Dealing With People Who Act Entitled

Dear Neil:  I read an article written by you about entitlement.  I am wondering if you have some specific, defined actions one can take in dealing with entitled people.  I work with two of them, no less, and I dread it, as any little thing that goes wrong can turn into a major problem.  When forced to work with people who act entitled, what is the best approach?

Dreading It in Longmont, Colorado

Dear Dreading It:  People who take a position of entitlement act contemptuous of others.  Superior.  They become offended when somebody objects to their behavior, and have a very difficult time apologizing when they make a mistake or act inappropriately.  They may easily blame, criticize, shame, humiliate or judge others—or demand that others meet their needs or live up to their standards—but are resistant to meet your needs or to live up to your standards, and they aren’t empathetic.  The act as if they have the right to do or say whatever they want, and you have no right to object.  So says psychotherapist John Mariner of the Relationship Resource Center in Denver.

Frequently this behavior comes from people who were shamed as children. Adults shamed as children frequently get angry and feel defensive when someone challenges or disagrees with them.  They suffer feelings of humiliation if forced to look at mistakes or imperfections, and they often feel judged by other people.

Author John Bradshaw argues that the core of feeling shamed comes down to my sense of inadequacy.  Feeling inadequate, in turn, makes me feel afraid that I will be discovered to not be good enough—and that I will never measure up.  Avoidance of negative judgment or criticism—or any suggestion that I’m less than perfect—therefore becomes the organizing principle of my life.  So I must cover up my mistakes at all costs, and one way of doing so is for me to judge, criticize or get angry at you.

So what can you do if you live or work with a person who frequently takes a strong entitlement position?  You can:

  • Use praise and admiration whenever you can.
  • Remove the criticism and blame from your comments.
  • Don’t take an adversarial position unless you have to.  Verbalize what you agree with, what makes sense or what you think is a good idea.  Then say what you want—but say it as tactfully as you can.
  • Ask questions that encourage teamwork:  “Where do you think we’re in agreement?” or “How can we put our heads together and come up with a solution that all of us can live with?” or “What could I do that would assist you?”
  • In cases where it’s not appropriate to agree with someone, at least acknowledge his/her emotions.  “So you’re feeling we should go in a different direction.  Is that correct?”  As soon as the other person feels heard and understood, tension and conflict are likely to be reduced.  By choosing to respond to a disagreement with a non-adversarial, empathetic approach, you can often transform the defensiveness, anger or hostility into teamwork and cooperation.

I also discuss this in a more recent column called People Who Act Entitled.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you can help them become what they are capable of being.” —Goethe

33 comments on “Dealing With People Who Act Entitled

  1. I came across this article, and when I read it, I couldn’t believe what I was reading! Are you trying to tell me that one should make nice to people, that act, like they are entitled? Seriously? I know of one person, that acts like this, thank you very much, I don’t have to deal with them anymore, but they were a pain in a friend’s and my side, almost from day one! To say I disliked her, would be an understatement! We both tried to like her, but it wasn’t happening. She expects people to jump, when she calls, and tried to disguise it, as a sicky sweet request. The most I could do, is feel sorry for someone like her. People like that, just don’t get it!

    • I think the point was more aimed in a working environment… Agree’d, it’s not always good to pander to somebody else’s requests. However, when you have to work with a person everyday, sometimes it is just easier to behave in a way that stops them from being a dick

    • This blogger is clearly not saying just be nice to entitled individuals as if you should just let them walk all over you. Ask yourself this: Why do kids (even adults) misbehave? Humans (especially children) have a hard-wired need for attention and power. Misbehavior is NEVER just that child (or person’s) problem. Because how we react to that person’s behavior greatly affects the outcome. If a human being is continuously treated or reacted to in a improper/poor manner then that behavior will never get better. If a person didn’t have proper parenting growing up then continuously gets treated in that same manner as an adult (simply being “punished” for their behavior by some sort of blame, shame or pain) they never feel respected by ANYONE, EVER. At some point (the earlier the better) someone needs to show that person what a healthy relationship looks like by helping them become a disciplined individual in a respectful manner. Could be you, if you have the patience for it.

