To Give or Not to Give? That Is the Question

December 10, 2018 9:00 am Published by

Many of us are (belatedly) starting to think:

          “I’d like to get my boss (or colleague) a gift for the holidays, but what? I don’t want it to look like I’m trying to gain my boss’ favor.  But I don’t want just to give her some token ‘something’ that will look schmaltzy.

          What could I get her?”

I’m going to give you some things to think about, some of which may surprise you.

First, consider not giving a gift now. Wait, and give them a meaningful gift later, after you have taken time to consider and explore.  Thoughtless gifts—those gifts bought hastily in response to tradition or a feeling of obligation—with no real personal investment of time or reflection, not only miss the mark but also communicate a negative message. The gift seems to be a perfunctory act and not a real expression of appreciation. Such gifts do little to positively impact others.

I’ve recently started a friendship with John Ruhlin, and he has written a very thought-provoking book entitled, Giftology, through which he has opened my eyes to the positive ways of giving gifts in business relationships.

Unfortunately, in most work settings, the way gifts are given (as well as what is given and when they are given) reinforce my negative view of gifts in the workplace – they are either token (without meaning) or self-serving (a form of advertising through logo-laden items) or manipulative.

One of the key points John makes is that a gift has more impact when it is not expected — when it arrives as a surprise.  Giving a gift now (the Christmas season) is not going to surprise anyone.  So, wait – maybe until the second half of January.

Secondly, as an alternative, write them a note. Not just any “thanks for being my boss” note, but one where you take some time to think about:

  1. what you want to say – what do you value about them (how they treat you & others, what they do that makes your daily work easier, character qualities they have that you admire);
  2. how you want to say it – think about the words you use, choose them carefully, maybe even utilize a thesaurus to find synonyms of words you usually use;
  3. the way the message is conveyed – if you are like me (my handwriting is terrible), you may want to type it and print it on nice paper; for others, a nice handwritten note is special; or include a picture that conveys part of the message.

Next, take the time and effort to find them a gift that they would enjoy.  It may or may not be a “thing” – it could be an experience (tickets to an event or sporting event they would really like; gift card to a nicer restaurant than they typically would choose.  A truly impactful gift is one that shows you took some time and effort to get a gift that would be meaningful to them. 

Finally, spring the gift on them at a time they wouldn’t expect it (and watch their joy-filled, surprised response!).

There is a lot more to say, and advice to give about giving gifts well within the context of a business relationship.  Rather than repeat what has already been well-said, go buy Giftology by John Ruhlin.  I sincerely doubt anyone will be disappointed.


P.S. I will have more to say in 2019 about gifts and how they can more successfully be used in communicating appreciation to colleagues when the giving is done correctly.


During the month of December, we are selling The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace for $10.99 ($6 off the regular price). Just click the link to learn more.

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December 10, 2018 9:00 am

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