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The difference between gift giving and gift exchange


It's the holiday season, and that always makes me think of the confusion that people have about what gifts to give, who to give them to, and whether a client is a client or a friend, and if clients should get gifts, or if your clients should send a gift, or well, lots of other things that can give you a headache around the holidays.

But actually it's very easy once you understand the difference between gift giving and gift exchange.

I'll start with gift exchange, because that's what most people worry about. And since it's a business-like way of acting, it's important to think about appropriate budgets, and whether the party of the second part will be spending a certain amount of money on you, which to be reciprocal, you should should match as closely as possible. People who are very good at business are very good at gift exchanges. Like any other business transaction, it's about keeping track of things, writing them down, and double-checking that everything balances, like debits and credits. And if exchanging gifts, or even sending cards, around the holidays is part of your business model (or personal model) it's critical to keep track and keep the exchange within a strict parity. If you know what the word "parity" means, you have probably studied business, and are comfortable with this.

Since most people aren't very good with this type of business-like exchange, gift exchange can be confusing and difficult. And that leads to gift giving, which is much easier.

Gift giving isn't an exchange. And because of that, there's no reason to keep track of whether the two parties have parity. There's no need to try to figure out what the value in return will be, because there's no thought of return. For people like, who have difficulty keeping track of things, this is wonderful. I'm not a big gift-giver (ask my friends) but when I do, I don't expect a gift of equal-or-greater value in return. I don't check to see if they liked the gift, or they're using it. I don't check to see if the gift has been re-gifted. It's just too much work for someone like me.

If someone is giving you a gift, whether a friend or a client, there's really no reason to hit the panic button and try to figure what to give in exchange. Exchanging is a business practice, gift giving isn't.