Are you good at buying the perfect gift for others? Now what if I asked you to rate the gift giving ability of others? You would probably remember some awful gifts. The fact is we're just not that good at buying gifts for others. Thankfully, some researchers have discovered a way to improve your ability to give people a gift they are more likely to appreciate.
Research consistently shows that many individuals are poor gift givers, “often purchasing gifts that others would not choose to buy themselves or focusing on the wrong criterion when attempting to select a meaningful gift.”
A survey by the National Retail Federation shows that over 50% of Americans anticipate returning at least one holiday gift every years. That doesn't even include the re-gifts.
If you're about to give someone a gift in the hopes they will return the favor you better make sure they appreciate the gift you're about to give them. A person receiving a gift they appreciate is more likely to reciprocate.
In a fascinating study, researchers Francesca Gino and Frank Flynn (2011) investigated the role of explicitness in gift giving. Should you tell others explicitly what gifts you want? Should you buy gifts that others tell you they want? Is such transparency effective, or are gift givers wary that gifts directly requested by gift recipients will be appreciated less than unsolicited gifts?
In anthropological studies, gift-giving is often described as a social exchange process, rife with symbolic meaning and interpersonal subtleties. Accepting suggestions for gift purchases from the intended recipient could be interpreted as a sign that the giver does not know the recipient well enough to identify a meaningful gift or does not wish to spend the time and effort needed to ﬁgure out what such a gift might look like. As a result, the gift would be perceived as impersonal, rather than as a sign of commitment to the existing relationship. …
In gift exchange, gift givers may fail to pay close attention to what a gift recipient directly requests. Instead, they may believe that purchasing an unrequested item will signal a sincere concern for the recipient because of the effort they have made to identify a seemingly appropriate gift, thus rendering the gift more personal and thoughtful. Yet gift recipients may be frustrated when givers do not take note of their explicit suggestions. Gift recipients will likely consider gifts they requested as more thoughtful and considerate of their needs than those not requested because the former indicate that the giver is attentive and responsive.
Gino and Flynn conclude with some advice on giving gifts that people appreciate while saving yourself some time and money in the process:
In this paper, we focused on gift exchange as a unique social context and suggested that gift givers cannot accurately predict how recipients will react to their gifts, even when recipients give them explicit information about what they want (i.e., registries, wish lists, etc.). We demonstrated that gift recipients are more appreciative of gifts chosen from a set of desired items than they are of alternative gift choices, but that gift givers believe both types of gifts will be equally appreciated (Studies 1–3). While gift givers often go the extra mile to be more thoughtful (e.g., they choose a gift not included on a pre-established list), they do not realize that sticking to the list would actually come across as more thoughtful and therefore elicit stronger feelings of appreciation. We also identified two important boundary conditions: identifying a specific gift and using money as a gift. When the recipient explicitly highlights his or her preferred gift, givers are relatively more receptive to such a specific suggestion (Study 4). In addition, although givers believe that recipients do not appreciate money as much as receiving a solicited gift, recipients feel the opposite about these two gift options (Study 5).
Read the full study.
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Gino, F., & Flynn, F. (2011). Give them what they want: The benefits of explicitness in gift exchange. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 915-922.
Goldstein, Noah (2011). What Research Says About The Perfect Gift. Inside Influence Report, 10-Aug-2011