I live a dual life. My “day job” for many years has been writing and speaking about workplace communications skills, but on the weekends, I also am a practicing psychotherapist. (In other words, when I am not having people get angry with me on stage in front of large audiences, I put myself in the middle of other people’s family conflicts. Go figure.)

These two worlds intersect a lot more than you might think. In fact, one principle we see constantly in psychotherapy – that you have probably never heard of – might be the single biggest thing holding your small business back. It is called destructive entitlement.  

This term was first coined by one of the founding fathers of family therapy, the late Dr. Ivan Böszörményi-Nagy (say that three times fast). It means that if you don’t grow up with enough love and respect, you often spend the rest of your life treating people like they “owe” you. For example, whenever you are in a relationship, you are clingy, jealous, and demanding – which, in turn, pushes away the very people who could love you. Think of it as a deeper version of “kick the dog syndrome.”

So, what does this have to do with your business? Lots. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you keep chasing after prospects that have long since checked out on you?
  • Do you feel people “owe” you their business because you worked so long and so hard on the deal?
  • Do you get angry if, for legitimate reasons (or even illegitimate ones), they change their minds?
  • Do you think in terms of overcoming objections, getting past gatekeepers, getting your foot in the door, and other 1952 sales ideas?
  • Ultimately, do you look at potential customers as people who need to somehow be talked into whatever you are selling?

Well then. This is why you aren’t anywhere near as successful as you could be.

Healthy relationships don’t pursue people; they celebrate and serve them. They focus on how they can benefit others, not on how they can coerce them to sign on the dotted line. Successful businesses nowadays “wheel out the dessert cart” and tempt people with delicious possibilities, instead of worrying how to make them buy – and this attitude is what leads to true abundance.

Here is what this principle means in real life. I am as polite and professional when a $20,000 contract bites the dust as when I get a $20,000 contract. When someone calls me, I am not “selling” them – I am genuinely enjoying them as people and giving them information to use or not use as they see fit. Above all, I have built a very successful business on the wings of the greatest clients in the world, all of whom would probably have run for the hills if I was ever foaming at the mouth with my own self-interest.

The good news is that destructive entitlement is more easily fixed than you think, once people are aware of it. And the impact this has on your life, your relationships – and your small business – is often dramatic. So, check this out of your own business strategy and then watch what happens!

How do you approach your clients? Do you come from a place of service or try to get them to buy? What’s worked well for you? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.