How people choose their holiday gifts can tell you a lot about their behavior in relationships. This might sound abstract, but it is true. We can learn a lot about ourselves by how we choose gifts for other people. In essence, we choose gifts in two ways; we either choose a gift that we know the other person will want or choose something that we would want. One style of gift-giving is much more challenging than the other, and I bet you know which one. The same concept applies to how we support people. We all want to help each other, but the problem is that we support other people the way we need support. This approach leads to miscommunications and a host of other unintended consequences.

We spend a significant amount of time understanding who we are and why we do what we do. After all, we spend the most time with ourselves. As a result, many of us learn how to take care of ourselves in various situations. We may have learned that we are the type of person who needs to take a break to organize our thoughts in arguments. Other people may feel that they need to talk through the fight and would prefer not to be alone with their thoughts during a dispute.

Neither option is superior; it is merely a matter of preferences. This same method for dealing with our emotions is accurate in arguments and other charged emotional situations, including challenging projects, troubling news, or difficult situations. Although there are some general rules, each person is unique in how they prefer to process their thoughts and emotions. When we use our personal coping mechanisms to help other people process themselves, it is often ineffective. Ultimately, we may make the other person feel worse.

When we use our coping mechanisms with other people, we may make them feel rejected or unheard. They may feel more lonely because of the misunderstanding in the type of support that is provided. They might think, “this person doesn’t understand me; they aren’t listening.” In a way, we aren’t.

It isn't easy to give people the support they need. It requires a deep knowledge of the other person, which may not be available. Like gifts, the best gift-givers have some intimate knowledge of the person they are shopping for. Since we may not know what another person needs, the best thing that we can do is ask. When someone struggles or faces adversity, we can ask, “how can I help you?” They might not know the answer, which is understandable, because sometimes we don’t know how to take care of ourselves. In that case, just let them know you are here to give them a hand if they need it.

We should mention that this skill is critical in relationships, especially in romantic relationships. If you are interested in being a better partner or having more productive arguments, then we suggest doing this journaling activity. The lessons learned in this writing activity apply to every relationship, so you will also be a better person at work.