Dave UlrichGuest Author

How to Become a Receptive Receiver in Gift Exchange and Work Settings

By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization

Every country or religious tradition has celebration days that include gift exchanges (Christmas, Ramadan/Eid, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, Diwali, and so forth). In this giving season of Christmas, I have been touched by the remarkable stories of generous people giving gifts as symbols of love in the form of material goods, personal attention, and acts of charity.

Gift-giving is a wonderful endeavor, and my wife and I have tried to give the “gift of giving” in teaching our children, grandchildren, and those we mentor to discover the joy of giving to others. We do this by giving them resources that they can then share with others.

Being able to give is a delight.

But I wonder if I am also a receptive receiver?

I come from stoic parents who served ceaselessly. After my dad retired, he did his “bread run,” picking up day-old bread and food from stores and distributing it to those in need, five days a week for 25 years. Mom was equal to his service with family and community. But when I ask my 94-year-old mother now how I can help her, she says, “I am fine” (even when she is not), never wanting to impose and finding it difficult to receive.

I realize that I (and others) am not always a receptive receiver of well-intended gifts for many reasons: not wanting to impose and valuing personal independence; avoiding obligations of reciprocity (I got a gift now I have to give one back); distrusting the motives of the gift giver; feeling awkward wanting a certain gift that we hoped someone would intuitively know that we wanted without asking, and simply being prideful in our autonomy by not readily receiving. Yet being a receptive receiver creates a more sustainable and balanced relationship.

So how can someone be a more receptive receiver when given gifts?

1.  Express gratitude.

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton do a brilliant job describing gratitude in their book Leading with Gratitude. Chester reminds us to simply say “thank you” when someone offers a gift. Thank you may be expressed in many ways:

  • An immediate and sincere expression of gratitude and appreciation.
  • A digital thanks with whatever connecting technology you use (email, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Slack, Twitter, etc.).
  • A written note. It is amazing what receiving a handwritten note means in today’s digital world. I have received thank you notes from those I admire and have cherished their gratitude.
  • A phone call to verbally express appreciation.

Having a grateful attitude and actions helps connect you to others.

2.  Think about the intent of the person giving you the gift.

Instead of focusing on the gift, think about how the giver might have thought about you in selecting the gift. What was the intent of the giver? How was the giver trying to be helpful to you? What did the giver feel about you that helps you better connect with the giver? A colleague gave me a signed copy of his book, hoping that his ideas might help me. My friend gave me a pen and Moleskine notebook, knowing that I like to take notes in my work.  In each case, the intent of the giver helped me be a better receiver.

3.  Use the gift as the giver intended.

Wear the clothing even if it is not your preferred style. Play the game even if you are not a game player. Try the food even if you don’t like fruitcake that much. Use the gift card to get yourself something you enjoy instead of something you need or your kids or partner need. Read (or at least skim) the book. When using the gift, have fond thoughts of the giver’s intent in giving you the gift. When I use my pen, I think of my friend and feel closer to him.

4.  Share the gift with others.

We once made the horrible mistake of re-gifting. We compounded the mistake by giving the original gift to the person who gave it to us (yikes!). I don’t mean to share gifts this way. Instead, be public about your appreciation for the gift. I have written thank you notes to student’s parents, colleagues’ spouses, and employees’ bosses celebrating the good work done for me. Wear the tie in public and tell others who gave it to you. Share the Christmas fruitcake at your New Year’s Eve party and tell others how grateful you are to share it. Display the book prominently on your bookshelf. Tell others how the pen is not just a pen but a symbol of friendship. Public statements of appreciation sometimes have even more impact than notes directly to the person.

5.   Learn about others from the gifts they offer.

Often the gifts others give you may signal what is most meaningful in their lives and can help you offer them more personalized gifts. If someone regularly gives you books, he or she must like books, so you can think about finding a book that would be meaningful to him or her—or whatever someone offers in food, clothing, or novelties. You will be able to better personalize gifts to others by learning from the gifts others give you.

6.   Simply enjoy the relationship.

Research shows that lifetime happiness comes from staying connected with close friends and being part of a caring community. Gift-giving and responsive receiving create symbolic and sustainable attachments that endure over time.

Since the work setting is so prominent in our lives, we can apply these ideas there. What does it mean for leaders to be receptive receivers with those they lead?

  1. Say thank you with real intent. Look for opportunities to express gratitude for work well done.
  2. Get to know the intent of your employees. Discover what your employees value and help them realize and live their values through their work contributions.
  3. Empower your employees by helping them use their talents, recognizing their gifts, and matching them to the right work assignments.
  4. Publicly acknowledge your employees for the work they do. Be “Teflon” in sharing success and “Velcro” is taking responsibility for mistakes
  5. Learn about those you lead by observing, listening, and paying attention to them not just as employees but as people.
  6. Delight in the relationships with those you lead. Look forward to connections and community at work because you receptively receive their relationship.

What happens when you are a receptive receiver?

After a lot of 360 assessments, coaching engagements, books, articles, and leadership training, I think that the simplest test of leadership is how often others leave an interaction with you feeling better about themselves.

Giving others gifts helps this positive feeling, but being a receptive receiver of others’ gifts to you reinforces a positive connection.

Hopefully, this holiday season allows you (and me) to be both a gracious giver and a gracious receiver in personal and professional settings.

Republished with permission and originally published at Dave Ulrich’s LinkedIn

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