Do you ever get a gift that’s almost what you want, but not quite?
People who know me know I don’t like books, as I wrote about in “Less, please“. Sometimes someone gives me a book. I don’t want it. I can get it from the library across the street from me. Now I have to feel weird selling to a bookstore for $5 something you paid $25 for.
What do you do about the mismatch?
You feel awkward, they see you as ungrateful…
If you thank them, they may buy you more of what you don’t want. Others may see and think you want more of what you don’t. You risk getting attached to this thing you don’t want. You want to thank them for their generosity.
If you don’t thank them, they might think you’re ungrateful.
On their part, they can’t help notice your awkward moment of figuring out how to respond.
… and it’s hard for either of you to resolve
There are ways to handle it, like clarifying that you appreciate the gesture and their intent but can’t accept the gift, but they’re socially challenging. The human brain is larger than any other animals’, and I hear a lot of its processing power is to handle social interactions.
The resentment can fester
Not handling it, in a close relationship, breeds resentment that can grow without release since, once the pattern of not discussing interests sets, it’s hard to overcome. One party feels unappreciated and wants not to give. The other feels misunderstood. It can happen in both directions. Yikes.
What to do about it as a receiver
An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure. Let people know what you like.
You can practice the speech praising the gift and them while politely refusing.
Beyond those two things, you can’t do much about other people’s behavior.
What to do about it as a giver
You have a lot more control over what you do as the giver since the giver takes the initiative.
The answer is don’t give people gifts they don’t want.
To not give gifts they don’t want, you have to know what they want, which is a fundamental principle of leading effectively. Leading effectively comes from knowing their emotions, interests, motivations, and needs.
How not to learn their interests and emotions: assume. I don’t recommend this strategy.
How to learn their interests and emotions: ask them. Since many people feel vulnerable sharing their emotions, making them feel comfortable sharing their vulnerabilities takes skill. My leadership and sales courses cover in detail how to develop that skill, which is rewarding and fun. And creates comfortable, productive, rich, complex relationships.
For now, I recommend asking what people want before assuming.
Although I won’t complain about someone getting me a bottle of single malt.