How to Politely Decline a Gift

We all know how awkward it can feel when someone offers us something we don’t want or need. It’s never easy to decline a gift, but that doesn’t mean you have to be rude or ungrateful.

The following are methods to decline an unwanted gift politely:

Sally Gibson

Sally Gibson

Founder and Owner, Someone Sent You a Greeting

It can be really tricky to decline a gift, especially when you don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings.

You shouldn’t have to justify why you don’t want to accept a gift, nor should you feel bad for declining one. But we’re human, and it’s difficult to ignore the feeling you will upset or offend what is probably a generous gesture.

The best way to go about it is to be caring and thoughtful but ultimately honest. Don’t be harsh and rude by outright saying you don’t want their gift.

Try to think of how it feels to be rejected or have a gesture declined and use words that will at the least soften the blow.

Saying something like, “Thank you so much for your gift, it was a lovely thought, and I’m touched. But I just don’t feel like I can accept it. I’m really sorry and hope you’re not too upset or offended” is a good starting point.

Here are a few more tips to help make it easier:

Do it in person but far from the crowd

It could be embarrassing to the person giving the gift to be rejected in front of lots of people, even if your intentions are good. Doing so quietly when it’s just the two of you will stop it from feeling even worse for them.

Appreciate the gesture while declining it

Even if you’re declining the gift, you should still thank them for the thought and effort that went into it. Make it obvious that you appreciated the gesture and are sorry for declining it.

Give a written letter explaining why you can’t accept it. If you can’t talk in person, write a letter explaining why you are declining their gift.

Be honest when declining the gift

It’s usually best to be honest as to why you’re declining it too. If you lie, it may come back to haunt you at a later date if the lie comes out.

While it may spare their feelings, they will feel worse in the long run and more embarrassed if they learn you have lied about why you didn’t want the gift.

There are certain situations that warrant you turning down a gift, and you shouldn’t feel bad about doing so.

For example:

  • When it’s clearly a far more expensive gift than you feel is appropriate. It can be uncomfortable to accept a gift that is beyond the giver’s means or has cost more than they can afford.
  • Gifts from superiors can be awkward too. It may be innocent but could also be something more inappropriate. You can clearly decline the gift by explaining why it isn’t right for a boss/teacher/professor to give gifts to someone in a junior position.
  • If a gift is for romantic reasons that you have no intention of reciprocating, then it’s best to say no to a gift. Make it clear to that person you’re not interested. Accepting their gift could give them false hope something may happen between you.

And if all else fails, then you can always keep the gift and donate it to charity or someone who needs it more than you.

Julia Esteve Boyd

Julia Esteve Boyd

Modern Etiquette Coach, The Etiquette Consultant

The rituals of gift-giving vary around the world. In some cultures, it is essential that you decline the gift when it is initially offered, even if you intend to accept it (for example Japan where it must be refused three times in order to avoid appearing greedy).

Western culture is somewhat more relaxed, but it can cause serious offense to the gift giver if the item is refused.

It really is better to accept the gift gracefully unless it is inappropriate (rude or something too intimate or personal from a colleague), perhaps with a hidden agenda (ex-partner) or excessively extravagant, etc.

In these cases, the gift can be politely declined with a “Thank you so much, but I could not possibly accept this.” Whether you offer a reason for declining is offered or not really depends on the circumstances.

Caution should always be used when it comes to accepting business gifts; there may be company policies and ethics to consider.

Try to avoid receiving the gift if you can in the first place

For example, if you extend an invitation, you can specify no gifts, perhaps saying the gift of the person(s) company is what you really want.

If guests/friends/family ask what you would like as a gift, then you can suggest alternatives if you don’t want to accept gifts that you don’t need or want, such as a donation to a charity, etc.

Give a written note of gratitude

Last of all, remember always to say thank you! Whether you love the gift or loath it! A written thank you note can help to soothe anyone’s pride if deemed necessary.

David Reid

David Reid

Sales Director, VEM Tooling

Gift-giving has always been a part of forming bonds; thus, it’s essential to understand when to deny gifts to avoid more complications.

If we know how to accept gifts gracefully, we should also know when and how to refuse gifts courteously. There are some occasions when a gift should be declined.

It is preferable to do it in person, by talking to them in private

It’s advisable to do it in person, by speaking with the giver in private. If you cannot talk with the person, you should write a note.

