In determining what presents to pick out for our friends or family members, we often find ourselves trying to predict what items they might choose if they were to select presents for themselves.
Maybe they'll make it easy by dropping hints. They may even make it a non-issue by explicitly saying what to get them. Or maybe we've simply been paying attention for the past few weeks, trying to see if there's anything that has attracted their attention.
Even when we're told what to get, it's worth focusing on specifics. What particularly attracts the recipient to this gift and not an alternative? Does it have to be exact color? Brand?
For example, a child may want a video game system for Christmas, but what type of system can make a huge difference, say between a PS3 or a Wii. Maybe one loves John Grisham and his latest novel would make a great gift... but only if the recipient doesn't already own a copy of "The Litigators".
It's helpful to have an 'inside man' in situations like these, whenever possible. For instance, if I'll pick out a present for my dad, I'll first ask my mother whether he already has an item, or what he might prefer instead.
If that's not possible, consider discretely prying for ideas extra-early. If it's far enough away from the gift-giving date, there's a good chance any questions may be interpreted as mere conversation. Better yet, if done far enough in advance, the recipient will likely even forget if we fail to be discrete and they pick up on our all-of-a-sudden unusual interest in, say, their preferences in engagement rings. ;)