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Nov 7, 2011

Since 2008 we have seen businesses fail, jobs lost, inventories cut, marketing budgets slashed, and lots of markdowns. Over the past year however, life has seemingly resumed again. People are starting to buy extravagant items, businesses are getting back on track, and, if you don’t read the news on a daily basis, you’re feeling pretty good about life.

However, a new trend has recently popped up and it’s not a simple matter. Perhaps being in the executive search universe, we are more focused on it, but it cuts across all sectors, functions, and companies. I call it the “Art of the Negotiation.” And it’s not just playing out in the courtroom anymore.

Never before in my professional life have I seen this – and I used to sell furniture for a living. It seems we can’t get by without some haggling. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is taken for face value anymore. Everything is a dance – in which both parties say exactly what they want, how they feel, and are happy to draw a line in the sand.

Negotiations Double Time to Offer

Over the past year, the average time it takes to finalize an offer has more than doubled. At times, the negotiating process is even longer than the search itself. When a candidate and a client fall in love, it can all dissipate if the numbers aren’t quite right. More than ever before I’ve seen this dance take the wrong turn, spurring bad feelings, counteroffers and ultimatums.

On the client side there is a mentality that people were overpaid during the frenzy of the pre-2008 timeframe and that this recession should have opened their eyes and made them aware that everyone is replaceable, that they are lucky to have this offer, unwilling to budge. Needless to say, the candidates are less inclined to recognize their good fortune. From their perspective, they feel that that the economy is better, businesses are starting to boom again and 20% salary increases should be compulsory to even thinking about taking on a new job.

Job Pre-Nups

Then there is the middle ground, where the recruiter tends to act as mediator. Think of hiring a new employee like a marriage, two entities joining together to form a team, one that is bound by certain promises and pieces of sacred paper. The negotiation process is somewhat similar to drawing up a couple’s prenuptials. It’s quite uncomfortable, always takes longer than one expects, and it’s difficult to make both parties absolutely 100 percent happy – but hopefully, there’s a compromise.

My role is to advise clients about the market realities, and help them to understand that their requests may be too extravagant. On the candidate side, I have to guide and mentor them through the divergences of their fantasies and the clients’ less romantic standpoint. Fortunately, we almost always get there – in the end most parties see the bigger picture and understand the realities of the situation from the others’ side, not just their own.

Everything we experience is an opportunity for growth and learning. The “Art of Negotiation” is a dance that we are all perfecting in our own way.

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