At some point we’ve all given and received the equivalent of the pink bunny suit that Ralphie is forced into in “A Christmas Story.”
A strained “I love it!” may perpetuate the cycle.
Kerry Patterson, co-author of the best-seller “Crucial Conversations” (McGraw-Hill), said the subject of gift-giving is one such conversation, particularly within families. Following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q: How do you weigh your affection for the giver against how violently you hate their gift they give you?
A: It sometimes is an issue of consequence trade-off. Is it more important that I have the right gift or make them feel good? But the issue becomes moot the better we get at speaking up without harming the relationship. The first thing is, I express my appreciation for the fact they gave the gift. I’m not faking anything there. A generic, “I really, I can’t believe you would do this for me” will do.
Q: What about when mom or your spouse wants to see you wearing the gift?
A: Focus the response on yourself, as in, “You know, I’m kind of quirky about what I wear. I would probably prefer this in blue, and if you don’t mind, I’ll swap it out.” You let them know it’s you, not their choice.
Q: Our family does a gift drawing each Christmas. This year, one relative gave a charming seastar chip-and-dip set and got a Ouija board in return. Funny, but it doesn’t seem quite fair.
A: In ongoing familial relationships, if you haven’t had a discussion as a family (about gift protocols), you’ve missed an opportunity to say, “I know we’re all good at finding things that people want, but there are going to be times when we miss. It would make a lot of sense if we include a receipt.” You have to agree together it’s not an insult. Always choose positive language. It’s all done out of love and respect.
Q: What about when a spouse gets in a gift rut?
A: This happened with my wife. She said, “You’ve been giving me this sterling silver. I have all I could ever wear. I’d like to move it in this direction if I could.” I found that very helpful. . I wasn’t embarrassed. This whole, “I can’t speak to them,” it’s making a sucker’s choice - that either I’m going to insult or live with the consequence. How about, “I’m going to speak and not hurt their feelings. I’ll be caring and informative and grateful for what they’ve done.”
We’ve written whole books on this. People are frightened to speak for fear of offending. People move to silence because they think bad things will happen. Then they hold it, and then it moves from silence to violence because we haven’t learned to speak our mind honestly without offending. These conversations, they are crucial in every form of our life.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.