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A few years ago, businesses and businesspeople could fairly paper their walls with unabashed Christmas greeting cards. And in some places it was common to see desks and reception counters overloaded with lovely gifts.

Times have changed.

Sensitivity to different religions altered many messages to generic holiday alohas. Some cards morphed to Thanksgiving, perhaps to avoid offense, perhaps to stand out from the December crowd. Then, too, e-cards cut down on mailings.

In the gift arena, more corporate ethics codes put the kibosh on accepting gifts, especially if they carry much value. And, in many jaded eyes, a gift is seen less as an expression of thanks and more as a tool of ingratiation.

What has it come to when management experts and career counselors are compelled to chart a course for safe felicitations? Moan it or accept it — it’s the current reality.

A sincere greeting — to thank for business or a business relationship — is never wrong. And there’s nothing wrong with using the end of the year to send regards. But workplace etiquette guidance warns of minefields that could blow best intentions awry. That advice usually focuses on scale and relationship.

Scale — or size of the gift — is the easiest to address. Don’t go overboard in an effort to impress. A business-to-business gift should be appropriate to the business relationship. It should be a gesture, not a bribe. A person-to-person gift should take into account the nature of the workplace hierarchy and the feelings of co-workers.

The stickiest wicket often involves employee gifts to bosses. It’s tough to say just don’t do it, but that might be best. Instead, write a brief, preferably handwritten, note of appreciation (if it’s true). The danger of gift giving to managers is misinterpretation, and not just by the boss who might take it as apple polishing. Co-workers also can look askance at bread-buttering efforts — even if well intentioned.

Gift exchanges among peers generally won’t carry that baggage. But there are impressions at stake there too. An all-comers invitation to participate in a low-priced Secret Santa or other kind of open gift exchange is usually fine. But if a few co-workers want to exchange gifts among themselves, based on friendship or close business ties, it’s probably better to do it offsite and after hours.

One of the biggest hiccups in workplace relationships occurs when some people feel left out of a clique or in crowd. Such a thing may exist or it may be a faulty perception. But, as you’ve probably read many times, perception is reality to those who perceive it. Holidays — supposedly a time of good cheer to all — aren’t the time to widen schisms.

As we’ve seen in the heightened tensions about international terrorism, domestic mass shootings and politicians spewing polemics, it’s hard enough to keep peace in our hearts and goodwill among all.

To reach Diane Stafford, call (816) 234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com. Follow her online at kansascity.com/workplace and twitter.com/kcstarstafford.

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