      When was the last time YOU listened to somebody who didn’t agree with your side of something who spoke to you in a disrespectful, mean or condescending tone? Or tried to force something on you? What I’ve learned from personal experience is that people need the right kind of (healthy) attention and free will. And not people barking at them or being rude to them, no matter what age. Obviously, don’t give attention to deliberate/ manipulative behavior to anyone at any age from 2-92. But DO show people positive attention when they do something right. Fuel them with positive reinforcement. They are human after all, do show them love or at least respect. That way they can FEEL heard in some way shape or form. You got to start on a positive note somewhere to give that person a little push forward in the right direction. Heck if that person is your family why not give them a hundred little pushes forward in the right direction. Why give up on them?? Nobody wants to feel like they’ve been given up on. Maybe you’ve done or said something pretty messed up. Or didn’t do something the right way. Maybe you’ve done that more than once. OR you’re whole frickin’ life. Some people need a lot more help than others. Give them a chance in a healthy way. That’s all this blogger is trying to help people with. He’s giving you a tool. Use it. Try it.

    • yes this writer is trying to tell us to pamper the people who act entitled in order to have peace.
      to hell with that! who cares wether his problem is from childhood or not?
      we all have our problems and people who behave wrongly should be responsble for the consequences
      dont tell me to pamper anybody ,because i am not the one who gave birth to them.
      i should not play the role of a reformist.i have my own rights to good treatment and anyone who did not learn to behave properly should take whatever comes along.

  2. The only way to fix entitled people, is to show them their proper place in the world….ie not different from everybody else.

    It’s when we start treating them beyond what we would for normal people, including ourselves, that we run into problems. It causes imbalance, and they become used to an imbalance. Then, they expect the imbalance. This imbalance has to come from somewhere, namely YOU. Thus, it is YOUR duty and right to correct this balance by doing your best to make sure THEY DON’T get what they are after. Otherwise, it will reinforce their belief that they CAN get what they want by manipulating you. Further justifying this belief in their head, and in others.

    For example: Your sister in law is selfish and entitled. Everyone is expected to bring food to the potluck. She makes up an excuse and says she won’t (and this is reoccurring, let’s say it is the fifth time). Your mom tells YOU to pick up her slack. What do you do?

    If you pick up her slack, then you are reinforcing her belief. If you listen to your mother, you are reinforcing your mother’s belief that your sister in law is entitled. What should you do?

    I wouldn’t bring anything. Just say you were busy, too. Have them order pizza. Life goes on. But if you continue to pick up the slack, you will be EXPECTED to pick up the slack, and crucified when you don’t. Simple.

    Now, you may say that this is being selfish, but add up the math. 5x you have had to pick up the slack. Has she had to help you, ever? No. So, technically she owes you 5x before it becomes balanced. You cannot tell me that the character in this scenario is selfish, logically, when looking at only the variables I presented. 5 to 0 is NOT selfish on zero’s part. Basic math.

    • Thank you for this reply…we have a son who has always been entitled…he is now in prison barking out orders, trying to manipulate from afar….probation have nailed it on the head…he is extremely entitled. As a youngster he was always saying everyone else got more than him, until I kept a diary for a year which showed he got more than his siblings by far. I’m afraid I have pandered to the behaviour, which was (now I see it) bullying, he is in the real world now and they see right through him.

    • Well stated, enabling a person does not help them to live in the real world. I believe it is better to model the desired behavior with hopes that the other person will follow your lead. It can take patience and time help them when they begin to help themselves.

    • I agree. We’re in a new world order of uber-selfish and entitled people, be they family members, lovers or coworkers; with lots of assumptions about how things really work in this world.
      The old saying that it takes two to tango is true; as does the idea of being equally yoked, with the other person carrying an equal share of the responsibilities as possible. It all goes wrong and eventually all hell is bound to break out, when one is constantly taken advantage of, as a matter of assumed entitlement on the part of the one who is not doing anything nor feels obliged to even care, by not positively participating, by not carrying his or her fair share. I know this from bitter first hand experiences in my own life. The answer however is not to keep indulging these steamroller personalities in their games. The answer is to drop them as soon as possible and move on with your life and get new relationships going that are more positive and equitable. Easier said than done, if you are involved to point of ‘addicted’ to being a pissing post for such people. But, it can be done. And remember, your own life is far too short of indulge others in their childish, selfish whims.

