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Office Life

How to pay attention to the warning signs that you’re acting like a brat

“Anything you can do, I can do better.” Those may be classic lyrics from Annie Get Your Gun, but they also seem to be an underlying theme with a large percentage of people in the workplace.

A recent study by workplace trends website Comparably found that a whopping 40% of the 10,000 workers polled believed they could do a better job than their bosses could. But what many people seem to miss is the nuance needed to manage to keep both the C-team and wider workforce happy.

In other words, many people seem to gloss over the tightrope that most middle management walks daily.

Don’t forget the middle

In an email, ArLyne Diamond, Ph.D. President & Founder of Diamond Associates & Workplace Consultant put it this way “Unsophisticated staff have no real knowledge of or appreciation for the actual work done by their manager. They see only their own needs/wants and can’t understand why their boss can’t just “hop to it.” What they fail to realize is that the manager is in the middle – he/she has to report up and manage down.” Fair point, but why do some people still act more entitled in the workplace?

I exist; therefore, I excel

To awkwardly paraphrase Descartes, some people believe themselves better in the first place, and that by simply showing up, they should be rewarded. “People who are entitled feel like they should be given the keys to the kingdom simply by virtue of their existence,” said Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D. a clinical psychotherapist. He believes “They are demanding without any justification.” What that means in the workplace is that “these people demand special treatment and perks without providing anything special in return. They are all-take and no give.”

Everybody wins! Until you lose

So how did these people become entitled? Hokemeyer believes “People become entitled because they never learned the value of work or merit. They grew up in an environment where everything was handed to them and they were praised unconditionally. As a result, their ego grew while their stamina atrophied.” While that might sound a bit harsh, think of all the times in school or summer camp when everyone got an award instead of the top three contenders. It might have soothed the kids in the group while making it harder to function as an adult in a competitive work environment.

Assertiveness vs. entitlement

“There’s a big difference between being assertive about your value in the context of a team and being entitled to special treatment,” Hokemeyer said. To put it plainly “Assertiveness is characterized by the advancement of your interest without cutting anyone else down. Demanding special treatment entails discounting the value of your teammates. To avoid the latter, it’s important to frame your discussion around what’s in the best interest of the organization then list the various ways you bring value to the equation. After you’ve gotten this sorted in your own mind, then bring your requests to your manager.” In other words, figure out what’s going on, prioritize your own needs vs. the group and project, and only then find a way to move toward a solution- even if that means taking it to a higher up.

If you quack like a duck

If you find yourself wondering if you’re acting bratty, you’re already ahead of the game- because you care enough to notice. Hokemeyer said, “If you’ve been told before that you’re a bit grandiose or gotten into trouble because your sense of self, doesn’t quite square up with others’ perceptions of you, be on high alert that yes, you probably have a distorted sense of your value.” Consider asking your manager or boss or even work bestie how you can try to shift your ego and attitude to become more of a team player. Showing that you’re willing to change goes a long way. Doing so- even more so.

A word about narcs

A lot of people toss about the word ‘narc’ or narcissist these days. Hokemeyer explained, “Narcissism is clinically defined by traits that include an inflated sense of self, grandiosity, a constant need for affirmation and the inability to understand or even tolerate the feelings of others.” Sounds like you? Stop. Sounds like a coworker? Talk to your manager and see how you can work through issues preventing your team from working well.

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Rachel Weingarten is a marketing & brand strategist and president of 729.marketing. She's a pop culture and trends analyst who frequently writes about business and style and the business of style. Rachel's a sometimes professor, teaching personal branding on the graduate and undergraduate levels. She leads corporate seminars on topics including evolving communication and spirituality in the workplace. Rachel is also the author of three award winning non-fiction books.