How to reject a gift (bribe?)?
January 17, 2017 8:49 PM   Subscribe

I just got a very personal gift(TM) from someone in my company. This kinda feels like a bribe, because she's always asking for work favours. I want to not accept it, but nicely.

The gift was a tin of cookies and a pair of underwear. The underwear might be a bit weird but we work in a retail fashion company overseeing multiple brands and one of them is Victoria’s Secret, and she is in the team for that. I appreciate the gift, but at the same time it smells like a bribe especially in light of recent experiences working with her. I work with her a lot, and often she takes things for granted, doesn’t work according to SOP but expects everyone to cater to her. Accepting the gift would make me feel obligated to cater to her, which puts me in a very uncomfortable position.

I don’t want to accept the gift, but there are several complications:
- Her office is in a different country. She somehow sent the gift through another colleague who travelled between our two offices. Not sure how to reject the gift because she’s hundreds of miles away.
- She’s in a higher position than I am although I don’t report to her. We are in different teams but our teams work closely together.
- She might be a nice person outside of work, and the gift might have been given with pure intentions (unlikely). I still feel uncomfortable accepting it.

So, my question is how do I reject the gift gracefully? I don’t want to embarrass her or hurt her feelings, but she needs to know that I don’t take gifts in exchange for favours. We communicate by email only.
posted by milque to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I appreciate the gesture, but due to our personal relationship, I have to decline your gift. Thank you.
posted by Fister Roboto at 8:53 PM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Since your colleague is in a different country, and since this sounds like a relatively low-value/work-related gift, and was given in public (via the travelling colleague), I am wondering if this gift possibly has a different meaning for your colleague than it does for you?

You might want to think about and/or investigate the cultural practices around gift-giving in the workplace/among colleagues in the country where this person works. I can think of at least a few countries where giving this kind of gift would be pretty normal, and might more appropriately be interpreted along the lines of courtesy/politeness or thanks, definitely not bribery.

Not saying this is definitely the case, by any means, but something to consider before you refuse the gift.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:09 PM on January 17, 2017 [47 favorites]

Given the geographical constraints and the way the items came to you, I don't think you reject them. Your brief email thanks her for the cookies, which you specify were shared with your team/the office. You make no mention of the pair of underwear (which, I can't even? Sizing, personal taste, professional appropriateness?!?! it's still weird, despite your industry, so just donate them), and you still say no to whatever you want to say no to going forward.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 9:10 PM on January 17, 2017 [68 favorites]

I don't think you can reject it gracefully - are you really going to mail underwear back to another country??

Instead, consider it a thank you for actions done, rather than a bribe for the future?
posted by Toddles at 9:25 PM on January 17, 2017 [21 favorites]

Are the things she wants you to do unethical? Or just inconvenient because they don't follow established protocols?

If they're unethical, you need to stop actually doing them, regardless of the gift. Perhaps use this as an opportunity to discuss with your manager the best way to deflect her requests while maintaining a strong working relationship.

If they're just inconvenient, you can think of it as a thank you gift, rather than a bribe if that makes it easier for you. I'd agree with furtive_jackanapes that you share the cookies with the team and make it clear that you have done so, so that the whole thing stays very out in the open.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:31 PM on January 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Cookies seem like a "Thanks for what you've done!" gift that happens, especially around the holidays (maybe she's a bit late at getting it to you, figuring the colleague was a good delivery vehicle). The underwear is weird, I grant you, but since that's her account probably still along the lines of stocking stuffer.

Can you check with the deliverer (or anyone) to get a better sense of what's going on and how to best proceed wrt your company's policies and cross-cultural differences?
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:33 PM on January 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm with others above who wonder if you're misreading this - I'd interpret it as a gift of appreciation for past help, rather than some sort of bribe for future obligations. Just say thanks and forget about it.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:03 PM on January 17, 2017 [10 favorites]

Rejecting the gift is going to come across as hostile. Are you sure that's what you want to do?

Accepting a small gift keeps things on polite terms and obligates you to nothing.

As recommended above: thank her for the cookies, ignore the underwear, and keep right on not catering to her.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:07 PM on January 17, 2017 [16 favorites]

I think it would be too much trouble to return the gift, and it sounds like it's a small one to begin with. Send her quick and cordial emailed thank-you, and do not do anything out of the ordinary that could be construed as catering to her whims or giving her special treatment. She might be annoyed, but the odds that she will actually go so far as to push the issue of "I thought my small tin of cookies and random pair of underwear would curry favor with you; how dare you ignore this" is rather small.

Now, if she escalates the gifts or they continue, then I think there should be an effort to draw a line. In the meantime, yeah, share the cookies and donate the undies.
posted by delight at 10:34 PM on January 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yup, share the cookies around, and tell her you did so. Don't mention the underwear, because wtf.

However, if she's in a different country, she probably has different expectations and cultural norms about gifts. She may indeed see it as essentially a bribe, or a thank you, or just a thing that is done at Chinese New Year. Or late Christmas. And she may interpret your response completely differently to how you intended. I absolutely would not reject the present, as who knows what damage you could cause the relationship.
posted by kjs4 at 10:44 PM on January 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

Act like this gift was not for you, it was for the office. How thoughtful of her to send the box of cookies to everyone in the office in your country. We all had a look at that beautiful sample pair of Victoria's Secret blue lace crotchless cocktail panties and agree that they are the most exquisite design. We shall enjoy showing them to clients to show them what high fashion dainties you are able to source for us.