    • In your example it did cost something, but I doubt giving words that the entitled person wanted to hear would cost you anything, a false sense of entitlement is a weakness afterall, who knows it might even get you something unexpectedly good. Just hold on tight to how they make you feel and put it back for a moment .As long as it is clear to you what your places are and what really matters to you then youll be the one truly in control not of anyone but of the situation

  3. What if you have a family member who feels expects your help whenever they are in a pinch. Even if means you go without and sacrifice everything. So they have a rent free existence, being kept in their lifestyle of their comfort zone extensively long term. You could very well say the person feels entitled for sure.

    • You’re right. I have a brother, 52, who has NEVER worked for a paycheck. Gets by on schemes and little jobs here and there. Hoards junk like crazy. Lives in a passed away family members house mortgage and tax free…somehow pays electric. Will not mildly conform to cleaning up his place and cold shoulders and even threatens those who attempt to get rid of the trash, mow the yard, or even ask him to help. It’s hell. And now he’s so right and we are wrong that he has stopped speaking and helping our mother…. she just needs her meds and someone to eat with her… She and I pay for his existence. What a child! What entitlement!

    • Patty,
      I had a spouse that felt it was my life’s mission to work myself to death to afford her material possessions. After I became ill and had my colon removed due to a high stress life I stopped working overtime. I gave her my whole paycheck sans $50 for gas. She managed to blow an entire engineers paycheck prior to it posting a deposit. In her entitled way she demanded that I drive 2 weeks to work & back on $25. I told her it was impossible and she cleaned out the house of all the furniture & belongings and left.

      We divorced and she expected me to reside in a homeless shelter surrendering my entire paycheck to meet her material needs. She received 50% of the house proceeds, 50% of my pension, 75% of my 401K and 66% of my take home pay for the next 7 years. She tried to get lifetime alimony, but the courts nixed it due to all the times she abandoned the marriage home. After the divorce was finalized she had the nerve to demand that I co-sign for a mortgage that was equal to the alimony & child support that is vendored monthly to her.

      If this doesn’t illustrate a behavior of entitlement, then I don’t know what does.

  4. I have a sister in law that feels entitled and her mother supports this attitude. She doesn’t understand how someone else with a bad background can get a job and my sister in law can’t. It’s called LAZY!! She said that she’s applied to everything, when in fact she hasn’t tried a temp or a job placement agency. She wants to be hired in a specific field but doesn’t want to use her recently acquired degree in business.

  5. My sister-in-law is also entitled. She refuses to work and has all these excuses why she can’t work. She does not contribute to the family get together potlucks, she takes money from my elderly mother-in-law and has children that the state pays for.
    I want to know what the heck makes her so special that she feels entitled to retired people’s incomes, free meals and a free ride from the government, and how to stop this nonsense. She’s not any better than any of us.

  6. I have a partner that feels entitled to take what he wants regardless of how it makes people feel. His rationale is we use each other even though we are meant to be in a partnership with a young child. He has taken things from me and when I have said its not right to take without asking his reply has been ” well I’ve got to get something from all the work I put in. Not just I’ll do it out of kindness but I have to get something back! I don’t understand this mentality and I’ve decided that I no longer can put up with his entitled attitude. He has his own place has 30 hrs a week to himself while I’m at work and a childminder picks up the slack because he can’t cope! Ahh and he doesn’t pay anything towards our daughter pays off his own debts then takes off of me because I’m on a good wage so he’s entitled to take my money, he doesn’t pay for food, I do and he’s still unhappy. I have now had enough of his take, take attitude, lack of empathy for others feelings so I’m out of it. Now I’m financially better off and not walking on egg shells wondering if the man child is happy with what I’m providing which never seemed enough. Now he is alone in his flat, having to pay for his own food and things that I would originally pay for. See how he likes having to pay out more. He never appreciated the positive in the relationship so now he’s on his own, some people have to learn the hard way. As the saying goes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone! Well we’ve all been there in some respect, just part of life’s lessons. Writing this I realise that I’ve been reinforcing his entitlement by paying for everything, so now it’s for him to learn that he’s own his own and if he makes mistakes now it’s only him that has to deal with it ie when he is close to his overdraft max I help him so he doesn’t get into further debt. Now he can work this one out for himself. 3 yrs I’ve tried to get him to see what fair is but it seems like the sun will never shine in his marble head so it’s time to move forward!

