Here’s how it usually goes down. The prisoner is sitting alone in a locked room when two police officers enter. One’s the good cop. The other’s the bad cop. It’s a common negotiation tactic.
Officer Toughguy starts by banging his hand on the table and pointing out – often in quite colorful language – the horrible situation in which the prisoner finds himself.
“If you don’t tell us what you know about that murder,” he yells, “who knows what’ll happen? We’ve got you on a misdemeanor, and we’ll make sure you suffer.”
After more theatrics, Officer Toughguy storms out, practically unable to restrain himself.
Officer Niceguy then sidles up to the prisoner as if he’s the prisoner’s only friend in the world.
“Look,” he says, “my partner’s crazy. Who knows what he’ll do? But he’s right about your situation. If you cooperate, I’ll help. If not, you’ve got a serious problem. I’m your best hope.”
Business negotiators also see this negotiation tactic frequently.
“Boy, I’d love to help you,” your counterpart might say, “but my partner will never agree. I’ll see what I can do.” He then returns later, saying he really worked hard, but his partner wouldn’t budge. “The next move,” he says, “is up to you.”
So what should you do when faced with this and other common negotiation tactics? Here’s my top five list of effective responses to some of the most common negotiation tactics.
• Good Cop/Bad Cop – one negotiator is tough; the other feigns being nice.
Response: Explicitly recognize the tactic. Say the following: “You know, last week I noticed two guys using the same negotiation tactic you’re using now: good cop/bad cop.” I doubt they’ll continue using the tactic after this statement.
• The Nibble – one side asks for or demands an additional concession after the deal appears done.
Response: Don’t be taken hostage at the end. Avoid it by asking several times during the negotiation if all the issues are on the table. When your counterpart says yes, make a note of it. This lessens the likelihood your counterpart will want to appear inconsistent by nibbling away at the agreement later.
Or don’t forget the reciprocity principle. If your counterpart wants another concession from you at the end, require at least one in return – preferably of greater value.
• The Blowup – someone loses his/her cool or gets overtly angry.
Response: Take a break. The length of the break, however, should vary with the extent of the blowup. At the least, take a 20-minute break. Research has shown it takes most individuals 20 minutes, at a minimum, to come back down after an outburst.
• The Flinch – a visible negative reaction to any offer or concession by the other side.
Response: Ignore it or smile a bit in response when the other side uses it – acknowledging in a subtle way that you understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
• The Higher or Limited Authority – one side constantly defers to a “higher authority” to make any substantive move and says they just “don’t have the authority.”
Response: Find out the extent of your counterpart’s authority early in the negotiation. Get them to explicitly state their level of authority. Then, you can match it or use this move yourself.
Don’t be caught with authority if the other side doesn’t have it. If that happens – while you might initially consider yourself more powerful as the decision-maker, you’re actually at a negotiation disadvantage. You can concede. They can’t. The less authority you have, the less you’ll concede.
We’ve all seen these tactics – and many of us have used them. Interestingly enough, one thing works to counter all of them. Find out your counterpart’s reputation for using these tactics. If you know their reputation, you can anticipate these tactics and prepare to foil them.
Knowledge is power. Use it to your advantage.
Published April 6, 2001 The Business Journal