Gift-Giving and Receiving

Anthropologist Terry Y. LeVine said it best:
“The practice of giving and receiving gifts is so universal it is part of what it means to be human. In virtually every culture, gifts and the events at which they are exchanged are a crucial part of the essential process of creating and maintaining social relationships …”

While December is the biggest gift-giving month of the year around the world, there are endless reasons to give gifts throughout the year: personal gifts for birthdays, weddings, graduations, and holidays, as well as business gifts to say thank you for a job well done, congratulations on a promotion, or I’m sorry for not performing as expected.

The purpose of giving gifts is to bring joy to both the giver and receiver, promote goodwill, and make for a closer relationship. However, if gift-giving goes amiss, there is a risk of making the receiver uncomfortable and creating an unpleasant situation for both sides. To avoid any ill-effects from your gift-giving practices, keep in mind these simple tips:

WHEN YOU GIVE:

  1. Be sure of the true purpose of the gift. Beyond saying the gift is for a particular holiday or occasion, think through how well this gift will express your feelings for this person. To figure this out, ask yourself: How much do I really care about this person? How much time, energy, and money am I willing to spend to select just the right gift for him or her? Let the answers guide you throughout this process.
  2. Do your homework about the receiver. Be observant about his or her favorite items, things he or she might need, or things that would be a meaningful expression of your relationship. Try to remember comments about favorite colors, foods, or beverages. As needed, ask someone else who knows the person, explaining that the purpose of your inquiry is to help learn something that will help you select a special gift. I think most people are willing to help with ideas.
  3. Be sensitive to personal and cultural differences. With such a diverse population in our society, it is important to learn something about a person’s ethnic, religious, and cultural practices along with their personal likes and dislikes, before you present a gift. Take time to learn what’s appropriate and what’s not in different communities to gain insights on what a person would or would not appreciate as a gift. For example, giving a bottle of wine to someone who does not drink alcohol could make the receiver less than overjoyed with your gift.
  4. Know when corporate logos are appropriate. Some times a gift with a company logo cheapens its appearance. The best gifts are those without any company logos or promotion on it, especially when given as special thank-you gift. Logo gifts are fine as small tokens and remembrances for meetings held, not generally as the sincerest form of a thank-you gift.
  5. Use simple and elegant wrapping. Japanese-influenced, understated wrapping is best in my mind. Avoid using brightly colored, bold, heavily patterned paper and a lot of brightly colored, fancy bows and ribbons on the package. Use instead, solid stately colors and quality paper with simple ribbon.
  6. Present your gift with style. The best way to present a gift is always beautifully wrapped and in person. And when you do, present your gift held with both your hands as though you are holding it on a silver platter. This ritual is adopted from Asian culture to show the utmost respect and care. In business situations, when sending the gift by messenger or mail, include your business card with the gift, along with a handwritten note on personal note card or stationary.

WHEN YOU RECEIVE:

7.        Show your appreciation when receiving a gift in person. Always put a smile on your face as a gift is being presented. Receive the gift with both hands (again an influence from the Asian culture). Say thank you along with a brief expression of appreciation.

8.        Let the giver know as soon as possible when a gift has arrived. Make every effort to let the sender know you received a gift sent by mail or messenger (email, fax, or telephone call is fine). Then follow it up by sending the proper thank-you note as soon as possible (see item 10 for more details).

9.        Be sensitive to opening a gift in front of others. Americans typically open gifts as soon as it is received, even in front of an audience and other groups of people. Know that in many countries it is not customary or appropriate to open gifts in front of other people. They are kept to be opened alone. When receiving house gifts, special guest and speaker gifts, be sensitive as to whether you will or will not be encouraged and expected to open it right away.

10.     Know the bottom line. Always, always hand write a thank you note for every gift you receive, no matter what—regardless of whether you like the gift or not, even if you plan to exchange the gift or give it away. Simply said: Sending a thank-you note is the right thing to do. (see November 2004 Tip for additional information on writing thank you notes)

Happy Practicing!

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