  7. I just finished walking the Camino de Santiago (500 miles) and I can’t count the number of times people came in to the albergues being loud and thoughtless towards other pilgrims who were already sleeping.

    When asked to quiet down, these noisy individuals would become defiantly critical and insulting.

    Who is more entitled in a shared space? Is Common Courtesy (which has NEVER been common) a right? Or is it a Majority Rules situation?

    Being 56 years old, I have to wonder what ever happened to Respect Your Elders and Mind Your Manners

  8. this entire thread of comments seems to miss the advice by a mile, and only proves that you all feel entitled that your opinion of them is more important. IE – you are proving to be the entitled one!

    This advice encourages you to put aside your pride and learn how to deal with them for your own benefit. The author provides effective ways to still disagree but also “teach them a lesson” by quickly acknowledging their feelings and then disagreeing. Showing them the “big stick” or trying to passive-aggressively punish them is not a win for you either since it will only continue to provoke the behavior that eats up your time in dealing with them. I would focus on bigger and more important ways to “teach them” then winning the small battles.

    IE with family, my father feels very entitled a lot to his own feelings and standards, and I’ve been honest in telling him many times that he’s an unenjoyable person to spend time with because of it. Recently, I’ve flat out declined politely opportunities to see him or spend time with him, and was honest in saying that it was because of what I told him before, and that he didn’t take me seriously. I wasn’t rude, was not passive aggressive, but confidently set my limits and explained how I feel and what would happen. The result is that I didn’t see him a few times, but when he finally came around and apologized and sought what he wanted (to see me), he changed his behavior.

    Another example outside of family, is a tenant I rent to who is entitled beyond belief. Due to entitled tenants, I have changed the way that I put agreements in place. I only do short term 6 month agreements now so if I feel they are not a fit, they get the boot. This particular tenant now will be getting the boot in 3 months, even though they have expressed they want to stay and love the place. Being entitled, demanding, and rude has now cost this person what they potentially want in having a stable home life, and I will be more than happy to share that with them when they are forced to vacate instead of getting an extension or longer agreement based on positive behavior. There’s no need to try to teach her now or continue the cycle. I can just remove her from affecting me and teach her a bigger lesson at the same time.

    • keith, you criticised our opinions only to come back to contradict yourself.
      you accused us of being the ones who acted entitled,then why did you or should you eject your tenant?you should have understood and ,take it kindly so that you can help them.May be with time they will understand.

  9. Thank you for your article. I have to deal with a parent like that on my son’s team as the Team Manager. I have to stay very politically correct. This will help me to manage that person better. If she was a personal acquaintance, I would just stop communicating with her. But I have no choices.

  10. I have an adult step son (thirty seven years old) and his wife (thirty five)and they have three kids 6, 5, and 3. Since I retired in 2012 they assumed on their own that I would be their on call babysitter. One day they brought their daughter to my house first thing in the morning for me to babysit without calling or asking me first. I so happened wasn’t feeling well. I told them that I wasn’t expecting to babysit and that I wasn’t feeling well. My step son, who was the one who brought the child over got angry, took his daughter and left. They didn’t come back to visit for two years. They live ten minutes from us. They decided to come back around after I’m guessing that they saw that their “emotional blackmail” was NOT working. They act as if nothing ever happened…and so do I. Now that I am retired NO ONE is entitled to MY time!

