John Ruhlin | Giftology (Episode 567)

John Ruhlin | Giftology (Episode 567)

John Ruhlin | Giftology (Episode 567)

John Ruhlin (@ruhlin) returns to share some of the best network-enriching tips from his book Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention — just in time for the holidays!

The Cheat Sheet:

  • How gifts and generosity make people at work want to help you.
  • How to become an attention broker and stand out above the noise.
  • How to get past a busy person’s gatekeeper and turn them into an advocate.
  • How you are wasting your “networking” dollars and time and what to invest in when it comes to relationships.
  • Why your significant other hates your gifts and what to do to make sure she or he is blown away by your future gift selections.
  • And so much more…


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Like a lot of people, you might dread the approach of a loved one’s birthday or the upcoming holiday season because you don’t know how to give thoughtful gifts. But if done well, giving gifts is a great way to deepen relationships, open doors, get promoted at work, and grow sales.

Professional gift consultant John Ruhlin rejoins us at The Art of Charm to share some of the best secrets from his book Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention. Enjoy this foray into going beyond perfunctory gift giving and actually providing value to the people on your “nice” list!

More About This Show

We’ve all been in the awkward position of trying to get a thoughtful gift for someone without really knowing where to begin. Maybe we don’t know the person very well. Maybe it’s a person who already seems to have everything. Or maybe it’s someone we feel as if we should know better — like a spouse at the approach of a silver wedding anniversary.

But for 16 years, professional gift consultant John Ruhlin and his company have been showing companies, sports teams, and other high level entities not only how to give, but how to give well — and now he shares what he’s learned with the rest of us in his book Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention.

At first glance, the business of gift-giving might seem like an odd livelihood. But the cluelessness most of us have experienced when trying to give meaningfully should illustrate the demand for such a business. John further explains the value in thoughtful gift-giving:

“We’re all human beings; human beings make decisions based upon how they feel. Emotional intelligence is really important…if people make decisions based upon how they feel — whether it’s your spouse, your boss, your cousin, your client — what you do to actually show gratitude or appreciation to them can be a big deal because people will judge you based upon how you’re showing appreciation.”

John says this goes beyond obligatory, event-based gift-giving. For more of an impact, we should be prepared to express our gratitude at times when it’s least expected. Sending your spouse a little gift “just because” gets a lot more mileage than what you give around Valentine’s Day or your anniversary because it shows you’re thinking of them even when you’re not obligated to by the numbers on a calendar.

In the business world, the same strategy applies. Giving a gift at a certain time of year because society tells you it’s appropriate — like sending a basket of artisanal jams to a prospective business client around the holidays — just makes it about you and checking off your obligations. But if you can pull off something seemingly random but simultaneously thoughtful — like sending the CEO’s wife a set of engraved knives on her birthday — it makes the act of gift-giving about them.

“Most lazy people in business will say, ‘Well, it’s the thought that counts. I sent them a Starbucks gift card,'” says John. “It’s not the thought that counts — it’s the thoughtful thought!”

Still, it’s understandable that we might be hesitant to go the extra step from thoughtful to thoughtfully thoughtful because we fear our efforts will be seen as inauthentic. So how can we gauge if this level of gift-giving is even appropriate to the state of our relationship with someone?

John says it’s important to ask yourself what your real intentions are. Are you trying to give something as a bait and switch or the first condition of a quid pro quo arrangement? That’s inauthentic.

“I think everybody has a desire for there to be profit in their business and doors to be opened and relationships to be deepened,” says John, “but most people have this short-term mindset — where I give this and it’s like a mousetrap. It better yield me this result.”

On the other hand, if you go into it as a preamble to a longer relationship from which you’re not expecting some form of instant gratification, you’re on the right track. Think of gift-giving as an expression of gratitude rather than a conditional string that demands reciprocation.

Consider this: if you’re lucky enough for the opportunity to take up 30 minutes of a busy person’s priceless time, sending them a small token of gratitude is already thoughtful and authentic. Think of any additional benefit that might result from such a gift as a bonus rather than equal reciprocity.

And if you’re meeting with world-class people, don’t be cheap about how you express your gratitude. “Gift like you mean it!” says John. If you sit down with Warren Buffett for an hour and you send him a $10 McDonald’s gift certificate, it’s going to be seen as more of an insult than if you’d sent a simple thank you note or nothing at all.

“You can actually spend money to have a negative consequence, and I don’t think people recognize that,” says John.

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm to learn more about a coffee mug John didn’t hate getting as a gift, how taking care of someone’s inner circle may be more memorable than giving them a gift directly, why what John calls practical luxuries make better gifts than merchandise branded with your company’s logo (with a few rare exceptions), how gifts given now have a funny way of being reciprocated in unexpected ways later (and not always by the original recipient), why giving “best in class” doesn’t have to bankrupt you, where gifting like a king will get you, why donating to a charity in someone’s name might be a fine relationship builder — but it’s not a gift, when gift-giving at a certain level becomes more noise than gratitude, how to apply these practices to personal gift-giving, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with John Ruhlin, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank John Ruhlin at Twitter!

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