Keep it professional, keep it impersonal. She probably has a budget for this kind of thing and considers it an expense, like the coffee whitener in the kitchen that was part of the Business Depot/Staples order. It's a perk but obligates no one more than anyone else. Particularly since, you know, she is perfectly aware that lots of people in the office don't eat cookies and would far rather wear grannie panties.

Your reaction to the gift is probably a good measure of how annoyed by her you are. Think about that. Probably anyone else could have sent a gift and you wouldn't have gotten steamed. It's only her that has you so annoyed that her meaningless social gesture felt like a manipulative attack.

If your reaction to this person is that strong, it's a good cue for you to start enforcing boundaries and not allowing her to impose. Think of her as a colleague who needs some support with executive functioning and communicate clearly. "We won't be able to forward your e-mails, so make sure you can check them while you are traveling. Here is a link with instructions so you can check them yourself if you forget how." To sweeten the firming up of your boundaries throw a few sincere complimentary carrots in her direction. "You selected the most gorgeous outfits for our retail line while you were in Taiwan. I can't wait to see what you choose this time." or let her observe you glad-mouthing her in front of the team including the boss.

It is also possible that the gift of panties was a threat to you because of the over intimacy. Sure you discuss panties all the time but only in terms of what customers like. But unless panty-swapping is something that everyone else in your line of work is doing, this might actually be a covert sexually charged thing, like the aggression of mocking another woman by telling her you can see her pad. Even if you all sell panties and wear panties and many of you may announce how comfortable or how much your boyfriend liked the most recent pair, she is supposed to pretend that you do not have a crotch and may have broken this taboo.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:45 PM on January 17, 2017 [21 favorites]

FWIW, a gift of something random I probably have free samples of because of my job and some random cookies seems pretty half-assed if meant as a bribe.

I like all the suggestions to treat it as being a gift for the office, and of course not to let it soften your reactions to any inappropriate requests she might continue to make.
posted by trig at 1:56 AM on January 18, 2017 [12 favorites]

I don't read this as a bribe. Cookies? Unless you're 5 most people cannot be bribed with cookies. This is a thank you gift. A low-value, token thank you gift consisting of the traditional thank you gift, cookies, and a freebie from her department, and it is meant to convey appreciation for your extra help.

If you don't want to do favors for her then the way to communicate that to her is by refusing to do favors for her.
posted by Polychrome at 4:55 AM on January 18, 2017 [14 favorites]

Unless the cookies are plated with gold, it's not much of a bribe. I think this seems like a small gesture of acknowledgement that she asks for a lot and and she knows it. More of a thank you.

I'm used to working in settings where people in other offices are constantly asking us for stuff and pressuring us to make their stuff a priority. We usually get lots of treats around the holidays, and no one ever comes back in January and says "Remember those inexpensive chocolates??? It's time for you to pay me back by doing my bidding." It's seen more of a "hey the work you do is important to our success, please don't hate us, thanks."
posted by bunderful at 5:14 AM on January 18, 2017 [16 favorites]

On my team at work, we joke about getting "bribes" of treats because they always seem to coincide with extra-annoying assignments, but the reality is they're more of appreciation/apology treats.

Cookies and similar food things are small potatoes and a really common gesture towards coworkers/clients you want to maintain a good relationship with. An actual bribe would be something like Super Bowl tickets.

Don't send the cookies back, but don't assume you owe her any favors because of them. She's no more entitled to special treatment than anyone else you work with. If she thinks she is, she's always thought that, and the cookies don't really change things. If she has a history of unreasonable requests, talk to your immediate coworkers/supervisors/etc. about how you can best manage her expectations.

(The underwear is pretty whatthefucky, though.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:49 AM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your company assuredly has a business conduct guideline that will go over acceptable gifts vs. bribes, maybe a quick overview of that will put you at ease. This really doesn't read as a bribe.
posted by sixfootaxolotl at 6:49 AM on January 18, 2017

Agree with everyone else about culture and this not really being a bribe. That doesn't change the fact that you now feel obligated towards her, given your own personal and cultural wiring. I get it.

My suggestion is sending a gift back with the messenger of equal value. If you're in the US, I suggest sending a box of oreos (classic American junk food and inexpensive) along with optionally, any freebie you might have lying around from your accounts.
posted by cacao at 7:26 AM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

You don't return food gifts. It's just not done. I feel like it's an unwritten rule or something. If you don't want a food gift the appropriate response is to share it - in this case, with your office - and thank the person for the shareable gift. All you have to say to the gift-giver is "thank you so much for the delicious cookies! My office loved them."
posted by joan_holloway at 8:34 AM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

> I'd interpret it as a gift of appreciation for past help, rather than some sort of bribe for future obligations.

Same here, if you're counting votes.
posted by languagehat at 8:47 AM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

You could consider sending her an equivalent value gift in return. That should get you off any hook you think you are on.
posted by Billiken at 10:11 AM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I have personally given this type of gift (sans panties, however), and in that case it was totally 100% a "sorry I've been asking a lot of you, you are awesome for putting up with it and I appreciate it" type of thing, not a bribe or an expected quid-pro-quo. I am actually feeling a little paranoid now that perhaps that gift was also met with the kind of silent rage and resentment you seem to feel, and I just never heard about it.

As someone who's occasionally in your colleague's position, I would MUCH rather that people politely draw boundaries if they consider my requests inappropriate ("I'm sorry, that's not possible-- you'll have to [X] instead" works just fine) than that they accede, then stew in passive-aggressive loathing for months and months. In this case, I'd say send her a quick thank-you, and if you feel she's asking for help to which she's not entitled, just tell her no next time.
posted by Sockinian at 11:07 AM on January 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

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