Go Ahead, Be Stupid!

Go Ahead, Be Stupid!

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 questions.

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.

                        author

Jeff Thompson

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… MORE >

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