Declining Gifts with Grace - Saying No Thank You

No thank you - letterpress card by letterarypressWhy saying no thank you might be easier than you think.

After reading my past piece, When Someone Declines and Returns A Gift You Gave, many coming to Gave That have been wondering about the flip side of such a tricky situation. Specifically how to go about saying no to a gift and giving it back? Fortunately the answer to that is rather simple, it's when you probe into why a gift should be returned that things can get murky. First, tackling the easy part of the dilemma, saying no thank you.

That really is all you have to to do. Most of us know about K.I.S.S. and this is the perfect time to stick to that sage advice... keep it simple and stay away from anything drawn out. This shouldn't be a melodrama. A quick, I'm sorry but I cannot accept this or you're very kind but no thank you is all there is to it. The need to explain away why you came to this determination is not necessary. Stand firm. Those who truly care about you will fully understand and move on, as seen in the comments left in our past article. It's those who may be showing inklings of a darker nature that will try to manipulate the situation or demand an explanation so that they can counter and show you that you're mistaken and wrong. As the classic etiquette book by Vogue states: "The one thing to avoid (when refusing gifts) is indecision.".

As already mentioned above when to say no can be very gray in nature. When in doubt go with your gut feeling. Listen to it. Unless yours is deeply compromised and has led you down the wrong path in the past (for this professional help might be needed to realign it), let it be your guide. According to a number of researchers and the much buzzed The Luck Factor, book author and physiologist Richard Wiseman explains that those who are some of the most successful in life know how to listen to their intuition and instincts. If you feel uneasy when presented with a gift and something deep is saying give it back, do just that. Declining gifts can be part of setting healthy boundaries in life, for more on this watch this video by one of my favorite YouTuber's, holistic psychotherapist Victoria Lorient-Faibish.

Another help is etiquette itself which can act as a buffer to situations that can turn very bad later on. In my past piece, How To Say No To Gifts, some of the most popular reasons why (some tongue & cheek) you should say no were covered. These include declining expensive gifts from coworkers or a boss which may be seen as fraternization or turn into sexual harassment (for more on this see this from etiquette expert Emily Post). Another major breach of etiquette is to except gifts from someone who is clearly romantically interested in you but, in your heart, know will never have such feelings returned.

In most cases accepting expensive gifts from someone you have just met and do not fully know is to be treated with extreme caution. Some cases have shown those who seem incredibly generous with gifts are actually deeply controlling in relationships and looking to create obligations. This can include constantly telling someone how their gift should be used, when to use it and if not in the way the giver intended or enough thanks given, belittling and demeaning behavior ensues. The gift recipient is then branded as ungrateful and all sorts of badmouthing results. They might even use anything given as a way to continue contact once things have ended and you've removed yourself from the situation.

In private eye Gavin De Becker's book Gift of Fear he cautions to think about the possible future ramifications of your actions and how accepting things and drawing out the giving back process can end up facilitating stalking. Showing how a simple no thank you with as little emphasis placed on it as possible and moving on can be the best answer to everything.

The Breakup. Another common question is do I have to return gifts once a relationship ends? In the olden days etiquette dictated that expensive gifts went back to the giver if they were "romantic" in nature--right down to love letters so that, if need be, they could be burned by the writer. Nowadays this has become less cut & dry. Although, even way back in the 1600's this was cause for debate (see 32 Questions on Love here). During recent conversations someone pointedly said, "why would you want to keep something from such a painful experience? It will always remind you of it and them.". My sentiments exactly if it was indeed painful but just because something romantic ends does not automatically mean pain was involved. There are often delightful relationships which are moments in time and a gift in themselves. I guess that can be the decisive factor... negative, positive or memories attached to gifts that are holding a person back. I actually found the remnants of someone who did this right here, with the stung receiver of the returned gift keeping it for a lifetime.

Again the advice from Gavin De Becker above finds itself very pertinent to these situations as I've seen many cases go into retaliatory litigation, begging the questions, is it really worth it? Probably not. Also look at the laws regarding broken engagements and returning rings which from an etiquette point of view was always returned to the groom (or giver).
In a similar vain to the breakup above is the need to return and say no thank you to gifts if a wedding is called off. Lillian Eichler Watson writes in her etiquette book, "If wedding presents have been received from friends these also must be returned (along with expensive gifts, letters and the engagement ring back to the groom) with a brief note explaining that the wedding is not to take place. It is necessary to thank the donor as warmly as if nothing had happened." She goes on to say, "It takes a great deal of courage to face the situation bravely and to go through without a sacrifice of dignity. One thing must be remembered: Don't be afraid of what people will say. It is not their happiness which is at stake. "

One more area that seemed appropriate to include here too are gifts and favors from what VOGUE's vintage etiquette book deemed as professionals. Think lawyers, doctors, but also a mechanic or DJ. Nowadays it seems everyone mentions hitting up a friend in the business and using their services, probably pro-bono but this was seen as a major no-no back in the day... this is what VOGUE says on the matter of needing to decline offers of professional advice or services:

"[a] favor not [to] request or accept if it is offered, is professional advice or services. A professional's... time, talent, and training are worth money and [they] should never be expected to give it away." 
Sending a check for their going rate and leaving it up to them to cash or not can help decline unexpected professional services. People who were truly giving out of loving kindness will understand but, as above, those who are looking to obligate will also get the message and don't be surprised if they cash the check.

A Reason Not To Decline a Gift
One reason some grapple with the need to decline gifts is because they feel unable to give a gift in return. When it comes to giving and western etiquette this is a non-issue. You are not obligated to give a gift in return, for more read this. Deciding to pass on a white elephant or secret Santa gift game is totally understandable but declining gifts out of fear of having to give yourself could be putting up walls and rebuffing loving kindness coming your way. 

"Some people are cheerful givers, but bad receivers. They refuse gifts through pride, or some negative reason, thereby blocking their channels, and invariably find themselves eventually with little or nothing. There is always the perfect balance of giving and receiving..." -Florence Scovel Shinn
When people give you things for genuine, loving reasons there is zero expectation of repayment in kind. The act of giving is good enough and may be a form of thank you for something meaningful one has done previously.

"Give generously - and receive graciously." -Valorie Burton

Image:Letterary Press These delicate letterpress cards are perfect and even a tad bold for when you rather send your sentiments and return through the post.

Also Read:
- Can I Ask For My Gift Back?
- Return To Sender
- Do I Have To Give A Gift In Return?
- 32 Questions on Love (3 of which are on gifts)


Patrick Yeoh said…
Thank you for this blog. Saying "no" to a gift had never seemed to be an option, especially in certain cultures, and also due to individual personalities. It's good to read about not only how, but why, one should decline a gift.
Nourish PT said…
Hi. What do you do when a family member who is capable of working, but refuses to do so, gives you back the Christmas gift you gave them, 3-4 months after the fact...and requests that you return it for cash and pay one of their bills instead?
Anonymous said…
Lieben dank für die Ausführliche Darstellung echt einige gute Anregungen wieder dabei.

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