All over the world, giving gifts to build relationships and show people our appreciation is a regular part of life. It can be pretty easy to accept a gift, but having to decline one can be multitudes more difficult. It’s just not something that people finding themselves having to do, so we don’t have much experience in how to politely refuse a gift.
Regardless, sometimes a gift should be declined, and it’s important to handle the situation in the correct way. The most common reason a gift needs to be declined is because it is overly generous. This can apply to both professional and personal exchanges. If a client or business associate tries to give an overly generous gift, it can be necessary to decline to avoid the look of impropriety to others. A personal gift, especially one that appears to be romantic in nature, can also be a problem when there is a clear imbalance between the feelings of the giver and received. If a gift is meant to signify love or other feelings that aren’t reciprocated, then the gift should not be accepted.
Depending on your company, there may be further rules for what types of gifts are appropriate. If rules exist, make sure to review those before accepting anything from outside business contacts. As a general rule of thumb though, gifts of a crass or sexual nature should almost never be accepted in a business setting.
When you do find it necessary to decline a gift, try to remember these pointers. Start by thanking the giver for their thoughtfulness. Express your regret for declining the gift and provide some explanation why you can’t accept. Return the gift to the giver in a manner that conveys respect for the gift.
Depending on whether the gift was received publicly or privately can also impact how you should return it. Overall, you are trying to avoid embarrassment for the giver, but you may also need to make sure it is publicly know that you decline a gift. Make sure to report declined gifts to your company so they know about the occurrence.
Think Twice Before you Decline
In certain cases it can be pretty clear you shouldn’t accept the gift, when it’s a overly generous or innappropriate considering your relationship with the giver. However, other times it may not be as easy to be sure you shouldn’t accept the gift. Gift giving, by it’s nature, can also be a very emotional and important way for somebody to express their love and caring for you. It can be heartbreaking to hear that someone does not want to receive your gifts, and by extension your love. So, make sure you think twice before you tell somebody that you can’t accept their gifts.
Sorry, but not Sorry
In some Asian cultures, it is just part of gift receiving etiquette to decline certain gifts several times before ultimately accepting. In Japan, you should decline once or twice before accepting. In Mainland China, they expect exactly three refusal until you agree to accept. In Hong Kong and Taiwan it’s also expected to refuse at least a few times to not seem greedy.
Even in the US, we often use phrases like “Oh, you shouldn’t have”, or “I can’t accept this” all while admiring the gift we are actually quite happy to take. It is in a way just confirmation that you do indeed recognize the thoughtfulness and value in the gift you are receiving. Some modesty should shown when accepting generous gift, but try not to play it up to much or you may sound insincere.