Ghastly Gifts and Cracking Christmas Comebacks


How to deal with unwelcome Christmas presents

You know the situation – you are sat there on Christmas day with relatives you haven’t seen all year and it’s time to exchange presents.


You had absolutely no idea what to get your 18-year-old niece and your 16-year-old nephew who have spent most of the time since they arrived texting their friends.


Presents under the Christmas tree

How will you respond to the people who give you ghastly gifts?

You open your own present from your brother-in-law and it’s the most ghastly jumper you have seen in your life (reminiscent of the hand-knitted reindeer faced work of art Mr D’Arcy is sporting in the film “Bridget Jones’s Diary”).


What do you say to him as you tentatively ease back the paper, trying to look enthusiastic whilst bracing yourself for the worst?


And what about that lovely potpouri fragrance “eau de toilet-cleaner”? Or those chocolates in a box that clearly cost 20 times what the chocolates themselves cost? Or the DVD of a film you wouldn’t go to see if you were paid? Or the DVD of the film you already have the “Director’s Cut Boxed Set” of?



Preparation is the key


Let’s face it; you know that the presents are going to be ghastly, because they were last year and the year before. So this is not a surprise.



First, you need to work out your objective


Some options:

1.    Ensure we enjoy Christmas day

2.    Ensure we are still on speaking terms with our relatives by the end of Christmas day

3.    Ensure we get presents we really want next year



Option 1: Ensure we enjoy Christmas day


If this is your objective consider holding a secret sweep stake on what your presents are going to be or having a competition amongst you and your family on who is going to get the worst present. You could even design some kind of voting system and have a big prize for the worst one.


This would mean that, instead of being disappointed when you exposed a truly awful gift to the world, you would be pleased because your chances of winning the prize had just increased.



Option 2: Ensure we are still on speaking terms with our relatives by the end of Christmas day


In this case it may be that you prepare some platitudes ready for when your eyes first fall on that offensive pair of socks.


“I saw some of these in a shop window but it was closed so I wasn’t able to buy them.”


“I’ll add this to my collection.”


“I didn’t know they made these any more.”


“You must have gone to a great deal of effort to get this.”


“I don’t know how you always think of such unusual presents.”


“I hope you didn’t spend too much on this.”


If you have any favourite responses you’d like to share, please do add them in the comments box for any desperate readers to use.



Option 3: Ensure we get presents we like next year


This is by far the trickiest option. And as I have often said, sometimes it’s OK to set goals and objectives that may not be achievable. Because if you don’t even aim for what you really want you will never get it.


First you need to think of something that your relative would find easy to get right.


For example an iTunes token a present a purchaser could hardly get wrong and enables you to choose what you like. Or perhaps a book by a specific author, or a hamper from a particular supplier.


The key is to think of something that you wouldn’t mind and is easy to get.


Many relatives ask each other for ideas on presents for their aunts, uncles, parents and children. So you need to seed the ideas in at an early stage and be clear about what you would like.


It may be you can also refer to things you are hoping for during the day, but that might be a bit risky if you have had a truly awful present.


Though having said that, if the present is really bad then the giver may be quite thick-skinned and insensitive. Don’t count on it though.



How to offend your aged aunt


We had an aged aunt who specialised in giving pink glittery cards for Christmas and birthdays (not my style). I always did my best to find similar cards to send her. One year I forgot to get her card and so we were forced to send one of our normal cards that we sent to our friends.


She was horrified and we had an angry phone call in which she admonished us, saying (and this is word for word): “I bet you wouldn’t send your friends a card like this.”


Which leads me to my last tip.



What to do with the unwanted presents


People very often give you things they themselves like. So you can simply put the present to one side till next Christmas and then wrap it up for them. If they do realised it is identical to the one they gave you, you then (crossing your fingers firmly) say that you liked it so much you felt sure they would like one too and explain the huge lengths you went to to find it.


Have a wonderful break, I’m sure you deserve it, and a very happy and prosperous new year.


For more help with difficult relatives (and friends) go here.

What is the difference between strategy and objectives?



Here’s a great question a client asked me recently. Do you know the answer? It would seem that not many people do.


  • Objectives are what you need to achieve.
  • Strategy is a route, plan or method for achieving your objective (or goal).



An example



Your objective


Let’s say you want to be the most successful accountant in your country. Now you know that’s not a very good objective, you would need to work out how you were going to measure ‘most successful’ first.

You might define it as having a particular number of customers, a particular level of earnings, a number of reviews in the press in compression to your competitors, the number of requests or sales you get compared to your competitors and so on.



Your strategy


Once you have that clear you then need to work on your strategy. Here are some options for your strategy:

  • You could spend all your spare cash on marketing and sales.
  • You could ensure your skills are way ahead of all your competitors by doing masses of personal development to increase your skills.
  • You could bump off all your competitors.


