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Why Good Cop, Bad Cop in a Negotiation is a Terrible Idea

By |February 01, 2021

If you’ve ever seen practically any movie that involves police officers, you’re familiar with the good cop/bad cop negotiation strategy. During an interrogation, one cop is super nice and the other is a complete jerk.

Though this strategy might lend itself nicely to the silver screen, it’s not something you should ever rely on in the world of high-stakes negotiation. Here’s why:

Why Good Cop, Bad Cop in a Negotiation is a Terrible Idea

1. It’s Manipulative

The biggest problem with good cop/bad cop is that it’s designed to manipulate the other side—not to influence them. The goal is to use the bad cop to incite fear or hesitation in the counterpart, ostensibly to get them flustered. If this strategy works effectively, the person being interrogated will experience negative emotions, which causes them to confide in the good cop.

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At The Black Swan Group, we teach students to influence their counterparts—not manipulate them. There’s a world of difference between the two.

2. It’s Something People Are Aware Of

Chances are that if someone goes into a room and there’s a really nice person and a really mean person, they’re going to sniff out the good cop/bad cop dichotomy.

If it’s used at all, it definitely shouldn’t be used in the upper echelons of the private sector. People at this level have been around too long and make too much money to be fooled by this approach. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

In these kinds of scenarios, you’re leading your counterpart to a place where they will shut down. Deals will grind to a halt, and the other side will decide not to do business with you at all.

3. The Bad Cop Makes a Terrible Impression

Let’s say your good cop/bad cop play actually works and there’s a long-term relationship. 

Whoever dubbed themselves the bad cop in the routine has basically indicated they’re a toxic person who should be avoided at all costs. So at the very least, the bad cop character will not be able to contribute to a constructive relationship with the prospective client.

How enthusiastic would you be to talk to someone who played the bad cop against you?

Truth be told, there are many bad cops running around the private sector. These folks are hired guns. They are high-level executives who have 10 jobs over 10 years. They’re brought in to use leverage on a counterpart and pigeonhole them into a corner.

Even if these tactics are successful, they bring a tremendous amount of bad energy to your team.

We would never contend that creating negative emotions is a good idea. Instead, we advise using Tactical Empathy™ to defuse negative emotions before they rear their ugly heads. When you use an approach that is designed to elicit negative emotions, you are going out of your way to create hurdles for yourself. If your goal is to make the best deals possible, you won’t get there by being a jerk.

Why Do People Use This Tactic Anyway?

There are two reasons people still rely on the good cop/bad cop approach: They’ve either seen it in movies or used it before successfully.

The problem with success: We don’t learn from it. We learn from failure because we analyze our losses from multiple angles. But we don’t give the same level of scrutiny to our victories because we won.

Imagine a landlord gets a new tenant to agree to pay the highest price possible. This individual is super excited based on their projected revenue stream for the next year.

There’s just one problem: They didn’t do their due diligence, so they didn’t find out this would-be tenant got evicted from their last place and nobody else was going to rent them an apartment. The landlord cared more about the money than the details—and they’ll learn to regret it before they know it.

Stuff like this happens all the time in the private sector. You win with the good cop/bad cop strategy one time, and you want to do it over and over again.

It’s a tired approach that won’t deliver results over the long term.

So ditch it and use Tactical Empathy instead. Become an entity your counterpart wants to confide in, and get the information you need to get the outcomes you want. Want more sales tips? Download the 7 Unexpected Ways to Increase Sales E-Book below.

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