This week, for whatever reason, entitled people have been popping up around me like a game of whack-a-mole.
Earlier this week I was getting a haircut and overheard a customer ask at the desk for a same-day haircut. She was pleasant and smiley, but when the receptionist said she was sorry, they were booked for the day, the customer said, “Isn’t there someone on the schedule you don’t like very much who you could cancel?” The receptionist laughed … until she realized the customer wasn’t joking.
The next day I went to a parent-teacher conference and the teacher let slide that many parents have been emailing the principal demanding that their child get this or that teacher next year. She said the principal was so annoyed that he’s decided to automatically decline all entitled demands.
Finally, yesterday I got a call from a former client who no-showed her last three visits and ignored my emails for a month. She wanted an appointment, but expected me to stay late and to let her bypass the waitlist for accommodate her. That, plus she needed a letter to take her emotional support dog on a plane, and another letter to get a special parking spot. And she needed them that day.
What do all these pushy people have in common? Entitlement, or the belief that they are inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.
Some people wear their entitlement like a crown—they’re rude, demanding, contemptuous, and they get resentful, not just disappointed, when things don’t go exactly their way. But sometimes it’s more subtle—all you’re left with is a gut feeling that you’re being manipulated.
Not sure if you’re facing an innocent request or an entitled demand? Look for these four signs:
Sign #1: Mindset.
Let’s start with the big one: entitled individuals genuinely think they are better or more important than others. Making a request at someone else’s expense definitely qualifies as entitled.
Sign #2: They hold double standards for themselves and others.
Entitled individuals think nothing of inconveniencing others, like canceling at the last minute, no-showing appointments, or requiring lots of others people’s time and effort to get a task done.
But turn the tables and it’s a different story. Entitled individuals accept favors without returning them. They freeload. They feel aggrieved when asked to do something, particularly if it’s not going to get them anything in return.
Sign #3: They have a really hard time playing fairly because fairness implies equality.
Entitled individuals have difficulty compromising, negotiating, following rules, waiting their turn, or taking one for the team. They don’t apologize. And don’t even try to argue with them.
Sign #4: They’re manipulative and controlling.
They think it will get them what they want, and when they don’t, they quickly get threatening and hostile. With people they perceive to be below them, like service workers or customer support, they’re rude and go out of their way to show they’re dominant and superior. They’re impossible to please, because they expect the best on a silver platter, and when they don’t get it, they leave deliberate messes and tantrums in their wake.
Speaking of tantrums, it might be a surprise to discover entitled people are just as miserable as they make everyone else. In a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers from the University of Michigan discovered why the strategies of the entitled don’t work.
The answer lies in the types of goals they set for themselves. Entitled people set what the researchers called self-image goals, meaning their aim is to have others respect and admire them (notice I didn’t say like them—that’s different).
Entitled individuals care deeply about approval. When they get it, or they get their way, they drink it up like a spring break bro chugs a beer. It all feeds a grandiose view of themselves, but deep down they feel insecure about measuring up to those grandiose standards.
Mix together deep seated insecurity, an inflated view of their own importance, and valuing admiration, and it’s a recipe for a thin skin: entitled people are notoriously hypersensitive, and will let loose hostility and punishment towards anyone who doesn’t work to prop up their fragile self-image. But hostility and punishment aren’t good ways to get people to admire or respect you. Instead, they alienate and isolate. According to the University of Michigan study, it’s a strategy that backfires every time.
By contrast, non-entitled people set what’s called compassionate goals, meaning they want to make a difference in the world, support others, and feel close to those they love.
In short, compassionate people want to contribute; entitled people want to win, and to be admired for it. But here’s the secret: it’s only when you realize life isn’t a contest that you actually win.
4 Ways to Deal with An Entitled Person
It’s a challenge to be friends, co-workers, or partners with an entitled individual because a relationship is supposed to be equal. But an entitled person sees himself as superior to you and will always put their agenda first. How to stop the madness? Try these 4 tips:
Tip #1: Use wish fulfillment to set limits.
An entitled individual will hold all sorts of expectations—a friend may expect you to babysit on a moment’s notice, a grown child may expect to inherit enough that she doesn’t have to bother saving for retirement, or, as I witnessed, a customer may expect you to bump a client so she can take their place.
These expectations will be dropped in your lap, but here’s the thing: you don’t have to pick them up. Leave the expectation lying there. You don’t have to fulfill it. Make it clear that you can’t or won’t fulfill the expectation, but do so without blame or criticism.
A great way to do this is through wish fulfillment, which sounds something like this: “I wish I could babysit and help you out, but I have an appointment today. Next time give me a few days notice and I’ll see if I can help.” Or, “I wish I could leave you enough that you never had to worry about money. I’m going with the Bill Gates approach: I’ll leave you enough to do something, but not so much you can do nothing.” Or, “I wish I could work you in the schedule today, but everyone is booked solid. What about tomorrow?”
In sum, say you wish you could fulfill the request, and then politely make it clear that you can’t. Sometimes just acknowledging that you heard the entitled person’s demand and ostensibly agreed with it is enough to assuage their fragile ego.
Yes, entitled people can make your blood boil. But underneath it all, there’s that raging sense of inadequacy.
Tip #2: Treat everyone equally.
If you’ve ever been in preschool, you probably remember your teacher using the phrase, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Do the equivalent to stave off entitled kids, employees, or students. Don’t bend the rules or make exceptions for one entitled person if you can’t do the same for everyone. Why? Because making exceptions feeds into the idea that the entitled person is special and superior, plus it has the side effect of making others feel resentful. Just like in preschool, everyone will feel more secure if you run a tight, egalitarian ship.
Tip #3: Feel a little sorry for them.
Yes, entitled people can make your blood boil. But underneath it all, there’s that raging sense of inadequacy. It doesn’t mean they can treat you like dirt, but it can be helpful to remember their lives and relationships—however they may look on the outside–are pretty miserable.
Tip #4: Remember there’s only so much you can do.
It’s cliche, but it’s true: people can only change themselves. You can try to help them (and protect yourself) by setting limits, being egalitarian, and feeling compassion, but ultimately, you can’t change them. Do your best to steer clear. It’s one of the few times in life where being punished with the silent treatment might actually be a blessing.
To wrap up, as Malcolm Forbes famously said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” So tip your waiter generously, smile and ask how your barista’s day was, and give up your seat to the old lady on the subway. This is not to be better than the entitled people—that misses the point. Instead, it’s to make everyone’s day a little better which, ironically, is exactly how to gain true admirers.