(Your choice is going to depend on lots of things including your values.) Often you might change your strategy if your fist does not work, for example, but your objective (or mission) would remain the same.


In my view someone who is good at strategy would be able to think of several strategies for achieving any particular goal.



A true story


Here’s a true, but rather worrying story. A senior manager at one of my client’s sites called me up. She wanted some help with writing the objectives for her department for the next year. It was the Wednesday before the Christmas holidays. She needed to have all the objectives up on their intranet by Friday lunchtime, just two days away. She was in a panic.


I asked her how she had got into this position (meaning how it was that she had left it so late to get this task done). “Oh,” She said in an off-hand tone; “ I only got your phone number last week.”


I managed to reschedule a few commitments so I could spend the Thursday morning working with her on the objectives and we did meat her deadline of getting them up on the intranet page for Friday lunchtime.


I asked her what her job was: “Director, Strategic Planning Department”.


Call me old-fashioned, but I think she was in the wrong job.


To get help with your objectives contact us


If you need help writing the objectives for your department, your team, your company or just yourself, get in touch. We will help you write them, we will even write them for you (though we do need to find out a bit about what you are doing and your organisation first).

  • You will discover how to make your objectives SMART,
  • We will make sure they are what you really need,
  • You will find out how to cascade objectives to your team
  • You will discover how to make sure they are measurable


You will find out wow to do all this in a way that is more effective but involves less effort and time from you

Getting the basics right – why attention is so important


A couple of weeks ago, in my blog Get the Basics Right First, I talked about the executive functions of your brain.



You’ll find more about that this today. The next executive function is attention.


Several years ago I met one of the key people in this field, Michael Posner. I was introducing his lecture on his research on that topic. One of the very interesting things he’s been doing is identifying if three key aspects of attention:


  • Alerting
  • Orientation (or reacting)
  • Conflict network


are carried out by specific parts of your brain. From his research it looks as though they are.



This is your brain’s ability to alert you to new inputs. You may well have seen the film “Shaun of the Dead”, the spoof 2004 Zombie film staring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. During one scene, Shaun (Simon Pegg) wanders to his local paper shop to pick up a drink.
He passes by the assortment of various zombies, dead bodies and smears of blood that festoon his short journey there and back. You could say his altering system was not working at 100% that day.



This is your ability to move your attention from one task to another.  Now that doesn’t mean your ability to be distracted, it means making a decision to move from one area to another.


If you have ever seen a classic James Bond car chase, you will remember that there are lots of things going on. Usually there parts of the chase involving travelling in areas other than the normal highway, so he has to pay attention to the new obstacles in his path. Almost always there is a stretch involving driving the wrong way down the highway or avoiding other oncoming vehicles.


This involves James re-orienting his attention with great rapidity.


Conflict network

There are times when different stimuli are all vying for attention. The report you have to complete, the email that has just arrived in your inbox and the coffee aroma that is calling you to take a break. And then there’s watching that trailer to the film you want to see.
This is the network in your brain that decides which one should get your attention. This is a different job to orienting your attention. You know you should be finishing that report, but the email is much more interesting….


Impact of poor attention

Can you think of people who are good at all this and those who are not? I bet you can. Those who are easily distracted and waste time on the wrong tasks are the ones with the problems. And if you are constantly hopping from one activity to another; “multi-tasking” this is also bad news. Here’s why.


Why multi-tasking is a problem


Research by RD Rogers RD S Monsell identified that people who were ‘multi-tasking’ made about four times more errors than those who were not.


As though that’s not enough, if you keep swapping tasks (in other words interrupting your key task) it takes up to 50% longer to complete the key task (not including the interruption time).


This is because your brain is a ‘sequential processor’ – it does not process in parallel. So every time you do more than one thing at once, you are not really doing that. You are stopping one task, moving your attention to another and focussing on that. Then you are doing the same thing again when you move back again.


Time Management Made Easy

To get help with one of the most annoying problems we all face; interruptions; get my booklet “Time Management Made Easy”. You will find tips 77-90 are dedicated to interruptions and cover two different ways of dealing with them.
Reactive ways of dealing with them, on how to make them less time-consuming and proactive techniques. The proactive techniques stop you getting them in the first place.

Or get the recording of my teleseminar  on Time Management.

This workshop is unlike any other in the field. As always, it is specially tailored for you and your people. However, each individual workshop is tailored for the particular delegates on that workshop.


Not only do they practice their skills on the workshop – they also learn how to plan and keep to time by running the workshop themselves. They will be surprised and delighted to find out how easy it is.


Typical topics on one of these half-day workshops include:

  • Prioritisation
  • Planning
  • Dealing with interruptions
  • Saying “No”
  • How to work with disorganised people
  • Dealing with too many emails
  • Staying motivated
  • Organising others
  • Delegation


To find out how it can help you contact us now.