Please or Register to create posts and topics.

Malicious & premeditated VS clueless & benevolent: assessing people

In this thread, we analyzed a negotiation power move.

And we ended up discussing the personality of the guy who pulled the power move.

Namely, if he pulled the power move maliciously and with pre-meditation to disempower me, or if he instead was more benevolent, and pulled a power move that ended up harming him not by pre-meditation, but by mistake and/or misunderstanding of the negotiation power dynamics (ie.: John said he thought he had more negotiation leverage than he truly had, which seems a good read to me).

That type of discussion is very important to assess people, as well as to decide the best course of action.

Because in case of a malicious power player you can expect more fuckery, more value-taking, more issues, bigger losses, and generally poorer outcomes.
You want to be more careful with these people, treat them differently, and potentially not having them as close friends / partners.

If he was instead clueless, then he would have been a much safer, and most likely a more honest and straightforward person to deal with.

Do you default to inferring malice, or cluelessness?

We could see two different approaches:

  1. Defaulting to cluelessness and an "average" personality: when you don't think the power move is an indictment or strong indicator of someone's overall character.
    You're more likely to deem the individual who pulled a power move (perpetrator) to be more along the "normal" spectrum in terms of ethics, Machiavellianism, sociopathy, power-awareness, and value giving or value taking.
    The power move he pulled was then not necessarily malicious. He might have internalized it from others, failed to see your point of view, or even done a mistake.
    It happened to be my original stance.
  2. Defaulting to malice and a value-taker personality: when you think the power move is an indictment or strong sign of someone's personality.
    You deem the perpetrator as having low ethics and morals, being high in Machiavellianism / narcissism / sociopathy and power, and a value-taker.
    It happened to be Bel's stance.

I'll copy-paste now the latest entries from that discussion (my first entry is copy-pasted without the block quote):

John Freeman has reacted to this post.
John Freeman
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Besides general predisposition, my more rational reasons for often defaulting to both cluelessness and subconscious rather than malice and planning are:

  • To consciously plan power moves requires top 10% awareness (or more), which by definition means that 90% are doing it either subconsciously -no excuse and no less "bad", but still a different case than pre-planned awareness-, or out of cluelessness when the power moves are more likely to be self-harming mistakes.
  • Those who consciously preplan power moves tend to be on their way up to the top 10%, or already there, which by definition also means that the majority who are at the bottom, around the middle, and either stationary or slower-moving either have less malice, less awareness, or both (exceptions always apply of course: some characters high in psychopathy never make it very high, while many who play too many games often end up crashing down more than once and sometimes struggle to get back up)
  • Those who are naturally effective at games are a minority, and so are those who study it: high-functioning sociopaths, Machiavellians, high-power and highly socially intelligent people are a minority. So are those who pro-actively study this niche material

So whenever I see a "normal guy or gal" who's playing power moves, my tendency is to think it's either subconscious and more "out of luck" when effective, or "a mistake" when harmful.

This is a topic I'm interested in though, and as Bel said himself, I'm very open to being wrong and revisiting my beliefs -as a matter of fact, I'm eager of being proven wrong and I welcome any evidence for that-.

Alex and leaderoffun have reacted to this post.
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Bel's answer:

Quote from Bel on April 16, 2022, 11:58 pm

My thoughts on the off-topic.

- Malice (or malevolence if you prefer) does not require conscious planning, just repeated practice, and can become automatic

Narcissist, for instance, operate by automatically manipulating those around them. They reach a point where they do not even have to think about what they are doing, they just operate automatically. Their behaviors are conscious, in the sense that they know and intend to manipulate, even if they can’t explain exactly why they do specific things. They just see them working again and again. That does not make them less manipulative.

- Mistakes, by definition, tend to be neutral in effect

Or, if you prefer, they tend to be “indiscriminate”; meaning, a person who does something by mistake would probably tend to alternate between behaviors that empower him or herself, and behaviors that disempower him or herself.

If, on the contrary, everything a person does is meant to disempower others, then it is more probable that the behavior is intentional.

I myself, when I was totally clueless about power moves and social power, sometimes did things that pissed people off; however, I also did many things against my own interests (self-disempowering mistakes) without realizing it.

