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  • Writer's pictureJonathan E. Pearl

Negotiation Tactics 101: The "bogey"

A bogey is a particular issue that one side in negotiation pretends is vitally important to the deal, though in reality it is unimportant. By agreeing to concede the "bogey" issue, they then expect you to concede something "equally as important" as well.

The term "bogey" comes from military parlance: being 'a false blip on a radar display screen caused by something other than an actual hostile enemy ship or plane - such as a flock of birds, or a decoy'. Disguise and subterfuge are tactics often used in warfare. In the famous WWII Operation Mincemeat the British army dressed up a human cadaver as a "Major William Martin" and put it into the sea near Huelva, Spain. Attached to the dead body was a briefcase containing fake letters falsely stating that the next Allied attack would be against Sardinia and Greece rather than Sicily, the intended point of invasion. When the body and papers were found the German Intelligence Service became convinced that Sardinia and Greece were the real objectives of the Allied advance, not Sicily. As a consequence German troops were re-directed to the wrong invasion points.

In a study of negotiation tactics by The American Management Association the "bogey" was the second most common used negotiation tactic, reported in 17% of cases.

The bogey is a difficult tactic to detect. It's rare that you will know in advance what your counterpart’s negotiation instructions and intentions are. One way that you may be able to tell is if your counterpart makes a sudden change in their attitude towards the issue. For example, if the other side are adamantly against conceding an issue, but then suddenly offer it up in exchange for something else, the issue was most likely unimportant in the first place.

The best way to uncover this tactic is to ask lots of questions. Why is that particular issue so important? And - if it's suddenly dropped - why did the other side change their minds so quickly? Close questioning might force the other side to reveal the issue's true importance, or allow you to come up with some alternative options that don’t require you giving up something that's really important to you. If the other side balk at your alternatives, they don’t truly value that issue, and you know that you’re maybe dealing with a 'bogey'.

In any negotiation, information is power, and this is particularly true with the "bogey". Another thing to remember about "bogeys": when people know they have been "had" they tend to remember it in future negotiations.

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