December 8, 2011

Gifts: Ask Specifically What Your People Want!

Would Baby Jesus have appreciated that gold, frankincense, and myrrh a little more if He had actually requested them? Was He likely to think those gifts actually cost the Magi LESS than the Wise Men actually paid for them? Would the three kings have been better to offer a simple money gift? Might they have profited more – in this life and later – had they called ahead and asked Baby Jesus what He really wanted?

Ah, the season of giving! That complicated minefield of holiday gift-giving, where smiles and “appreciation” abound… at least on the surface. Underneath, well… that’s where things get tangled.

I recently encountered an intriguing study, titled “Give them what they want: the benefits of explicitness in gift exchange,” by Francesca Gino and Francis J. Flynn, published in Elsevier’s “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. “

While I can’t say I was really surprised by the researchers’ findings, several got my attention. And since it’s that time of year, I thought I’d share some of the highlights.
  • Recipients are most grateful for gifts they specifically request. They typically appreciate unrequested gifts less.
  • Givers believe (wrongly) that unrequested gifts – the kind that require special creativity -- will be appreciated at least as much as gifts that the recipients have specifically requested. Not very romantic, but… there you are. In fact, recipients consider requested gift MORE thoughtful and personal than unsolicited gifts.
  • When recipients request one specific gift – instead of a wish-list of items -- givers are more likely make the purchase.
  • Givers believe recipients prefer a specifically requested item more than a money gift. In fact, recipients prefer money more.
  • People believe their internal states are more apparent to others than they really are. This inclination can lead prospective recipients into thinking – wrongly – that givers will know what will be appreciated.
  • Since gift recipients are unlikely to express disappointment, gift givers may believe their offerings more appreciated than is actually the case.
 Check out the full report

Good luck with your holiday gift-giving!

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