Would you recognize the good cop/bad cop tactic if you saw it in a negotiation? Would you know a bogey if you saw one? What about a nibble?
Last month, I wrote about negotiating strategically and suggested that one key is to recognize and neutralize hardball negotiation tactics when you see them. The above tactics are some of the most common and unfortunately, can really alienate the person on whom they’re used. Here’s a brief description of each and ways to neutralize them.
In the nibble, a negotiator makes a last-minute demand for a small concession that hasn’t been mentioned previously. Let’s say you’re buying a car and have spent an hour or two working out a purchase price with the car dealer. At about the time you’ve almost reached an agreement, you say, “You know, if you throw in a 6-CD changer in place of the CD player, you’ve got a deal.”
While not an unusual tactic in a car negotiation, the nibble poses problems in other settings, such as home and the workplace. It usually irritates or downright angers the other party because it appears (rightly so) that the one using the nibble hasn’t been bargaining in good faith and is trying to manipulate a deal.
If you think you’re seeing the nibble tactic in action, you can often neutralize it by demanding your own nibble in return. Better yet, try preventing the nibble from happening by requesting, at the start of any negotiation, that all issues and demands be put out on the table so they can be discussed fully (“I’d like to make sure we don’t get to the end of this negotiation and find out something unexpected that inadvertently threatens to waste all our good work”).
Negotiators using a bogey pretend that an unimportant issue is important to them, and then use that ruse to get concessions from you. For example, in a workplace setting, a colleague may pretend that meeting a proposed deadline is going to be very difficult (when, unbeknownst to you, they’re actually almost done with the project). You, in return, agree to carry a heavier load on another project to take some of the weight off the colleague.
The problem with the bogey is that it’s deliberately deceptive and not effective for long-term relationship among family, friends and co-workers. It erodes trust for future negotiations and leaves the person using the bogey with a dishonest reputation.
Not everything that looks like a bogey is a bogey…sometimes there’s an issue that is important to the other person, even if we think it shouldn’t be. So, bogeys are harder to recognize and neutralize. If you suspect a bogey, try getting a lot more information about why the other party finds that issue so important and try finding other ways to address the issue (“It sounds like you’re concerned that a missed deadline will make you look bad. Other than me taking on part of another project of yours, what other ways can we ensure that your image isn’t damaged by this deadline problem?”).
You’ve probably seen good cop/bad cop in action on a television law enforcement drama. One person is unduly hard on the suspect being interrogated, while the other seems more sympathetic and on the suspect’s side. The suspect confesses, finally, to the good cop who’s been nice. One common example of good cop/bad cop is when, during a car purchase, the sales associate tells you she thinks your offer is reasonable but is required to check it with her sales manager before saying yes. She heads to a back office somewhere (perhaps actually speaking to someone, perhaps not), then returns, shaking her head sadly. Sorry, she says, he won’t let me agree to that – I’d be cutting you too good a deal. But I really want to get you in that car. Can you come up a bit more on your offer? The sales associate is so clearly on your side that you feel willing to consider a higher price for the car.
The problem with good cop/bad cop is that you get duped into concessions that you might not otherwise make because you feel so well treated by or so sympathetic to the needs of the “good cop.”
To neutralize this tactic, ask to negotiate directly with the “bad cop” in circumstances where the supposed bad cop is nowhere to be seen (“To save everyone’s time, I’d like to make sure I’m negotiating directly with the person fully authorized to make this deal. Would that be you?”). If both the good cop and bad cop are present, say what you’re seeing and request that it stop. (“Gosh, I’m sure you don’t intend it, but this feels a bit like good cop/bad cop. I’m not really interested in negotiating this way”). Take a break for a minute, go outside, catch your breath, and remind yourself of your primary goals.
Is there another negotiation tactic or challenge you’ve faced and would like to see me write about? Drop me a note or leave a comment below!