Whatever happened to giving without expecting anything in return? Isn’t that what a gift is supposed to be? Why do people attach strings to something that should just be a simple gift?
More and more lately I seem to be hearing stories about people giving gifts to others with the expectation of something in return. Whether it’s excessive praise, a return gift, attention, or a favor, some people expect reciprocation from the gifts they give.
Obviously, gifts don’t always have to be monetary. They can be services or favors, such as mowing someone’s lawn, watching someone’s children, or fixing something. They can also be time–going with someone to do something that you may not want to do, but the other person does.
Gifting in business is different. Everyone understands that sending a client a gift, or taking them to lunch or dinner is marketing–building a relationship in hopes of a return investment. However when expecting reciprocation after giving a gift to a friend or family member–unless they have expressly agreed to give you something in return, isn’t a gift–it’s commerce. You can’t buy someone’s affection with a gift (and if you can, are you really buying their affection?).
The art of taking is similar. If someone gives you a gift, the proper response is a simple “Thank You.” If you value this relationship, and are willing to invest in it, a gift in return to the other person can really help to cement a relationship.
But, get this straight–you are not under any obligation to give someone a gift back just because they gave you something. It’s a nice thing to do, and it creates an equal relationship, but if you are not interested in the relationship and the person is using gifts to try to ‘buy’ your affection, or to guilt you into something–if you can’t refuse the gift, refuse to give the person the reciprocation they are looking for.
Now if you’re in a situation where someone is giving all the time, and someone else is taking all the time, look at the dynamics of the situation. No one (except parents maybe – lol) should give more than they take and vice-versa. That is not a relationship built on mutual respect.
If you’re stuck in this situation, the answer is simple–stop giving. Now, if you’re in the complicated situation, where someone is giving all the time even though you’ve asked them not to, you’re not the bad guy. If someone is giving all the time, with strings attached, and you’ve asked them not to, you don’t need to feel guilty for accepting their gifts. All you can do is to ask them to stop–if they continue, that’s their own decision, and you don’t have an obligation to respond.
Some people use gifts as a way to guilt others. “Look at all I do for you.” Don’t allow them to play this game with you. And that’s exactly what they’re doing–playing a game called emotional blackmail. The only way to not keep playing the same game is to change the rules. If the person is not getting anything from you in return, they will eventually stop playing this game.
I think there are rules to giving and taking that we all know, but many don’t follow.
1. Always give freely, without expecting anything in return.
2. Take graciously, saying ‘Thank You,’ and writing a Thank You note or card when it’s appropriate.
3. When given a gift that was without any strings attached, consider returning that gesture in the same manner (when and if you can).
4. Never give too much or take too much. This creates an inequality in a relationship which will always lead to bad feelings on someone’s side.
5. Never allow yourself to be put in the middle of an emotional game, and if you’re in one, change the rules.
Finally, it’s important for a well-balanced person to be able to be both a gracious giver and a gracious taker, learning to give freely without expectation, and taking thankfully, with a follow-up note and/or a return gift when it’s appropriate. If someone has given you an expensive gift, and you don’t have the money to return the favor but want to, consider doing something nice for them or even giving the gift of plain old quality time.