Remember to express gratitude to the giver for the gift and their thoughtfulness. Make sure you don’t embarrass them. Explain why you had to deny the present and express your disappointment clearly and concisely.

When should you refuse to accept a gift?

Your employer gave you the present

If you get a pen or a mug for your birthday or a special occasion, that’s fine. It could be your boss’s way of expressing gratitude for your efforts.

However, if you begin to receive expensive gifts such as jewelry or gadgets with lunch or dinner regularly, you should decline since it might be construed as fraternization, which could lead to sexual misconduct. The same is true if you receive pricey presents from clients or coworkers.

Companies, on the whole, have stringent procedures forbidding this type of gifting. If it is against company policy, you must also refuse even little gifts from business associates.

You know you can’t reciprocate the love because a gift was offered with obvious amorous intentions. Accepting this present will offer the individual false hope, so if you know deep down that you won’t return the feeling, decline it.

Accepting gifts from an incredibly generous individual should be interpreted cautiously

Some people use their benevolence to manipulate relationships and establish responsibilities.

They may even use these gifts to maintain contact with you after your relationship has ended and you have escaped the situation.

You also can’t accept gifts from someone you’ve never met before

Flowers and friendly gifts are commonly exchanged during business transactions and are always received, but they symbolize the firms for which they work. Gifts of a personal nature should be denied during the first encounter.

As an apology, someone offered you a present

If that individual has appropriately acknowledged and expressed regret for whatever transgression they have committed, a gift asking for forgiveness is unnecessary.

  • You can also refuse a present if you believe the giver spent more money on it than they should have.
  • You should also deny an expensive gift offered by someone who cannot afford it and who may be in financial distress due to the gift.
  • Pets as gifts can also be declined, particularly if you don’t want or can’t care for one. However, if the pet is something you’ve always desired, you can accept it.

Nikita Dedhia

Nikita Dedhia

Founder, MitCityFarm

Let them know that you’re grateful

Saying “thank you” is the finest way to decline a gift gently. In this case, send them a thank you note to express your regret. The statement would explain why you were unable to accept their gift because of your circumstances.

When you’re using a thank you note to decline a gift, let the sender know that you’re grateful nevertheless. Furthermore, thank them for their consideration and explain why you are doing so.

Speak with them in a private setting

You can also speak with the giver in person to prevent certain situations. This act will show that you have reached a certain level of maturity.

However, it’d be ideal if you were enthusiastic and self-assured. Say gently why you are unable to accept their gift. Make the discourse fun and easy to follow.

Demonstrate that you are remorseful for declining the gift

There are times when you may voice your feelings and tell the individual that you don’t want to take gifts right immediately, but it’s always a good idea to convey that you regret denying them.

You can convey your reasons properly and thoughtfully even if you don’t have a written document. You can still explain why you are unable to accept the present and express your remorse for doing so.

Keep your language simple and avoid drama

Make sure your remarks are basic and without drama, irrespective of how you wish to approach the problem. It is not always necessary to explain oneself, but if it is, make it brief. You could also be adamant about your choice.

Don’t be a brutally honest person

Did you realize that you can differ without being a pain on your side? Please don’t be too blunt, especially when declining a present from an ex or someone with whom you have a past.

You can just express your appreciation for their friendship and appreciate their sentiments for you, and then you want to maintain the situation between you as neutral as possible.

Curran Van Waarde

Curran Van Waarde

Founder, CallScaler

It wasn’t always easy, but it was a company policy to decline gifts more than $20 in value. It was easier to thank the customer and simply say that we cannot accept gifts of more than $20 from a customer. When business rules are in place, it’s easier to shrug it off and politely say thanks but no thanks.

I do suppose that different scenarios when offered a gift call for different ways of declining.

Show appreciation, empathy, and decline the gift honestly

If you are offered an expensive gift from an admirer, and you have no intention of reciprocating the interest, it would make sense to show appreciation and empathy and decline the gift honestly by pointing out that someone else will be very lucky to receive such a wonderful gesture of interest.

Simply apologize and politely explain the reason why

If you receive a gift that is of no value to you because of personal allergies (you may be allergic to pollen or something else) or you’re declining for religious reasons, simply apologize that you cannot accept it and explain why politely, compassionately, and even maybe offer to get together for a cup of coffee sometime.

The bottom line is to be honest in all situations to avoid putting people out again in the future, so they know and understand where they stand with you, then simply decline the gift and maybe even make a counteroffer if need be.

