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How to Advocate for Yourself Without Resorting to Entitled Behavior

By Jacquelyn Adams

Confession: if someone is walking down the sidewalk center, sometimes I won’t hurry over to give them a clear path. The sidewalk exists for a reason, and I prefer not to walk in the dirt. However, since they are on “my side,” when I maintain my trajectory, we bump into each other. I understand how petty it sounds. But as someone who has had to fight to make herself heard and be taken seriously in the workplace, it can sometimes be hard to pick my battles. Honestly, some days stepping into the grass is too reminiscent of entitled/bullying behaviors in the workplace. So let us take a step back and look at how we can examine this sidewalk-hogging situation together, as well as my reaction to what I perceive as entitled behavior.

Do a Fair Assessment                 

We all experience behaviors in our day-to-day life that seem rude, entitled, and thoughtless, such as when someone is crowding our space, cutting us off in traffic, talking over us, canceling plans at the last minute, and the list goes on. Far too often, we react to situations without stopping to consider the big picture. Here are a few questions to consider as we determine how to respond or if we should respond at all:

      • Have I done the same thing myself?
      • Was it intentional, or are they distracted?
      • Could a cultural difference be at the root of the problem (i.e., some families/workplace/societies accept interrupting or more assertive driving as the norm)
      • Are they aware that this behavior could be off-putting?

Once we have attempted to do an honest assessment of their actions and their mentality (this could even be as short as a few seconds), we can decide if/how we want to address it. If it were a simple mistake because they were distracted, then perhaps it can just be dropped, but if it might be habitual behavior that can damage relationships, it could be worth addressing.

Use Your Words

Now instead of retaliating, let’s do the same thing we tell toddlers: use our words. One simple example is when someone is crowding our space in public transport, such as a plane. We could be passive-aggressive and glare at their leg and then glare at them. We could press our arm or leg into space and attempt to physically reclaim it. However, the passive-aggressive approach robs people of the opportunity for consideration and growth. Instead, our behavior often makes us appear just as pushy and demanding as they seem to us.

Or we could politely say, “Excuse me, would you mind moving over? Your arm/leg is crowding my space a bit.” Two sentences point out the offending behavior and offer the opportunity for the person to reconsider that behavior in the future. Yes, it may be uncomfortable, but this way, you can advocate for yourself without bullying the other person in return.

Hold Your Ground

Since the diplomatic approach doesn’t always work, continued confrontation can get even more awkward, but it can become a worthwhile investment. If someone else is in your leg space and won’t move, then you don’t have to move either. It is okay to claim your ground. If someone continually speaks over, then you can claim your right to be heard. Again, it is a polite statement of, “Excuse me, but I was talking.” (Please note: the use of saying “excuse me” not “I’m sorry.”) You are not usurping their right to talk. You are not yelling or disrespecting them. You are rooted in your expectation of receiving just as much respect as you are showing.


So here’s to doing my part in the future to avoid these head-on sidewalk collisions. If the person is lost in some heavy thought, perhaps I can bite that grassy bullet and step off the sidewalk. Or I could say “excuse me,” so they can correct their course before our paths collide. Or while writing this article, I received the wise advice of just stopping. Then either they correct their course or run into me, but I am not being confrontational. At least I know from now on whether it’s a sidewalk, plane, or business meeting, I am able to be purposeful in advocating for myself without adding to the entitled behavior in that space.

Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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