Dealing with Entitlement on the Part of Bosses and CEOs Isn't Easy

BY Tim Londergan
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People with a heightened sense of worth are tough to be around. But it’s particularly hard when they have a direct influence on your career. Entitled people expect special treatment and lots of admiration. Nevertheless, they behave in a way that is repellent. Experts say when dealing with entitlement, we should avoid reinforcing the behavior. More easily said than done.

Malcolm Forbes famously said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” 

Dealing with entitlement is tricky

Entitlement is a person's belief that they are inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. At worst, they’re rude, demanding, condescending, and they get resentful when things don’t go their way. Sometimes, it’s more subtle. After dealing with entitlement, you may feel that you are being manipulated. Either way, people who project entitlement lack empathy and compassion. Significantly, these two qualities are necessary for a psychologically safe workplace.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to change someone’s personality. Meaning, it’s difficult to make another feel or act less entitled. Incredibly, this person with the high self-​view is unlikely to realize any failings in their behavior at all.

A pervasive sense of deservingness

Jade Wu, PhD., suggests declining unreasonable requests when dealing with entitlement. Also, she says we should treat everyone, including the entitled person, equally. However, that’s hard to do when the offender is an officer of the company and important to your professional survival. Ill-​advisedly, you could tell your boss how their unreasonable request makes you feel. Good luck with that!

It sucks to be you

We often recognize entitlement by its effect on us. Mostly, we feel envy, anger or frustration that this person believes rules don’t apply to them. However, Wu suggests, these falsely privileged people are “pretty miserable.” In addition to their “raging sense of inadequacy,” these folks have more conflict with others and are notoriously thin-​skinned and hypersensitive. Likewise, they are prone to launch hostility and punishment towards anyone who chooses not to “prop up their fragile self-​image.” Unfortunately, as their craving for respect and admiration goes unmet, the disappointment can lead to psychological distress.

The positive side of entitlement

Long-​term relationships notwithstanding, entitled people have some advantages in business. Emily Zitek, writing for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, claims they are tough negotiators. For example, they are less likely to let others take advantage of them. In other words, when you are dealing with entitlement in negotiations be ready for a scorched-​earth outcome. Also, research shows that entitled people are better at creative problem solving, according to the author.

The sources of entitlement

Largely, entitled people lack humility and a sense of contentment. And, as citizens of a free society, we all possess a sense of entitlement in varying degrees. According to Zitek, the sources of entitlement may be parental or the influence of events or authority figures on young lives. However, for ourselves, when dealing with entitlement, we should try to disconnect with our feeling of privilege and, hopefully, gain a sense of contentment.

Showing wise compassion can help

Author Theodore Kinni, writing for Strategy+Business, suggests a combination of wisdom and compassion when dealing with entitlement. To explain, compassion is the intention to be a benefit to others: “How can I help? What can I do?” Wisdom, on the other hand, is the firm grasp of reality and the ability to act accordingly.

First, he recommends being mentally prepared when approaching hard conversations. Second, he urges separating the person from the attitude of false entitlement. Finally, he cautions that it is best to respond but never react during discussions. Rational, calm conversations combined with the space and time to digest the information can often lead to improved relationships with even the most difficult individuals.

Photo by Europeana on Unsplash