Use discretion, empathy, and intuition depending on who the person is and what the gift is. Also, measure up the quality of your relations with that person when declining to make a great decision on how you will decline the gift.

Dalia Katan

Dalia Katan

CEO and Founder, Presently

the best thing to do would be to avoid unwanted gifts altogether

I’d say the best thing to do would be to avoid unwanted gifts altogether. At its core, gifting has a communication issue, and conversations around gifting expectations early on can help avoid awkward gift exchanges over celebrations.

And, by the way, this is totally acceptable if done respectfully and can even be a conversation that brings you and the giver closer together.

This can look like:

Discuss love languages with your circle

If your love language is not gifting, what are some other intangible gifts you would appreciate? For example, perhaps a nice dinner out for quality time?

Set up a call with your family to discuss guidelines and preferences around gifts this year

Do you prefer practical gifts? Sentimental ones? Fun ones? Everyone will have their own preference.

Opting for a group gift instead

Quality often trumps quantity, and at Presently, we see a lot of people communicating one more expensive gift they want this year and having a family pitch in for the gift instead of each buying their own smaller gift.

It’s less wasteful and also helps people buy higher impact gifts.

Encourage group gifting

In order to avoid unwanted gifts in the coming celebrations, we encourage group gifting.

It is a game-changer for the way we give and receive gifts. Instead of individual gifts, a group gift enables friends and family to pool funds to give one, better group gift — whether a physical item or an experience.

And, Presently further makes it easy and fun for groups to give something meaningful.

Jodi RR Smith

Jodi RR Smith

Etiquette Consultant and Founder, Mannersmith | Author, “From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman

Accept the gift, thank the giver, and use the gift as you please

To put it simply, polite people do not decline a gift. You should accept the gift, thank the giver, and do with the gift as you please.

  • If your great auntie knits you a wool sweater that triggers your allergies, you donate the sweater.
  • If a client gives you a giant box of gourmet chocolates, but you are on a diet, you put it in the break room for your co-workers to enjoy.
  • If a friend insists on dropping off a loaf of their dry as a desert banana bread, you accept it with a smile knowing there is no obligation to ingest it.
  • If your father insists on giving you his seasonal tie collection, which you will never wear, you put them away in a “safe” place to be disposed of years from now.

Understand that the giving of a gift is part of building a relationship. It is the giving that is important. The gift is merely a token. If you are consistently receiving inappropriate gifts from the same person, this is a clear signal that you need to work on this relationship.

When the giver knows more about your likes and dislikes, allergies, and lifestyle, they will be able to pick better gifts. Until then, you will be gracious and thankful.

Gennady Litvin, Esq.

Gennady Litvin

Attorney, Moshes Law

In fact, there is no way to decline a gift gracefully. Whether you do it with a friendly smile or with tears of gratitude in your eyes, the fact remains the same – you reject the gift which was chosen for you.

Just put yourself in the presenter’s position. I bet you would feel awkward if your gift were rejected!

It depends on who it came from and what occasion you are receiving the gift

At the same time, you needn’t force yourself to accept a present when you do not want to. What to do in such a situation? It all depends on who and on what occasion intends to make you a gift.

  • If it is your customer or client, thank him and politely say that you never accept gifts from customers as it makes you feel obliged. Unwillingness to be obliged is good reasoning. Don’t blame yourself for this. If you feel you owe the presenter a debt of gratitude, it is an unmistakable sign you should reject it.
  • If you want to decline a gift from your relatives or friends, just tell them the real reason. Your nearest and dearest will understand. Perhaps you already have such an object, or never use it, or it is not your size, etc. In any case, do your best not to hurt the feelings of the presenter by your refusal.

Nancy Landrum, MA

Nancy Landrum

Author and Relationship Coach

“Thanks for the offer, but it’s not something I would use.”

  • A friend is cleaning out her kitchen, closet, or garage and says, “This is still good, why don’t you take it?” You answer, Thanks for the offer, but it’s not something I would use.
  • Your boss offers you tickets to a new show. You’ve sensed some energy from him that you don’t want to encourage, so you answer, That’s very thoughtful of you, but I have other plans that evening. This is true even if your other plans are to stay home and do the laundry!
  • A good friend gives you a gift that, in your world, is totally useless. You say, It’s so thoughtful of you to think of me, and plan to re-gift it or put it in the Goodwill bag.
  • Or, if it truly is a good friend, you might say, “It’s so thoughtful of you to think of me, but… you know, I can’t wear this color. If you still have the receipt, can you return it? Or do you know someone else who can use it?
  • A few years ago, I told my family, “I only need a hug for any occasion, but if you must give me something, please only give me things that are consumable like scented candles. I have enough stuff and I’m trying to pare down.

