What’s the best way to pick a gift for someone?

Studies at Stanford reveal you should stop trying to be creative and just get them what they want:

Findings revealed that recipients appreciated receiving items from their wish list more than unsolicited items, and perceived the requested items to be more thoughtful and considerate. But in direct contrast, the givers thought that recipients would be more impressed with unsolicited items.


A fourth study showed that when recipients were explicit about one particular gift they would prefer to receive, gift givers were more accurate in predicting that they would appreciate that gift more than an alternative, unrequested gift. “Givers seem to be relatively more receptive to a specific suggestion than to a list, which may be important for us to note if we want to give others clear advice on what gifts to get for us,” says Flynn.

A fifth study further showed that recipients actually appreciated money more than any item they initially requested –– even though givers assumed money would be the least favored gift.

The research shows that going the extra mile to be more thoughtful can actually backfire, if being thoughtful means ignoring others’ direct requests. Sticking to what people say they want will elicit stronger feelings of thanks. “In the business context,” says Flynn, “this means, for example, listening carefully to what the customer or your employees tell you they want and not trying to guess instead.

The work emerges from Flynn’s previous research on misperceptions in gift giving. In another study, he and colleagues found that although most gift givers assume a more expensive present will be more appreciated, recipients don’t appreciate expensive gifts that much more. This translates to the business insight that companies do not necessarily have to be extravagant in rewarding employees for a job well done. Salespeople need to understand how customers respond to their offers. Negotiators need to predict how parties will react to concessions in order to resolve conflicts.

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