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Marchiavellianism is a concept derived from the ideas of a thinker named Niccolò Machiavelli. It’s a complex and controversial idea that has made its way into psychology. In this discussion, we’ll examine Machiavellianism closely to understand what it means. Then, we’ll discuss how it manifests in people and why it’s essential today. We’ll also discuss how it fits into the bigger picture of the Dark Triad.

What is Machiavellianism?

Machiavellianism is a personality trait characterised by being cunning, manipulative, and strategic in dealing with others. The term comes from Machiavelli’s book “The Prince,” where he argued that it’s okay to do whatever it takes to gain power and influence. People with Machiavellian personalities understand social situations and can manipulate them to get what they want, even if it’s not ethical or doesn’t consider how it affects others.

Unpacking Machiavellianism: Traits and Characteristics

Understanding Machiavellianism involves looking at the defining traits of this personality type. Here are some key characteristics that can help you recognise someone with Machiavellian tendencies:

Strategic Thinking:

People with Machiavellian traits are very good at making long-term plans and manipulating situations and people to get what they want. This kind of strategic thinking involves careful planning and adapting to different situations. Machiavellians often focus on long-term strategies, anticipating future challenges and opportunities and positioning themselves advantageously. They do well in environments where complex problem-solving and strategic planning are important, such as politics, business, and high-stakes negotiations.

Manipulative Behavior:

People who exhibit Machiavellianism are skilled at influencing others using tactics like charm, deception, and calculated moves. They are also adept at identifying the weaknesses of those around them and using that knowledge to get what they want. Their manipulative behaviour is not just about taking advantage of situations—it’s actually planned out to help them stay in control in social and professional situations. This can be harmful to others because Machiavellians are willing to lie and use force to reach their goals.

Lack of Empathy:

One key characteristic of Machiavellianism is a profound lack of empathy. People with this trait tend to focus on their needs and desires above everything else, often ignoring how their actions might impact others. This lack of empathy allows them to make decisions and take actions that others might see as morally questionable or unethical. It lets them stay emotionally detached, making them strong opponents in competitive environments where tough decisions must be made without considering emotions.

Calculative Decision-Making:

Machiavellians are known for their careful decision-making. They think through their actions, considering what they stand to gain and what risks they might face. They don’t act on impulse but instead, take their time to ensure their actions help them reach their long-term goals. This can make them seem distant and methodical because they focus on efficiency rather than getting caught up in emotions or ethical questions.

Adaptability:

Adaptability is another key trait of Machiavellianism. People with these traits are good at changing their tactics to stay ahead when things around them change. This flexibility helps them handle complicated and ever-changing situations. They’re quick to rethink things, give up on strategies that aren’t working, and try new approaches that can help them do better. This adaptability makes them strong and often successful when sticking to a strict plan, and being unwilling to change could lead to failure.

Examples from History and Everyday Life

Influential people have been known for being cunning and strategic in politics, business, and relationships throughout history. We can see examples of this in the clever moves of political leaders and the competitive strategies used in the business world. Here, we explore notable instances of Machiavellianism in various contexts.

Political Examples

Throughout history, the political landscape has provided fertile ground for the employment of Machiavellian strategies. Leaders are frequently regarded as prime examples of manipulating and deceiving others to accomplish their political objectives.

Niccolò Machiavelli

It’s fitting, to begin with the namesake himself. Machiavelli, an influential figure in Renaissance Italy, was a diplomat, philosopher, and writer. His famous work, “The Prince,” discusses how to gain and maintain political power. Machiavelli’s political actions in Florence often matched the strategies he wrote about, involving changing alliances and clever deception.

Richard Nixon

The 37th President of the United States, Nixon, faced a lot of trouble during his time in office because of the Watergate scandal. This scandal showed how Nixon used sneaky and dishonest tactics to stay in power. He was involved in trying to cover up a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, and he used sneaky methods like wiretapping and spreading lies to make his opponents look bad. This all showed that Nixon believed it was okay to do bad things as long as he stayed in charge.

