Recently, for one of my articles, I interviewed Gorick Ng, Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right. His book is a wonderfully useful guide for recent graduates setting foot in the world of work, showing readers how not to mess up.
I sent copies to a couple, long-time clients, who have been helicopter parents for their two adult sons.
One is a recent law graduate waiting to take the bar exam, the other having washed out of two law schools–at his parents’ expense–and is now working on an MBA, living at home. No one is holding their breath as to the chances for his success in the world outside of mommy and daddy who have literally bailed him out of trouble his entire life.
Almost 30, he was never given the chance to stand on his own two feet, mommy always there.
While mom texted, “The boys love the book. Thanks,” neither of them took the time to call and say, “Thank you.” I should add that the law student stood my wife and me up for a lunch date without a phone call, later explaining, “The judge I was clerking for invited me to lunch and I could not refuse.”
Whenever I think of these brothers, I picture a single word hovering over their heads: entitled. Having heard this very word uttered by one too many HR managers behind closed doors, I caught up with The Unspoken Rules author Gorick Ng to get his take on this often-thought-about-but-underdiscussed topic.
Entitlement: The Silent Career and Relationship Torpedo
There is a difference between having confidence and feeling entitled, according to Ng:
“Having confidence means believing that you are ready for an opportunity, such as a more challenging and important work assignment or promotion. Showing entitlement means behaving as if you are deserving of an opportunity or promotion merely because you came to work.
“Confidence is necessary for getting ahead. Entitlement is what can prevent you from getting ahead. Not being confident enough can hold you back; coming across as entitled can also hold you back.”
Ng observes the two scenarios where entitlement is often seen on the job:
(1) When asking for something—showing a bad attitude when you don’t get it, and;
(2) When being offered something (such as a gift or opportunity) — and not showing gratitude after receiving it.
“There’s a difference between saying, ‘No problem, I appreciate the consideration’ and saying, ‘What do you mean No?!’ The former signals that the request was precisely that: a request; the latter signals that the request wasn’t a request at all, but a demand.
“If you show appreciation, the worst thing that can happen when your request is declined is you are back to where you were. You have not suffered a tarnished reputation. If you show entitlement—that you are owed this — not only do you still not get what you wanted, but others may think twice before offering you the next thing. It is a double whammy!” Ng points out.
So, where does entitlement come from in the first place?
Across the many years of my law practice, I have had a front-row seat to a variety of parenting styles, and to the grown children entitling parents end up raising. In my experience, entitlement in adulthood is the direct result of parents who give their children their every perceived need and want—regardless of actual necessity--and who condition them into believing that whatever they have, whatever they want, is deserved.
Ng agrees and describes the corrosive result of raising enabled children:
“Inflated expectations follow them into adulthood where mom and dad are no longer there to grant their every wish. Making matters worse, when this ‘child’—who has now become an adult—isn’t used to hearing ‘no’ for an answer, it is easy and predictable to become desensitized.
“Some people hear ‘yes’ so frequently that ‘no’ is no longer even within the realm of possibility.”
Ng cautions that entitlement doesn’t only lead to a failure in building allies, but also the loss of the few that they have. “Who you know matters,” he says, “But who knows you and what they know you for can be just as important. Social capital can get you in the door, but reputational capital is what you need to keep advancing.”
“They may have gotten this one opportunity, but people will think twice before giving them the next one,” he warns, concluding our interview with this cautionary advice for entitled employees:
“Please, go on thinking only of yourself, what you are owed, and how important you are. And, while you are at it, realize that your reputation is forever.”