The Negotiator Magazine

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Good Guy/Bad Guy

Roger Dawson

Good Guy/Bad Guy is one of the best known negotiating gambits. Charles Dickens first wrote about it in his book Great Expectations. In the opening scene of the story, the young hero Pip is in the graveyard when out of the sinister mist comes a large, very frightening man. This man is a convict, and he has chains around his legs. He asks Pip to go into the village and bring back food and a file, so he can remove the chains. The convict has a dilemma, however. He wants to scare the child into doing as he's asked, yet he mustn't put so much pressure on Pip that he'll be frozen in place or bolt into town to tell the policeman.
The solution to the convict's problem is to use the Good Guy/Bad Guy Gambit. Taking some liberty with the original work, what the convict says in effect, is "You know, Pip, I like you, and I would never do anything to hurt you But I have to tell you that waiting out here in the mist is a friend of mine and he can be violent and I'm the only one who can control him. If I don't get these chains off-if you don't help me get them off-then my friend might come after you. So, you have to help me. Do you understand?" Good Guy/Bad Guy is a very effective way of putting pressure on people, without confrontation.

I'm sure you've seen Good Guy/Bad Guy used in the old police movies. Officers bring a suspect into the police station for questioning, and the first detective to interrogate him is a rough, tough, mean-looking guy. He threatens the suspect with all kinds of things that they're going to do to him. Then he's mysteriously called away to take a phone call, and the second detective, who's brought in to look after the prisoner while the first detective is away, is the warmest, nicest guy in the entire world. He sits down and makes friends with the prisoner. He gives him a cigarette and says, "Listen kid, it's really not as bad as all that. I've taken a liking to you. I know the ropes around here. Why don't you let me see what I can do for you?" It's a real temptation to think that the Good Guy's on your side when, of course, he really isn't.
Then the Good Guy would go ahead and close on what salespeople would recognize as a minor point close. "All I think the detectives really need to know," he tells the prisoner, "is where did you buy the gun?" What he really wants to know is, "Where did you hide the body?"
Starting out with a minor point like that and then working up from there, works very well, doesn't it? The car salesperson says to you, "If you did invest in this car would you get the blue or the gray?" "Would you want the vinyl upholstery or the leather?" Little decisions lead to big ones. The real estate salesperson says, "If you did invest in this home, how would you arrange the furniture in the living room?" Or, "Which of these bedrooms would be the nursery for your new baby?" Little decisions grow to big decisions.

People use Good Guy/Bad Guy on you much more than you might believe. Look out for it anytime you find yourself dealing with two people. Chances are you'll see it being used on you, in one form or another.

For example, you may sell corporate health insurance plans for an HMO and have made an appointment to meet with the Vice-President of Human Resources at a company that manufactures lawn mowers. When the secretary leads you in to meet with the vice president, you find to your surprise that the president of the company wants to sit in and listen in on your presentation.

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