Vladimir Putin

The current President of Russia, Putin, is known for using strategic tactics to consolidate power. He controls information, manages wealthy individuals, and manipulates events at home and abroad to maintain his hold on power. From taking over Crimea to allegedly interfering in other countries’ elections, Putin’s methods often involve secrecy and strategic trickery.

Otto von Bismarck

The Iron Chancellor of Germany, Bismarck, was a master of realpolitik – a practical approach to politics based on practical and material factors rather than moral or ethical considerations. He used a series of wars and strategic alliances to unify Germany and skillfully manipulated European rivalries to isolate France.

Corporate Machiavellianism

In the business world, successful leaders are often praised for their ability to think ahead and making visionary plans. But sometimes, they are criticised for using aggressive methods and not always following the rules.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc., was famous for his creative ideas and intense commitment to making great products. However, his way of leading was sometimes harsh and uncompromising, similar to the ideas of a historical figure called Machiavelli. Jobs was known for using fear and competition to push his employees to work hard. He also habitually took credit for other people’s ideas and was very tough in business deals. While he greatly impacted technology, some questioned whether his leadership style was always fair and ethical.

Elizabeth Holmes

The founder of Theranos, Holmes, showed extreme corporate deceit by tricking investors, employees, and the media to build and maintain her fraudulent company. She prioritised personal and financial gain over ethics, using strategic lies and betraying trust, revealing corporate behaviour’s darker side.

Carlos Ghosn

Ghosn, the former CEO of Nissan and Renault, is a prominent example of Machiavellianism in the international corporate arena. He orchestrated Nissan’s turnaround with aggressive cost-cutting measures and strategic alliances, including the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. However, his tenure ended in scandal when he was accused of financial misconduct, including underreporting his compensation and misusing company assets. Ghosn’s rise and fall illustrate the dual aspects of Machiavellianism: strategic brilliance and ethical controversy.

Relationship Dynamics

In daily life, people can encounter sneaky and manipulative behaviour at work, in social situations, or even in personal relationships. This can involve one person trying to control another through subtle influence and strategic moves.

Workplace Dynamics

In the workplace, some people use sneaky tactics like spreading rumours and sucking up to bosses in order to get ahead. This kind of behaviour can make work a really unpleasant place, where you can’t trust anyone and people don’t get ahead based on their skills and hard work.

Social Situations

Some people use charm and manipulation to control social situations. For example, they might befriend influential people in a social group to gain power and control. They might also use private information to their advantage, harming relationships and the overall group.

Personal Relationships

In personal relationships, Machiavellian behaviour can show up as one partner trying to control the other through psychological manipulation. This might involve tactics like making the other person doubt their feelings and sanity (gaslighting) or using guilt and affection to control them. These behaviours can cause a lot of emotional pain and create unequal power dynamics in the relationship or even abuse.

What is The Dark Triad?

Machiavellianism is one of the traits in something called the Dark Triad, which also includes narcissism and psychopathy. These traits and related personality disorders involve harmful behaviours like manipulation, self-centeredness, and not caring about what’s right or wrong. Each trait has its characteristics, but they often work together to strengthen the bad parts of human nature and affect how people act in different situations. Knowing about these traits can help us see how they can affect individuals and society and figure out how to deal with them.

The Dark Triad diagram showing Narcissism Machiavellianism and PsychopathyMeasuring Machiavellianism

Psychologists have devised a way to measure how likely someone might behave in devious or manipulative ways. They employ a set of questions and scenarios to gauge individuals’ attitudes towards actions like deceiving others, making ethical choices, and interacting with others. This helps them understand the probability of someone acting in a devious or manipulative manner.

Navigating the Machiavellian Maze

In today’s world, where power plays a big role in shaping different situations, Machiavellianism continues to have a strong influence. Understanding Machiavellianism helps us gain valuable insights into human behavior and the complexities of modern relationships. Being aware of Machiavellian tendencies can help people understand others’ motives, handle social situations better, and find a balance between ambition and ethics as they progress in life.

Seeking Support

If the information in this article has affected you and you’re going through a tough time or just need someone to talk to, please reach out to our team. We’re here to help and support you during difficult times or suffering with any psychological issues. Feel free to find and book a therapist or get in touch with us for guidance and assistance.