  11. My husband and I are renovating an old house with intent to flip it. As we were approaching the “almost done” point on the first floor, nephew proclaims that he can not live with his woman any longer due to the abusive nature. We take pity on him and allow him to rent the first floor which he understood was still under some construction. We stated our terms and what we expected from him. He totally agreed to our terms and told us he would be on time with the rent. We gave him 6 weeks rent free to get reestablished and did his laundry. FREE. Left him with a lot of household stuff he would need in the rental. Granted, we were still coming over on weekends to do some work but also noticed that he seemed very oblivious to all the electrical power he was using by leaving all the lights on, radio on in a room no one was in and so forth. When we approached him with the utility bill of which we were to pay half he flipped out on us. Since we were working there we should pay it. Our other nephew, his brother, did the plumbing and updated much. Half way thru the job the plumber brother informs us that he usually gets $25 hr for family. Mind you we NEVER discussed this before he started. He now becomes the martyr and wants to donate the money to help his brother so he wants us to take his fee of his brothers rent. I just about died when I heard this. My husband and I have always helped everyone else out whether family or not. When plumber nephew started the job we were estatic that he was helping. How kind and thoughtful of him to help us out. We NEVER thought he was charging us. When we privately discussed the situation and told him we would eat the utility bill that month AND forfeit another months rent he responded in so many words that it wasn’t enough. Did that also include the remaining 20 hours or so of unfinished work yet to be done? OMG! What ever happened to one hand washes the other I thought. I feel we were totally taken for a ride and got it shoved up our you know what. We have friends who have done stuff FREE because they were friends to help us out and we have returned the favor. Family can be so greedy and feel so entitled that it baffles me. I learned my lesson to NEVER help that side of the family EVER again. It doesn’t pay. I can just imagine how they are dragging us thru the mud. Disgusting mentality. No excuse for that kind of behavior in my opinion. I have better friends than I do family. Guess the saying is true that you can pick your friends but not your family. How very true.

  12. There is no workable solution in giving an entitled person with indecent, rude, unkind behavior a compliment, etc. You can call them entitled but the politically correct word is spoiled brat would you tell your children to use compliments, praise and admiration to get along with a BULLY and treat them better ? Wouldn’t you tell them when dealing with people with despicable behavior, which we all despise, TO DISTANCE YOURSELF?

  13. I worked all summer, mowing lawns, yardwork and I bought my Xbox one at the end of July. But my brother feels that he is entitled to play when he wants, this forces me to make a time schedule limiting my time to play because he thinks he deserves to play when he did nothing. I really hate this because anytime I bicker with him about it my parents only solution is to take the game away, and not for a few days, for 3-4 months! It is outrageous and I seriously need help. I’m starting to feel like I worked for nothing.

  14. hmmmm – when one feels that everyone else should wait on them and hand them a silver spoon – they do what they want and take what they want no matter who they step on – it is too difficult to treat them with compassion

  15. Haha yeah no. I just don’t put up with them. If they’re disrespectful, I call them out on it and disengage. This advice is for doormats. Been there, done that, wrote the book, and wore the shirt. It gets you nowhere but deeper into the rabbit hole, with a lot of valuable time, energy, and effort wasted (no thanks, I have a life to live). You don’t have to be the “bigger person” when it comes to entitled asshats. Simple as. Fuck them.

    • Oh God, I agree. If you treat them with compassion, they always assume that everything they do is perfectly fine as they funnel everything through the ‘I deserve’ filter. The only thing you can do is ignore them as much as possible. Not always possible in a work situation and heaven help you if they are your boss as they are real energy vampires.

  16. I would just like to say there’s a very fine line between being “supportive” and being an “enabler”..having made poor choices myself in two relationships(that’s something I’ve adressed in myself)whiich both lasted a few years apiece I learnt the hard way about “entitlement”.One was with a “functioning alcohlic” who since joined AA though she was aggressively in denial throughout the entire relationship another with an extremely emotionally demanding woman.I was in love with both of them and went above znd beyond being supportive positive trying to boost self esteem etc etc but in both cases I found the more I gave the less I was appreciated and the behaviour actually worsened eventually I was extremely drained on every level and woke up and smelt the coffee.I had (and still have)empathy and a level of understanding as to “childhood traumas” that may have explained a lot of their abusive behaviour butt if someone doesn’t or can’t take responsibility for their own actions behaviour and address it all the support in the world is trying to fill a bottomless void.Help others if you CAN but RESPECT YOURSELF FIRST..Please Men and Women don’t disrespect yourself and place yourself in an abusive can only be responsible for your behaviour and emotions not for even those yo love.

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