Sometimes I desume manipulative intent by comparing what would have been my naive response to something before I understood power moves, with what I see others doing. I know it is not scientific, and I may make mistakes.

-  Because power moves require great awareness (though it can become automatic), it is more unlikely than not that they are pulled off by mistake

Meaning, people who use them have probably used them intentionally.

Another way of saying it: manipulating someone requires great effort. It is not something that happens by chance.

- Up to 1 in 10 people have personality disorders that make them highly manipulative

And they all take great care (more than we do for sure) to pass off as regular guys, because they have to mask their real intentions.

- I am starting to see an inverse proportion between being able to address others’ power moves and having to detect malice in others

Lucio’s reactions to others’ behavior appear to be, in many cases, more forceful than what I would say or do in response. This tells me that he does not need to deduce others’ ultimate intention, precisely because he knows how to respond.

I, on the contrary, feel a need to understand who the other is, because I am not sure I can manage certain types of people. I prefer not to interact with them if I suspect malice.

- Rationalizing others’ behavior is a form of (partially) discounting one’s feelings, but may even be socially advantageous

Meaning: while Lucio tends to see others as more “good and naive” than “bad and evil”, he still responds forcefully to power moves. And his default stance of seeing the good in others, coupled with avoiding being disempowered, works wonders: it placates them, is socially effective, justifies his reaction, and is advantageous. So the tendency to interpret others behaviors as not malicious is probably more useful than my opposite tendency (which is probably, at least partially, a temporary overreaction from having finally seen the light), if coupled with power-awareness.


Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

John's answer:

Quote from John Freeman on April 17, 2022, 5:31 pm

Lucio and Bel: your points are very interesting. Here is what I would add:

Children manipulate from a young age to get what they want: chocolate, toys, etc. They even do emotional blackmail by using their affection to get what they want. Kids use charm to get what they want sometimes also.

So I think it's a natural thing. However, as we grow as adults, we recognise through are more developed awareness than we can have a choice wether to go for win-win.

So for us it's a matter of:

  1. Going for win-win as often as possible AKA not manipulating others
  2. Defending ourselves from manipulation

When we fail to do both of them, we lose because we don't collaborate as well as possible or we get taken advantage of.

It's also a matter of ethics. I manipulated a friend during a board game. It was quite a strong manipulation from my ethical point of view. However, it is also a small thing. It was only for a game.

I still did feel bad because I lied to him and I did not tell him after the game. We do a lot of games where lying is what is fun in the game. However, we do admit that we lied afterwards. There is the in-game and the out-game. In the game we are not friends. Out of the game we are friends.

So it's a matter of subjectivity and personal ethics as well. Sometimes people feel it's fair to manipulate in certain situations and other feel it's not. So there's a difference in personal ethics here. If there is a clash, then it's a problem. Also if one's feel he's being taken advantage of, this person will shut off.

We cannot control others, we can only control our own behaviour. We cannot know other people's intentions and ethics. So there is imperfect information here and guessing is the best we can do.


Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Very interesting analysis Lucio.

I think that what you described is similar to Hanlon's Razor.

John Freeman has reacted to this post.
John Freeman
Quote from Alex on April 18, 2022, 5:30 pm

Very interesting analysis Lucio.

I think that what you described is similar to Hanlon's Razor.

If we're talking about end-results, in a way, yes.

I haven't read the whole thing, but it seems to be a "maxim", and not supported by a real reason behind it -in which case it'd have as many probabilities of being wrong as of being correct-.

However, I liked this other variation of it:

Let us not attribute to malice and cruelty what may be referred to less criminal motives.

Such as, many daily power moves might be ascribed to "lesser self-interested motives", which are kind of "normal" for most human beings.

The last thing I'd want though is to close this topic.

I still consider it's very possible I grant too much slack when it comes to assessing people and personalities.
So I'm still very open to changing my mind on this.

John Freeman has reacted to this post.
John Freeman
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on April 20, 2022, 12:40 pm
Quote from Alex on April 18, 2022, 5:30 pm

Such as, many daily power moves might be ascribed to "lesser self-interested motives", which are kind of "normal" for most human beings

That's how I view what this person has done. It's banal self-interested manipulation. Nothing malicious about it. There was no intent to harm I think rather than just getting what he wanted. Once again, just like children.


Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano
Quote from John Freeman on April 20, 2022, 1:19 pm

That's how I view what this person has done. It's banal self-interested manipulation. Nothing malicious about it. There was no intent to harm I think rather than just getting what he wanted. Once again, just like children.


Such as, it's not that it was "good" of course.
And it's also not that it was "not bad" -it was a bit bad, and also rather harmful to me and our future relationship-.

However, still "run of the mill, daily power move".

Which, in a way, it's also like saying: power dynamics isn't (just) for extreme situations.
It also heavily impacts your daily life and smaller-time negotiations.

John Freeman has reacted to this post.
John Freeman
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Very interesting topic, I'm also wondering about this.

It seems important to first acknowledge that:

  • these malicious actors exist,
  • they are potentially dangerous to us in many ways and
  • we don't know how many of them are around or have any good way of spotting them in advance.

By looking at the world as a whole we can probably assume they aren't extremely rare, but likely somewhat common.

I think it's dangerous to err on the side of naivety in contrast to erroneously projected malice, because you are more vulnerable as you create an exploitable weak spot in your mind, that allows these people to cover by playing dumb or feigning ignorance after the fact. You give them more chances to harm you.

But projecting malice on someone not actually malicious on the other hand isn't particularly harmful to either you or them, depending on your actions. I would simply increase distance and disengage. The upsides are limited harm and avoidance of, or early preparedness for, bad situations by actual malicious actors. (It gets difficult if other, naive people are involved though).

The worst that could happen with this approach seems like missing out on a great close relationship. However in my case, I'm not necessarily desperately lusting after such, and the chances for one after something like that happened aren't that great anyway, so I think there is a strong asymmetry in favor of potentially "over-assuming" malice. And it's also an interesting thinking exercise.

These days my general approach is different, I tend to assume casual malice as a baseline - and wait for green-flags to change my mind 😀

Also helpful in this context is probably to remind ourselves of what psychopaths look for in victims:

- naive (doesn't see it coming and is generally unaware and unprepared - probably the most important one, can sometimes manifest as arrogance, for example when people laugh about the "stupidity" of politicians)
- pacifistic (doesn't fight back) or weak (can't fight back)
- emotional (susceptible to manipulation - like fuzzy thinking in general)
- forgiving (can be exploited multiple times)

Mats G and Bel have reacted to this post.
Mats GBel

I agree 100% with Anon's excellent post. I personally embodied all the characteristics of the ideal victim, and the abuse I witnessed in my life from interacting with bad actors is unspeakable. First it was overt, then from a certain point in my life onwards, it was covert. And the covert abuse was the most dangerous.

And my current stance of defaulting to seeing "malice", I am sure, has saved me from much damage. It was, and still is, for me, a necessary part of my path. It helped me see how and from whom I was being manipulated, and get rid of those people: because it is very difficult to "see" what's happening if the only thing you witnessed in your life is bad people. You somewhat "normalize" abuse, and isolating for a time is the best way to get back to a "baseline healthy state" and pick up what they were doing to you.

At the same time, after reflecting much on this, I personally think the default stance of seeing the good in other people (save exceptional cases) is the final objective to be pursued in one's personal growth, especially after learning power moves and power awareness.

The thing is, apart from very isolated cases, being able to recognize and deal with power moves in itself is probably going to shield one from (most) abusers. Assuming this (assuming one can defend himself effectively from any threat), then it follows that:

  • as Lucio said on another thread, you never know what might happen in the future, and keeping open the mere possibility of an interaction with a person (even if that person was a total asshole in the past) gives you so many potential advantages over closing all contact for good;
  • (some) people change;
  • the capacity to interact without being harmed with a higher percentage of bad actors, even if superficially and in a somewhat "fake" way, is indicative of higher power and personal growth;
  • keeping being "in" the relationship as much as possible gives you options; you can always decide to go no contact (or, now that I know better, to fade the asshole) later;
  • one can live a happier life if one just assumes that person whom he interacted with for 5 minutes was simply a grumpy idiot rather than an abusive psychopath;
  • if someone is a dangerous psychopath, well, a person who studies PU will surely be better equipped to recognize it in any case, and then defend him or herself even more strongly.

I think it's good to regain the "people are mostly good" perspective, but from a different angle: that of being able to deal with everything life throws at you.