John Ruhlin | Good Gift-Giving: Why It’s So Valuable (Episode 294)

“Most people feel underappreciated. So if you want to make huge jumps up the career ladder, start treating other people as if you own the company.” -John Ruhlin

The Cheat Sheet:

  • The artifact of the relationship: what does that mean and why should you know?
  • The 6:1 ratio: what it is and how to apply it for success in every area of your life.
  • True or False: he was good at gift-giving in business; terrible at gifting in his home life.
  • The wild tale of how John ended up in the ICU when he proposed to his now-wife.
  • The appreciation plan: what it is, how to do it, and why it’s important.
  • And so much more!

If you’ve ever been that guy who gave his wife or significant other a vacuum cleaner for your anniversary — and you thought it was a great present — then this episode is for you. John Ruhlin, our guest for show 294, has made a success out of understanding the art of appreciation and gift-giving.

In this episode, John talks to us about the secret behind his still-unbroken record as Cutco’s top salesman ever, how to be an amazing gift-giver, how gifting can open doors in business and personal relationships, how to apply gifting in business as well as your own relationships and marriage, how John nearly died proposing to his wife, and how to cultivate thoughtfulness and creativity in the gifting process.

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John’s career really began with the company Cutco. For those of you who haven’t heard of Cutco, it’s a cutlery company that has the (according to John) best-in-class knives. It’s been around for over 60 years and John still holds the record for most sales made. He attributes his success at Cutco and beyond with understanding the value in appreciating others through gift-giving.

So is there some secret to gift-giving that John stumbled on, or is it a superpower he was simply born with and has tapped into?

John says it’s very much a muscle that anyone can learn to flex and use with the proper preparation and focus.

Growing up, he was one of six kids on a farm in Ohio. His family never had a lot of money, so gifts were incredibly rare and special. But it wasn’t until he was in college and working for Cutco that he saw the true potential in the art of the perfect gift.

He approached his then-girlfriend’s father, Paul, who was known to be a generous gifter to his clients. John pitched him the idea of giving Cutco pocket knives to his clients. Paul asked if he could engrave the knives. John was puzzled. He agreed — if Paul would tell him why he wanted engraving. Paul’s response was: “If you take care of the whole family, everything else will take care of itself.”

What he learned from Paul was how to be memorable with clients, how to stand out with people who already get gifts, and how to gifting can make a considerable difference in all relationships — from business to personal.

A great example of how John would do this: he’d find a CEO he wanted to connect with, then the CEO’s wife name. He’d take a carving set and engrave the wife’s name on it. Then he’d write a note that would accompany the carving set; it would say: “Carve out five minutes for me; I promise it’ll be worth it.”

Naturally, John would land a meeting with the CEO. The CEO would be impressed with John’s youth and fortitude. John would further cement that strong impression by explaining to the CEO how they’d set up employee appreciation programs.

And John would typically get the CEO’s business.

Over time, John began to see that most of his clients were Type A businessmen — men who were terrible at gift-giving both at home and at work.

He realized he could capitalize on this by creating a company solely focused on appreciation and gift-giving. He has since trademarked the term Appreciative Leadership. Today, he and his team speak, teach, and consult for million-dollar companies to 20-billion dollar companies, as well as professional sports teams. They help these people understand and implement ways to stand out and be memorable in any and all facets of their lives.

So how do you apply gifting in your own business and personal relationships?

John says as humans we have to have something tangible by which to remember each other. Photographs are okay, but they tend to get put away and forgotten. A memorable gift, however, can stay with someone for a lifetime.

There is a subconscious effect of giving: we’re all built for reciprocity. Take a look at a meeting of any heads of state. When heads of state meet each other, they offer gifts. The item you give is a token of how much you value the relationship.

In business, how much is it worth to you to have your clients take your phone call? If it’s worth a lot, giving a memorable and thoughtful gift is the perfect way to assure they’ll pick up when you call.

In your romantic relationships, many women speak the language of gifts. If you really understand why women want a big ring when you get married, you’ll understand why they value presents so much. To them the ring you give her (and other gifts before and after), are a symbol of how much you value her. She feels validated every time she looks at that ring.

Even if you aren’t at the ring stage, a thoughtful gift will have a similar effect: if you give her something that shows you understand and cherish her, every time she sees that thing she’ll be left with that feeling.

And after you do get married, the gift-giving shouldn’t stop there. In fact, that should be the beginning. Marriage is much like running a business — it’s work, but it’s worthwhile in that you’ll get out of it what you put into it. And giving thoughtful gifts on special occasions and not-so-special occasions will be a worthwhile investment.

If gifts are so important, how can you start giving well?

John says to start by making a list of your key relationships on paper. Then jot down the short-term and long-term value (monetary if it’s a business relationship) of each.

Next you’re going to write down everything you know that makes them tick, brings them joy, their most important people, etc. The more info you have on them on paper, the more you’ll be able to do with that information when it comes to finding appreciation gifts.

John has a couple rules of thumb he follows.

  1. In business, he never gives a gift between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He says everyone gives gifts then and they’re always the same tired gifts of wine, fruit, etc.
  2. In his personal relationships, he says to pick at least two to three dates a year that are not birthdays, anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day occasions. Those are typical gift-giving days; you want to find a few atypical dates. These atypical dates are when you will send flowers, chocolates, or some other little memento to say “I love you; I’m thinking about you.” This is the only time you’re allowed to send the typical flowers and chocolate-type gifts. These surprise gifts will go a long way in your relationships.

There are plenty more gift-giving guidelines in this episode with John. Please join me in thanking him for being here and generously giving of his time, talents, and experiences. He’s a gold mine in every sense; I hope from now on your gifts reflect what you learned here with him!

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AJ Harbinger - author of 1049 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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