Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Most of us are familiar with the police interrogation technique of "good cop, bad cop." The "bad cop" berates the suspect and asks tough questions. The "good cop" is friendlier and offers a better deal or at least some respite from the "bad cop."

There are times when committees need a bad cop. I'm not talking about a devil's advocate who points out the flaws in a proposed course of action. I mean a person who is willing to say what no one else is saying about not just a proposal, but the group itself, its history, its conflicts, and - to use an overused term - its hidden agenda.

Whereas the devil's advocate role in a group should be rotated around so one person doesn't get stuck with that responsibility, I've found that the bad cop role has less mobility. The reason is the bad cop says truths that are so hard to take that the role can only be assumed by someone who is beyond ambition; an ultra-senior person or one who doesn't have an eye on advancement. This is a person who doesn't care if the china gets broken just so what needs to be said is said.

Bad cops are rare on committees and boards. They have the capacity to irritate everyone - even those who agree with them - and few people have the requisite personality. There are times, however, when the bad cop glitters and sparkles and, although never thanked, saves an organization.


CincyCat said...

I have a list of "Swanson's Unwritten Rules" posted in my cube. #6 reads, "Work for a boss for whom you can tell it like it is." I think a lot of us have the "bad cop" inside us in the beginning, but then it gets suppressed after years of being told to "play the game", "don't make waves" or "it's just politics, ignore [the glaring problem]". We're told our emails and feedback, while not "rude", are just "too blunt" and we need to tone it down. Don't even get me started if the natural "bad cop" in the group also happens to be the only female, which I am... :D

GeekChic said...

So THAT'S what I am! I just forwarded your post to senior management at my current place of work at they replied: "Yep - that's you. Bad cop." I should get business cards made...

Michael Wade said...


If you get those cards made, send me one!


I'm active in one group where a woman is definitely the bad cop. Some people groan about her but she is often the only person in the room who is willing to state the blunt truth.