of Good cop/Bad cop but there are two strategies for defense:

  1. Call it what it is in a way that saves face:
    • "You're not playing Good cop/Bad cop are you?" (said with a smile)
    • "Can I speak to just one of you?" – then pick the Bad cop (neutralizes the Bad cop)
    • Ask to speak directly to their Bad cop so that you can understand the objection
    • Warn that you will have to bring in your own Bad cop if this continues
  2. Play along and sincerely Probe the Bad cop's rationale as you would any objection:
    • "Tell me about why [Bad cop] feels that way."
    • "What is the closest alternative [Bad cop] will agree to?"
    • "Would [Bad cop] prefer [insert consequences of alternatives or no agreement]?"