When we enter the workforce, we all come in with different life experiences, maturity, emotional intelligence, and understanding of longstanding power structures and systemic inequities. This is often most visible when it comes to entitlement.
Some people manage to make it through life rarely—or possibly never—being challenged. They’re often of the mindset that they’re deserving of certain privileges without question, that their opinion inherently has more value than others’, and that they’re above receiving any type of feedback or criticism.
If you’ve ever worked with someone with a similar sense of entitlement, then you know it can be a challenge. Here are a few expert tips for navigating interactions with entitled coworkers.
How to deal with entitled coworkers
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Interacting with an entitled person can be especially tricky, because if they perceive a conversation as an unwarranted personal attack—even if it’s not—there’s a good chance they won’t be receptive or even listen to what you’re saying. If you’re not sure where to start, try one of these expert-backed strategies:
Avoid reinforcing their sense of entitlement
While we can’t change an entitled person’s personality, we can avoid reinforcing their sense of entitlement, says Emily Zitek, PhD, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University.
“For example, when entitled people make unwarranted demands, it might be better not to give in, because doing so may make them even more certain that their entitlement is justified,” she explains.
Ask for details
Let’s say several of your colleagues have ideas for how to handle a particular project. One person’s proposal has clear advantages for them, but doesn’t seem like the best way forward for the company or other employees. On top of that, this person shoots down everyone else’s proposals with little or no explanation.
In an article for CNBC Make It, Stefan Falk, an executive coach and workplace psychology expert, explains that asking the person to provide further details about their proposal could help. He suggests posing questions like: “Could you clarify how this benefits the company?”
Explain why you’re saying ‘no’ to them
An entitled person may not be used to other people saying “no” to them, and, as a result, may not react well when you do it at work. That’s why Zitek recommends providing them with your reasoning for turning them down.
“It may help to explain why your refusal is fair, because perceptions of unfairness are linked to even more entitled behavior in the future,” she notes, adding that while “entitled people are unlikely to think something that doesn’t benefit them is fair, it doesn’t hurt to try.”