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December 9, 2017

Gift- Giving Season Without Conflict: 5 Tips AND a New Year Challenge!

Surprisingly often we find ourselves in conflict with others about giving and receiving gifts. Gift giving seems like it should be simple and conflict-free.  We are making an effort to positively acknowledge another person with a gift.  However many of us have found it’s not that easy.

Woven in with the other social challenges of families and workplaces at this time of year there is the challenge of giving gifts. Recent discussion in the media about giving cash gifts with strings attached got me thinking about the complexity of gift-giving. 

Many retail businesses survive because of the spurt of purchases in the holiday gift-giving season. After all that’s the origin of the name Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S., to recognize the day that the bottom line in retail business shifts from red to black. Gift giving is big business. It is estimated that Christmas gifts account for 5% of all consumer spending and about 8% of a family’s annual budget may be spent on Christmas gifts. Let’s not forget the other celebrations at this time of year which may include giving gifts, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. That’s a lot of resources invested by gift-buyers.  Added to that is the effort and time invested in choosing and making gifts that cannot be valued with money.

Family members are the people to whom many of the gifts are given. According to Psychology Today, December 2016, “Four-fifths of all gifts given by adults over the year are Christmas gifts. Four fifths of all Christmas gifts are given to relatives, especially close relatives.  No wonder the choosing and buying of Christmas presents is such a big ordeal for so many and for such a long time.”(my emphasis)

Based on my experience as a mediator and dispute resolution professional, and as a giver and recipient of gifts, here are five tips to help navigate gift-giving season with less conflict.

1. Less is more

Don’t spend more to try to get them to like the gift (or you) more. At this time of year we are surrounded by advertising messages that encourage us to spend.  In contrast this is such an old concept that there is the popular wisdom of a proverb to illustrate it: "Small gifts make friends, great ones make enemies".  

 Modern research supports this. Studies found that there is “no relationship between the cost of a gift and the extent to which it is liked or preferred. The best predictor of how much a gift is appreciated is the amount of time, mental and physical effort put into choosing, making or preparing it.” 

 Think about some of the gifts you have received which you value most. A drawing from a child or a favourite food made by a grandmother are often the type of gifts that make us smile even many years later.

 2.  Enjoy the giving.

Giving a gift is an opportunity to express your bond with the recipient. Remember the gift includes your time and effort in choosing or making the gift.

There is no obligation to give a gift. If there’s an obligation it’s not a gift. The gift captures our effort to observe the recipient, and to choose a gift they want, or even better, a gift they didn’t know they wanted.

What you are really giving is your thought, the emotion you feel for that person. The action or the item is the representation of the thought.

Psychologists say it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift, according to a 2007 article in the New York Times.

 3. Let go.

When you give, you have to let go. No strings attached. After the gift has been given, the giver has no more attachment to it. It’s not yours anymore!

Your gift might be as small as cookies you baked or as large as a new car. When they receive your gift, they can eat the cookies or throw them out. They can drive the car or sell it. And if your gift is cash, it’s up to them to decide what to do with it.

The only part that you get to keep is the happiness that giving brings you. See # 2. 

 4.  You know what gift you gave. You do not know what gift they got.

Dr SunWolf succinctly described the paradox of gifts. “I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received.”

Consider your gift from the eyes of the recipient, as much as you can. How the recipient interprets your gift may be based on factors unknown to you and not within your control. Your brown paper wrapping to be planet-friendly may signal to them that you do not value the relationship very much because an ex in high school gave them an unpleasant gift wrapped in brown paper. Your gift of expensive jewellery to someone you met a couple months ago, may be seen as a level of commitment that is not shared.

  5.  Receive graciously.

 When you receive a gift, it is important to recognize the giver’s thought for you that is captured in the gift. If you make comments like “That’s too much”, “You shouldn’t have“, or “I didn’t want anything”, the underlying message the giver understands may be that you do not want their love. 

 If you receive a gift with a genuine, “Thank you”, and acknowledge the thought behind the gift, it allows the giver to feel the positive emotions that motivated them to give you the gift in the first place.

 In return for their gift, you give them back the gift of your thought and love for them.


Following these 5 tips is a good start to reducing holiday gift-giving conflict.


 New Year’s Challenge:  Do one small thing! 

What is one small thing you can do that will make a big difference for someone close to you?

You can start small. You can start today.   What change can you make that will create a big difference for someone close to you?   It might be stopping small annoyances with common sources of conflict like toothpaste tubes and toilet paper rolls.  It might be something more important like helping them out with chores.  It might be stopping smoking or getting more exercise or helping them to do that.  You might not even tell them that you have made this change, just let them experience the difference you made.  Think outside the box!  Likely this will be something that is not captured in a box or in the statistics about the economic impact of gift-giving season. 

Imagine what a positive impact you could have on the people close to you if you could do one small thing that will make a big difference for each one of them.

That’s the challenge I invite you to embrace for 2018!


Join us in London, Ontario, Canada for Fundamentals of Mediation on March 21, 22, 23, 26, & 27, 2018. Click here for more information.



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