How to Choose an Appropriate Gift
Buying the right gift can be tricky sometimes. Although we’d like to think it’s all about the spirit of giving and the thought behind the gift, there is actually a lot of diplomacy and social politics involved. Gifts can send a message, however subtle, so it’s important to make sure yours is sending the appropriate one.
The first thing to consider is the relationship between you and the person you are giving the gift to. Is this a close personal friend, or simply a friendly acquaintance? Is there some element of business involved that would indicate a need for a certain amount of professional distance? Is it a family member with whom you have had a rocky past? These are all factors that should influence your decisions about what gifts to buy, and if you feel uncertain you should absolutely take advice from other people in that particular social circle. Sometimes other people can give us the perspective we need when we’re too close to a situation to see it clearly.
Stay away from the boundary between a safe gift and a risqué one, unless you are a hundred percent certain that a slightly unconventional or racy gift would be met with a positive reaction. You may be pretty sure that you know your boss well enough to buy him silk boxer shorts, but is that a risk you want to take, especially with your job on the line (not to mention the possibility of giving him the wrong idea)? They may be very nice boxers, and you may very well mean nothing by it, but there’s no need to put yourself in a position where the intention of your gift could be misconstrued, especially when there is no shortage of more appropriate gifts for bosses. It’s probably a better and safer idea to get him a nice paperweight or something a bit more innocuous than underwear.
It may sound silly, but sometimes when we’re choosing a gift we have trouble predicting how a particular item will be received, and this is often influenced by our own feelings about the gift. If you find yourself drawn toward a particular item, it is easy to project those feelings and convince yourself that the other person will love it, too. Remember that this is not a gift for yourself, nor is it an item to help the recipient become the person you wish they were. Put yourself in the position of the person receiving the gift, and try to picture the sorts of things they would like, as opposed to the sorts of things you would like for them to have. Is your dad really that keen on great literature, or are you just buying him books because you wish he’d make an effort to read more? Make sure you are tailoring your choices based on reality rather than fantasy. No one likes to receive gifts that guilt them into doing something they don’t really want to do.
Likewise, consider the balance between personal and impersonal gifts, in the context of your relationship to the recipient. Many times family members or close friends can feel offended or shut out if they receive something from you that doesn’t indicate much thought or feeling on your part. Every person is different, though, and often age is a factor — younger members of the family such as nieces and nephews may love getting cash or gift certificates, whereas your mother or sister may not react so favorably to what seems like a payoff or an excuse not to have to get emotionally involved with them. So be careful, and be mindful of what you know of each person’s threshold for distance. People in your family or close circle of friends probably want something personal, whereas your coworkers at the office would be more comfortable if you just brought some cake or cookies in for everyone to share.
With the holiday season coming up, you have a great chance to make some informed choices about what to buy for the people on your list. Consult friends and family, and keep your ears open for any hint of what might be a great gift. Always be aware that you are trying to make the other person happy, not uncomfortable or confused about your intentions, and if you play your cards right, you might be the most popular gift-giver of all this year.