What I Want for My Birthday

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Yes, it’s official: Today is my birthday! 


I’m not usually one to make a fuss or need a party, (although I’ll never turn down a nice dinner that I don’t have to cook!) and I don’t need boxes to unwrap. 


I’m much more about the effort. It’s not the magnitude of the effort, just the fact that someone remembered me and bothered to take a few moments out of their busy day to do something for me, because they wanted to let me know they care.


Gift giving – whether for birthdays or any other occasion – is an incredibly important NONVERBAL form of communication, as a means of conveying acknowledgement, appreciation, affection, sympathy or gratitude, just to name a few.


The funny thing is that most gifts in just about any form are given with this underlying motivation: as a gesture of appreciation or affection. But how often do they miss the mark?


There’s nothing worse than unwrapping a gift that someone is excited to give you and think to yourself, “Why on earth would they think I would like this?”


Okay, that’s a total “first-world problem” and there are many things far worse, but it’s still an awkward situation and often more than a little disappointing.


It doesn’t feel any better to be on the other side of the exchange: when you put thought into a gift that is ultimately received with lukewarm enthusiasm or barely acknowledged if at all.


That’s why this week on the Speaking to Influence podcast we’re going to explore two terrific resources to help answer these questions and help us solve both problems:


  • How to give a gift people will truly appreciate, and
  • How to recognize when someone else gives you a gift from their heart that may not otherwise register on your official “gift” radar.



Perhaps you’ve heard of The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, and his sequel, The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. What I found interesting was not simply the categories of “love/appreciation languages,” but which ones I realized were my strongest/weakest.


As a linguist and communication coach, I always assumed that “words of affirmation” would be my primary. Yet the more I learned, as I alluded to at the start of this note above, it’s really about making little efforts, or what Chapman refers to as “acts of service.”


We all have the capacity to “speak” and “understand” all five languages; the real key is learning how to let others know unambiguously what “vocabulary” fits our language, i.e what we’d really like to receive (e.g. is it a hug? A gift certificate? An invitation to meet for coffee? A heartfelt “Thank you” – whether in public or in private? Or just to be left alone?).


And of course, the other part of that equation is learning to recognize what someone else wants – because chances are, that’s what they’ve given to YOU instead: their version of “the perfect gift” and a clue as to what they’d truly appreciate receiving in the future… even if it’s the exact opposite of what you would view as a “gift.”


Remember: Having the team assemble to sing “Happy Birthday” to the birthday girl/boy could be a dream come true for one person, but a living nightmare to someone else.


Not to mention, sometimes the hard part is that we know what the other person needs/wants, but we don't like speaking that language.


For example, maybe they really need some specific praise, beyond a generic “good job,” letting them know you see and appreciate that they've gone the extra mile… but you're a person of few words who feels like “I shouldn't have to thank people for doing their job.” If it's a “gift” for them, then it's time to stretch a bit, and although your words don't have to be effusive, they do need to be specific, honest and heartfelt.


Tune in to listen here or watch here to discover tools to make the difference!


So what do I want for my birthday this year?


Simple: I’d love to hear from you! Simply respond to this email and let me know one thing you’ve learned, a favorite moment, or something you otherwise appreciate about listening to the Speaking to Influence podcast, reading these weekly updates, or otherwise working with me.


You can write a sentence or two, or even record a 30-second unpolished-but-heartfelt audio or video message and send me (a link to?) the file.


And remember – I’m not looking for praise or “words of affirmation,” per se. I don’t care if it’s flowery or simply to the point, if it’s text or video, if it’s organized and rehearsed or an off-the-cuff rambling selfie video while sitting in your car in the parking lot before heading into the office.


The real gift in my eyes is that you simply took the time to do it. That’s the “act of service” that speaks my “love language” and goes right to my heart.


Listen to the podcast this week and then ask yourself: What’s your love/appreciation language? And have you honestly let others know, so that they can have the joy of making YOU feel happy and appreciated?


It makes a world of difference when the gift isn’t lost in translation.

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