Entitlement haunts our decision-making. The sense in every one of us that the world should present itself to us in the manner that we believe would be fair. I suspect that the entitlement “sense” is connected to the mind’s way of seeking dopamine guarantees, which conflicts with reality because there are no such guarantees - ever.

Entitlement in Relationships

Social contracts, or unspoken promises, often trigger entitlement. For instance, a colleague asks you to switch shifts for a week because they have family coming in. You are not exceptionally comfortable with taking that shift on, but you do it because you want to help this person; in the back of your mind though you could be thinking of ways you may benefit in the future for making such a decision. A few weeks go by, and you want to take your family on a memorable vacation, remembering the favor you had done for your colleague before you ask them for the same favor to cover your shift so you may be with your family. When we are in this position, we are almost sure our colleague will say yes, take on the shift and yield back a favor in return for your prior decision. Still, in this story, our colleague says no; in fact, they reject the idea of covering any shift for you ever in the remaining three years you spend at this company.

What is the “right” thing to do? What is “fair,” and why do these interactions play such a large part in our relationships and decision-making process? We experience emotional tension when we do not entertain the feeling of entitlement; it may put us in positions where we make our lives smaller because we are afraid that nothing will ever come of the activities we want to do.

Entitlement in the workplace

The sense of entitlement can emerge in unpredictable ways and, left uninvestigated, may lead to pockets of subtle discourse in an organization.

Statements of entitlement

“Team A did not do what they said they would do for us.”

“I should have gotten that project or promotion.”

“Why didn’t they do what I had expected them to do?”

“This is too hard.”

Counteracting statements of entitlement

“These simple examples are normal dialog that contradicts what we usually want in our organizations and workplaces.”

“How could we collaborate better with other teams to make sure that we are aligned and that we can achieve our goals? What was done instead of what we had expected or hoped to be completed, and was it the best choice for the organization?”

“We want to earn that promotion, so what is the next thing we need to do to achieve our goal?”

“Was I clear in my communication with that individual when I originally asked for this task to be completed? Did I define done enough?”

“The first time I tried this, it seemed difficult, let me spend some more time with this, and if you have any learning materials for me, I think that would be a big help.”

And if that doesn’t work, what should we do next?

Emerging adaptations due to the sense of entitlement

Awareness of our sense of entitlement can be a liberating experience, especially in a world where consideration is in short supply. Entitlement will put the control of lives into the outcomes of each decision we make and can create tension in places in an organization that would do better without it. Entitlement may impact cross-team collaboration in cases when the behaviors of a given group of people do not match the expected behaviors of another.

Becoming aware of our entitlements will give us the practice to notice when it presents themselves in the systems we participate. The method of detecting entitlement and Focus Retargeting is not discipline or persistence; this is becoming aware of when the world is not responding to us the way we had expected and accepting that as the way it happened, Focus Retargeting back to the moment and the options we have before us.


This week, do something for someone, including yourself, and do not expect anything in return - including validating this effort.

  • What thoughts came about while you were making this choice?
  • What feelings did you have while making this choice?
  • How willing were you to commit to the exercise?
  • How difficult was it to seek an alternative way to feel rewarded? For example, the first thing we try to do when we do something for nothing is to find someone to share it with for the chance they may tell us how wonderful we are.

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