How to handle an awkward Christmas gift situation, according to a neuropsychologist

We’ve all received one at some point – a gift you don’t like, or even hate.

But should you disguise your dismay so you don’t hurt the gift-giver’s feelings? Or is honesty the best policy, maybe so you can exchange the gift for something you actually want?

“Do it with as much kindness as possible,” advises neuropsychologist Dr Rachel Taylor, who explains that a recipient not liking a gift is the equivalent of saying no to something, and human beings are hardwired to dislike both saying and hearing no.

“If we say we don’t want a gift, it’s a huge no that we and the gift-giver are going to react to,” she says, explaining that if someone feels “disrespected or unvalued” by the gift they receive, it can spark a stress response leading to an emotional reaction, which may not be at all constructive.

“It’s ok to say no, I don’t think this gift is right for me, but we need to do it with style in order to get a win-win situation,” Taylor points out. She stresses that telling the truth is important, and suggests: “It’s more than ok to say to someone: ‘Thank you for the gift, but I’m not sure I’ll appreciate it, as it really isn’t anything I’d use’.

“This conveys a message and points out in a gentle way that although a gift is nice to receive, the wrong gift is a waste of resources.”

Taylor explains that just as it’s important to be kind when reacting to a gift you don’t like, it’s just as vital to be considerate when you give a gift, asking yourself what kind of response you want from giving it.

“Are you that bothered about whether it’s the right one or not?” she asks. “If you want to make a huge impact then the gift needs to be one with huge emotions that can be attached to it – so it’s not necessarily the most expensive, but it’s one that shows the receiver that you know who they are and what they’d value.”

Research has found that the best kind of gifts are experiences rather than things, Taylor adds. “Putting thought into organising an event that you know the other would enjoy would mean more and have a lasting effect, more so than getting something material.”

And if you go for something you think the recipient ‘needs’, while they might appreciate that the gift is practical, they’re unlikely to be blown away by it.

“Practical gifts are all well and good, but will not have the same emotional resonance as an experience out of the ordinary day-to-day routine,” observes Taylor. “We’ve all heard the phrase ‘it’s the thought that counts’ – and it really is, so we can all think about what the person we’re gifting to would really appreciate, rather than giving them a tokenistic ‘thing’ that will either get regifted, thrown away or donated to charity.”

5 golden rules of gifting

Here’s what Taylor believes is the secret to successful gifting – that won’t leave the recipient trying to kindly tell you they don’t like it…

1. Think why you’re gifting. What are you conveying in the whole symbolic act of gifting?

2. What emotions do you want to elicit? This will all be dependent on why you’re gifting.

3. Are you bothered about being appreciated (raising your value) or not?

4. How do you want your gift to be remembered?

5. What does this say about the type of gifter you are?