‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ Can Provide Helpful Leverage

August 7, 2009

“I would love to do the deal, but my boss is being unreasonable. I really need you to move on this issue to convince my boss to sign. Can you help me out?”

Here, I’m the good cop and my boss is the bad cop.

Is this common? Yes.

Effective? Sometimes.

The “good cop/bad cop” strategy, where a party’s frontline “good cop” negotiator appears much more sympathetic and caring about the relationship and deal than that same side’s “bad cop” decision-maker, is often viewed as a manipulative effort to protect the parties’ relationship while minimizing one’s concessions.

Of course, sometimes it’s contrived. But other times, this dynamic reflects the true nature of the personalities involved and their actual interests in getting a deal done.

So, how can you, in a sincere and not manipulative way, manage this dynamic so you increase your likelihood of achieving your goals?

• Use it in limited circumstances. Perhaps the most common business good-cop/bad-cop dynamic involves sales “good cops” trying to close deals while their “bad cop” manager (finance or legal) refuse to authorize additional concessions.

This is a fairly natural and true dynamic as sales folks almost always truly want to just get the deal done because much of their compensation is often commission-based. And their “bad cop” brethren also truly want to ensure their company doesn’t set bad precedents or shave their margins too much.

When the good and bad cops truly have these interests and the individuals naturally play these roles, this strategy can be effective.

• Ensure your good cop has sufficient authority. While good cops shouldn’t have full authority to decide, they should have sufficient authority to engage and deliver on significant issues.

If you’re constantly overruled and undermined by your boss, your counterpart will insist on dealing directly with him or her, making you largely irrelevant. This also means it’s critical to get your “bad cop” boss on your same page from the beginning regarding goals, concession strategies, etc.

• Clarify your constraints. The more easily identifiable the internal or external constraints are for your front-line negotiators, and the earlier these are illustrated, the more effective this strategy.

The biggest downside to using the good-cop/bad-cop strategy is your counterpart believes you falsely contrived this to manipulate his or her behavior. If this happens, you lose credibility, a crucial element in any negotiation.

The counter? Show the person that your needs and interests and your constraints are real and that you’re ready to deal.

Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute and ExpertNegotiator Planning & Management Software. He can be reached at Latz@ExpertNegotiator.com.