Yes, the title is a bit gimmicky but what I am trying to say is 'playing dumb' works in mediation and negotiation. It does not matter if you are the mediator, a negotiator or one of the parties involved.
What am I talking about?
Playing dumb means acting as if you do not understand. Sometimes that very well might even be the case too! So how do you play dumb?
Ask open ended questions.
"I am not sure what you mean?"
"I am not sure if I understand, can you say that again?"
"I am not sure if I am following you."
What does this accomplish? Many things. One is if they are trying to play tricks and sneak in extras just when you think an agreement is reached. By stopping and asking questions, it slows things down and instead of the pressure being on you, it is back on them.
Open ended questions also allows the other party to further explain themselves which then can give them the feeling of knowing they are being heard. It also shows that you are interested in really understanding and hearing what their interests are.
Another positive to 'playing dumb' is it helps keep you cool. What if the other person just said something that was meant to instigate you? Especially if the intention was to get you angry and flustered, instead of doing what they want and expect- for you to react, 'play dumb' by asking a question which deflects their attempt.
By putting it back to them helps you maintain composure and allows them to further explain him/herself. So, instead of saying, "you are a liar!", maybe this would be beneficial, "I thought we were about to finalize an agreement, so I am not sure what that last comment means, could you help me understand?".
Remember, a good negotiator and mediator listens more than they talk.
Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.
Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.
He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.
(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)