Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels

. . . use tricks like these-so read on, and players won't pull a fast one on you.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the March 2001 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Negotiation may be a game, but it's a serious one. And although we hope all our opponents will play fair, we know some will hit us below the belt. Here are a few classic ruses every negotiator will have to guard against:

Good cop, bad cop: The scenario goes something like this: During an interrogation, the grizzled bad cop brutalizes the suspect, so the suspect clams up. Exit the bad cop. Enter the mild-mannered good cop, who offers the suspect a smoke. "That bad cop is one tough cookie," says the good cop. The suspect starts to relax-is the good cop on his side? Then the good cop throws out some bait: "Maybe I can get him to go a little easy on you." The suspect loosens up and starts to sing.

Not limited to film noir, the good cop, bad cop ruse happens every day. You strike a deal with an automobile sales-person; the floor manager torpedoes it. The home seller's wife pulls you aside and says, "I realize my husband's difficult. Can't you just raise your offer a little?" Or that snotty little suit whines about how his supervisor has his hands tied.

Never forget that the good cop and the bad cop are one unit. To eliminate the shield they give each other, try negotiating directly with the bad cop or with the two of them together. If you're shrewd (and a little lucky), you may even play them against each other. Or just tell them you're on to them. Good cop, bad cop is such a cheesy ploy that they'll probably drop the whole charade if they think they're caught.

Meaningless concessions: A criminal pleads with the judge about his cruel punishment: two consecutive life sentences. The judge relents, slicing the sentence in half. This is also known as a "meaningless concession." In negotiation, it works like this: You pick out (or manufacture) an issue (or crisis) that's really important to the other side but easy for you to concede. Then you trade your paltry give for their significant concessions. The trick is in making the opposing side believe you're really bending over backward. So the next time your opponent claims he or she is going the extra mile, ask yourself: "When is a concession not a concession?"

Trust: This one's simple. When you hear the words "trust me," don't.

Fait accompli: With dinner guests due to arrive in less than an hour, your plumber waits until he's knee-deep in goop to demand triple time. That sleazy literary agent exposes your novel to everyone in town before you agree to let him represent you. A general contractor hooks you with an irresistible lowball bid, knowing full well that he'll tag you for endless increases once he breaks ground. Get the idea?

Before a deal is nailed down, one party commits the other, making it virtually impossible for them to go elsewhere. Be thankful it's also a risky tactic; one miscalculation can destroy a deal or provoke a costly lawsuit. But, fortunately, protection is simple. Before the other side starts acting as if you've got a deal, stop everything and talk turkey.

Negotiating in bad faith: Sometimes, the last thing on your op-po-nent's mind is striking a deal. He or she may instead be fishing for your valuable proprietary information, keeping you off the market, preparing for a lawsuit or chatting you up with some other devious design. Here, negotiation in and of itself becomes the dirty trick. As usual, tight lips, skepticism and thorough due diligence are your best defenses. So remember the words of William S. Burroughs: "A paranoid [man] is a man with all the facts."

A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Diener is the author of Deal Power: 6 Foolproof Steps to Making Deals of Any Size(Owl Books/Henry Holt). You can reach him at MarcDiener@aol.com.


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