Learning Proper Etiquette of Colleague Gift Exchange

The Jeffersonian; December 18, 2001

by Bob Allen

Among the many subjects on which Carol Haislip and Cathleen Hanson of the International School of Protocol in Phoenix advise their business clients is the etiquette of holiday gift giving.

According to Haislip and Hanson, the "appropriate" gift will vary, depending on your knowledge of and familiarity with its recipient. "It's important to make sure you do not overstep the bounds of propriety," says Haislip.

A popular standby at the top of Haislip's and Hanson's "appropriate" list is any type of food.

"This can include a variety basket or a fancy box of candy," says Hanson. "If possible try to determine if the person has any religious or dietary restrictions before choosing the gift."

It also makes sense, she adds, to give something that can be shared. "For a client, something to share back in the office, such as cookies or candies can make them look good with their employees."

Wine or champagne are also on the "appropriate" list-if you're certain the recipient is not a teetotaler. (For that matter, even if they are abstainers, they can easily put a new name on the booze bottle and put it under their tree for someone who does imbibe!)

Another comfortably safe choice is a gift certificate to a store or restaurant, as are tickets to a show, or movie passes. A nice hardcover book also works, if it reflects a particular interest of the person getting it.

Something for the desk or office is also appropriate, depending on that particular person's position within his or her firm.

The International School of Protocol's caution list includes: anything that's too personal-like clothing, except for a scarf for women or a tie for men. Jewelry and cologne (unless you know the person wears that fragrance) can also leave the impression or inappropriate familiarity.

It's also a gaffe, says Haislip, to accidently or otherwise give the same gift two or more years in a row-particularly if it's something like an office clock or business card holder that a person normally only needs one of. She suggests keeping tract of to whom you give what each year to avoid possible redundancies.

Also to keep on the safe side, avoid gifts that spoil easily, like fruit baskets or flowers, if you don't know if the recipient is going to be in town during the holidays.

If can also be a gaffe and a miscue to give a Christmas oriented gift to someone who, for religious or cultural reasons, doesn't celebrate Christmas.

Haislip and Hanson also remind their clients that whatever they give should be elegantly wrapped, and if possible, presented in person.

"Be sure to include a personal note, reflecting your relationship with that person or company," says Haislip. "It is most appropriately written on a correspondence care-that's the flat heavy card."