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Power dynamics of birthday and holiday wishes

Hi everyone,

We discussed in some threads on this forum some dynamics of birthday or holiday wishes; namely:

- how to interpret guilt-tripping in them

- how to interpret them arriving late (days after the event)

- and whether continuing to send them even without receiving any acknowledgment decreases status and power.

Some additional ideas now:

1. As a very general idea, susceptible to exceptions: If an event (birthday, holiday) comes in close proximity to the start of a new (social or professional) relationship, best to avoid sending birthday or holiday wishes, because sending them could subcommunicate neediness; better let some familiarity establish before taking this step.

2. If one is a professional, and has made a free favor to a client, may be better not to send holiday wishes first, because this behavior inverts the social exchange and could subcommunicate one is grateful to “give”; it also deprives the other of the possibility to express gratefulness by being first in sending wishes.

3. If one is a professional, and has been paid for some work, it’s ok to send holiday wishes; on the other hand, sending birthday wishes should be more calibrated on whether the relationship has acquired a “social feel”. I think birthday wishes to clients can sound “off” if the relationship has only been “business” or very superficial.

4. In any case, if one sends wishes for anything in a medium that allows rapid response (eg text or email) and does not receive an answer back on two or three separate occasions, may be best to stop sending them to avoid establishing a slippery slope of “neediness” and “submissiveness”. This does not seem to apply when the relationship is professional and the wishes are made by card, as in that case it is “expected” that the client may not reply.

5. In line with Lucio and Kavalier’s suggestion to acknowledge emotional bids: if one sends a wishes card, and receives an answer on a different medium (ie text message), best to re-respond on that medium as well (if not, the other could interpret the card as a “formality”!).

I think some of my past behavior when I started out sending wishes may have contributed to “losing power and respect” toward some people, especially in a professional context, by going overboard in the direction of “always send”, coupled with low awareness of “vibing” dynamics.

That may have led people to discount my wishes as “formalities”.

I’m keen to see if following the above ideas will improve this, and happy to read any comments on these ideas.

Lucio Buffalmano, Transitioned and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoTransitionedKavalierleaderoffun

This was spurred by reflection on this post I quote here below, by Lucio on my journal:

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on December 15, 2022, 6:03 am

Personally, I also wouldn't personalize them [ie Christmas wishes, note by Bel] to save time and I wouldn't add any title for myself there -but then again, I tend to be very informal and to save on time I don't even send wishes and gifts to family on any holiday, so I wouldn't take myself as a role model-.

When I first read it, I thought: ok, if it's a personal choice, then I can't derive a guideline from it.

But then I started thinking: this seems to be not only Lucio's choice, but also the way other high-power people I met so far tended to handle birthdays and holiday wishes. It explains so much of my experience.

So the idea is this:

High-power people probably tend not to send birthday and holiday wishes in media that are "answer-requiring", and tend to infer low power (and stay away from) those who do

We all know the proverbial aunt with nothing to do all day, that sends "good morning" and "good evening" texts and images every day.

And we all know what we usually do with her: we - largely - block her. Or in the best case, start to ignore her after a day or two.

This is the "not busy" end of the spectrum: lots of free time, lots of unwarranted bids for connection.

But couldn't we conceptualize, on the other end of the spectrum, a super-busy CEO, or a high-level politician, or a millionaire with lots to do, who probably has very little free time that he tends to guard it conspicuously?

Wouldn't a super-busy high-power person tend to do the exact opposite of the proverbial aunt, and thus: work on his birthday; work on other people's birthdays; work on Christmas (and, if not working, preferring to spend his hard-earned free time with family and friends rather than to respond to some wishes); work on holidays (or as above).

In general, such a person would probably not have the time to send wishes, even though he may want to; would be slightly annoyed by those who do send him wishes that require an answer (socially-speaking); and would infer low-power (ie not being like him) in those who always send him wishes on his birthday or on holidays in a medium that (socially) requires an answer.

I believe the following ideas can be inferred from the above:

  • sending birthday and holiday wishes in a medium that allows for an easy answer (eg text message, Whatsapp, LinkedIn message, and worst of all phoning) is mostly going to be interpreted as being low-power and also annoying by other high-power people;
  • and it is also going to subcommunicate "not being busy" to everyone;
  • the more the receiver is busy and high-power, the more he will be annoyed and get distant; but, the "not being busy" will be subcommunicated to everyone
  • while, sending birthday and holiday wishes in a medium that does not require an answer (eg postal card) may be interpreted as a kind thoughtful gesture.


  • it is, in any case, probably best not to overdo it, and thus do it extremely sparingly (eg limit oneself to Christmas wishes by postal card)
  • if one wants to subcommunicate being a busy professional, best not to send any wishes to potential (ie not already established) clients
  • best to only send wishes (by card) to people who are established clients, ie where a relationship has been established.

From the "always answer bids for connection" principle, it can also be inferred that:

  • if the wishes come from the other person, best to respond in any case (it will not be interpreted as "not being busy", but mostly as "taking the time to answer notwithstanding being busy")
  • if I send a card and a client responds via email, it is extremely necessary to respond: otherwise, the other person may think I sent a card to subcommunicate I was busy, and I am spurning his email to power-move
Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Great stuff, Bel!

Yes, I think you're right:

We can actually derive some high-level best-approaches from that original message.

Indeed, for many driven and high-power people all days are the same.
They may send or be happy to receive wishes, but certainly not happy for being flooded with notes they are "supposed to reply to".

I'm gonna move this to the "strategies" section if you're cool with it since it contains enough solid approaches.

Bel and leaderoffun have reacted to this post.
Community, new content and Confidence University moved here.

I’m thinking of an idea to improve birthday wishes, both in a personal and in a professional setting:

It is:

Sending a WhatsApp audio message.

Reasons in my mind:

- it’s going to feel more personal

- it’s going to be interpreted as not needing a reply

- the “not needing a reply” can be subcommunicated verbally while recording the audio

- as a professional, it subcommunicates “being busy but taking the time”

- it allows to modulate length and tone much better than text.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Yeah, it's a good idea, as long as you keep it brief.

It generally takes more time to listen than to type, so many busy folks prefer text -a good way for you to write and save time is to either use WhatsApp on desktop, or voice-to-text options-.

And you can even quickly  mention in the end:

No need to reply, just really wanted to send you best wishes. Big hug, Bel

Bel has reacted to this post.
Community, new content and Confidence University moved here.

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