Social Etiquette and Good Manners/Thank You Gift Refused by Coworker


I have a coworker who has been helping me a great deal to learn a new skill.  I wanted to express my appreciation for her help, so I wrote a personal thank you card and enclosed two $25 gift cards to a restaurant chain.  

She stated that she couldn't accept the gift.  I insisted.  She said that she was helping me because she wanted to, not because she had been hoping for a gift.  I was dumdfounded and said "Well, obviously...  I just wanted to express my appreciation".  Ultimately, later in the day, my coworker hid the gift cards back in my purse.

I feel confused and awkward now.  Was my gift inappropriate?  I'm not sure how to handle the situation as my coworker's help is ongoing.  Should I just keep the cards and not mention it again?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Ellen:
You can't ignore the situation and continue to accept her help.  I suggest you tell her the following, "I so appreciate all of the help you have been giving to me and I look forward to working with you more in the future.  I understand that my gift made you uncomfortable.  Therefore, I am going to take it back and hope we can forget the awkwardness and go on from here."  Just know that I want to take you to lunch sometime in the future as a thank you. Would that be OK?"

Your thank you gift was not inappropriate - some people just feel unworthy of any thank you gift from another.  It has more to do with the worth they put on their time and talents than on you and your gratefulness.  Don't take it personally.  It is not really about you at all. You made points with the gesture.

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Cynthia W. Lett


Proper manners with friends,family,colleagues,neighbors and everyone else you know.


I have been an etiquette expert teaching and consulting on the subject worldwide since 1983. I started and serve as the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and am considered a leader in the field of etiquette and protocol training and execution. I edited "Etiquette for Dummies" and have recently written "Lett's Talk - Everyday Etiquette Dilemmas and What to Do about Them". My book, "That's So Annoying:An Etiquette Expert on the World's Most Irritating Habits And What To Do About Them" was published in 2009 and is available wherever books are sold. I taught the Business Protocol class to Master's level students at the George Washington University, Washington, DC for seven years I served as Chief of Protocol for MCI Telecommunications for three years.

International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals, ASTD, PCMA, National Speakers Association

I have been quoted over 700 times in the past 5 years worldwide. Publications include Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, NY Times, Washington Business Journal, USA Today, Associated Press, London Times, Newsweek Japan edition, Newsweek US edition and many many more.

I am a Certified Etiquette Professional (CEP) and Certified Protocol Professional (CPP) earned by examination through ISPEP. I have a Master's degree in hospitality law and undergrad degrees in Restaurant & Hotel Management and Public Relations/Interpersonal Communications from Purdue University.

Awards and Honors
Who's Who Worldwide,Who's Who of American Women, Distinguished Darden Professor (Purdue University).

Past/Present Clients
World Bank, United Nations,US Dept. of State, US. Dept. of the Army, Pentagon, Barclays Global Investors,Accenture,Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, The White House, Dept. of State, AT&T,Bank of America,American Association of Clinical Pharmacies,Ritz Carlton Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Marriott Hotels,Starwood Hotels,and many more.

©2017 All rights reserved.