Emmanuel C. Nwaodua, Ph.D.

Emmanuel Nwaodua

College Professor | Member, Discovery Bit

Inform them the reason why you couldn’t accept the gift

This is how I went about saying “No” politely and with compassion:

I would let the student know how thoughtful the gift is and how much I could use such a gift. Sometimes, I do use some sense of humor here. I would then inform the student of the reason why I could not accept the gift because it went against the school’s policy.

And then conclude by indicating how much I appreciated the kind gesture and hope to continue our professor/student relationship, imparting knowledge and motivating the student academically.

Arvie Narido

Arvie Narido

Gift Researcher, GiftRabbit

Give them a concise and genuine explanation with sufficient reasons to calm their minds

When declining a gift, you don’t need to have a lengthy narrative about why you are rejecting the present. Give the giver a concise and genuine explanation with sufficient reasons to calm their minds.

You don’t need to explain points one to ten why you are declining because that’s like rubbing more salt into the wound. Instead, emphasize and highlight the positive aspects of the gift, like the value of friendship/relationship and the thoughtful gesture.

Most importantly, there’s no rule to being kind, so be sure to kill them with kindness when declining a gift.

Sally Stevens

Sally Stevens

Co-Founder, FastPeopleSearch.io

Declining a gift often seems like the rudest thing one can do. After all, a gift is a show of appreciation. Gifts are given at different times and for different reasons. Even then, there are times when you are uneasy about receiving the gift, but you simply can’t figure out how to decline without seeming rude.

In fact, this unease is one of the main reasons why people are often stuck with gifts that they didn’t want in the first place.

You can choose to take the gift publicly but return it in private

Think about it. You’d feel weird if your gift got declined in public too. This is why you have to approach everything with the gift-giver in mind. You can choose to take the gift publicly but return it in private.

You’ll need to do the declining in person and physically while at it. Where you can’t afford to meet the gift giver, one can always opt to send a note along with the returned gift.

Keep it simple, don’t overdramatize things

Being dramatic about declining a gift doesn’t help matters. If anything, it only shows the extent of the bad blood or the unease you have with receiving the gift in question.

You can always stick to the old “I’m sorry, but I can’t take your gift” line if you want to keep things in a simple state. In any case, you don’t really have to explain why you are declining a gift. It’s all about how you feel about the gift.

Richard Lubicky

Richard Lubicky

Founder, RealPeopleSearch

While declining, be apologetic with a reason

Declining a gift should start with a thank you note and praise. Then go on with a strong corresponding reason for decline so that the person doesn’t get offended and end with an apologetic reflection to gain empathy for future relationships.

For example:

[Name], thank you for sending me the tie pin and studs of gold, and I am obliged to you for remembering me. Nevertheless, I am not comfortable accepting such a costly gift and feel I must return it. I am sorry if this hurts you, but I don’t intend any negative thing in any way. I hope you understand and this won’t affect our good relationship.”

According to the rules of etiquette, the reasons for rejecting a presentation can be:

  • Too high a price
  • A holiday or event did not occur (a canceled wedding, for example)
  • A gift is a form of reconciliation, but you have not forgotten the resentment of the donor

Steven Walker

Steven Walker

CEO, Spylix

Each and every company will have a different ceiling for the value of gifts that are being given. These are not meant to hinder the success of the gift receivers but to maintain their reputation amongst the general public.

Address your situation so that they will understand it and move over it

Sometimes even if you wish you could receive those gifts, it is impossible because of these boundaries. So, you need to decline it right away. But, doing so, some people might find it rude. So, you need to address your situation so that they understand it and move over this.

Write something that would not disappoint their efforts

If it was intended for corporate activities, write a response saying that you appreciate their kindness and time spent on it, but you could not accept the offering as per the company’s rules. Be sure that you write something that would not disappoint their efforts.

Include your reason for declining the gift

If it was intended for a non-corporate purpose, say that you would love to accept their lovely gifts if this/that was not troubling me. Here, you need to include your reason for not being willing to accept it. Also, include an apology note and appreciate their efforts simultaneously.

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