10 Steps to Be A Good Machiavellian: Your Secret Playbook

man holds a guide with the steps to becoming more machiavellian

After we learned the Machiavellian traits and advantages, it’s time to get practical.

Power University shows all the examples and how to internalize these skills.
But for a solid foundation, here are 10 steps.

man holds a guide with the 10 laws to becoming more machiavellian

1. Always Ask: What’s In It For Me?

People in your life either give, or take.

And different courses of action either make you better off, or worse off.

And the best way to grow better off is to ask yourself “what’s in it for me“?

This website believes that a “WIIFM” approach drives progress and civilization.
It’s personal returns in social exchanges that motivate people to create and give value.

1.2. Learn Value-Accountancy

WIIFM is part of “value-accountancy”.

Value accountancy consists of keeping track of value transfers in your life.
Who owes, who takes, who “social scalps”, who shows gratitude, etc. etc. This is all-important intel to maximize both your “people’s ROI”, and your quality of life.

An infographic of everyday manipulative Machiavellianism:

machiavellian social manipulation infographic

This is how value-taking social manipulators try to get more from you, while giving less

Once you start having a good feel for value-accountancy, you can start weighing people and opportunities more rationally, and more effectively.

2. Develop Baseline Cynicism

People have two reasons for doing things: a good-sounding reason, and the real reason

You can’t be a Machiavellian if you’re naive.

You just can’t.

Think of “baseline cynicism” as skepticism built on the knowledge that everyone is pursuing their self-interest.

Some articles to develop your cynicism:

And to keep your cynicism healthy, see:

3. Contemplate Machiavellian Beliefs

Some of them:

  • There’s only 1 law of nature: power
    • It’s fair for those with power to do whatever they want
  • Victors write history as propaganda
  • Bad policies are often good politics
  • The world isn’t fair. And neither it should be
  • Compulsory education is a tool of propaganda
  • You maintain loyalty by providing value, or credible threat
  • People only see what appears, and what appears to be true, is true
  • You never hear the truth because information is about power -and controlling the narrative-
  • People do what’s good for them, then dupe themselves (and you) that it’s the right thing to do
  • People get most upset about what’s out of their control. It’s easy virtue-signaling, without having to do sh*t

Not all of the above are necessarily and always true -that would be over-cynicism-.
And they’re also not necessarily commendable or advisable.
But they’re well worth keeping in mind.

4. Develop Machiavellian Thought Process

Let’s have a micro case study on “legal relativity”.

Some people take rules and laws very seriously.
Some others don’t take them seriously enough, and end up in trouble.

As you might have guessed by now, Machiavellians are strategic about the law as well.
To Machiavellians, rules by themselves mean nothing.

And this is their thought process around legality:

machiavellian decision making flowchart

The Machiavellian decision process is based on utilitarian calculation of personal gains.

There is no preconceived notion that respecting the law is a good thing in itself.

Indeed, the good Machiavellian thinks of the “law-abiding citizen” as a chump.
And he thinks that the “law-abiding citizen” construct the elites’ manipulation, to keep the sheep poor and subjugated.

And if you think that this mindset is more likely to get you in trouble… I wouldn’t be so sure.
In this survey of 225 prisoners and 38 lawyers, it’s lawyers who scored higher in Machiavellianism, not prisoners.
But those Machiavellians were on the “right” side of the law.

5. Develop Strategic Thinking

What helps:

  • Leverage accountancy: see “honey deal traps” for an example
  • Power accountancy: based on power dynamics principles, who’s getting power, who’s losing it?
  • Risk / reward accountancy
  • Second-Order effects
  • Critical thinking: empowers all of the above

On this website, we refer to the ensemble of these cognitive skills as “power intelligence“.

Mach Intelligence VS Power Intelligence

Quick parenthesis:

There is a large overlap between the two.

Both Machiavellian intelligence and power intelligence are based on a good awareness of all the power dynamics principles we discuss here.
But there is an important semantic difference between PI and MI. When we talk of “Machiavellian intelligence” we stress the cold and amoral aspects of both action and cognition.

A Machiavellian man is amoral. Or, at least, acts amorally.
A power intelligent man can be a man of honor and high personal integrity.

Let’s go ahead and review a couple of them:

5.2. Risk-Reward Accountancy

In the YouTube video below the shop-defender is the hero.

But from a Machiavellian’s perspective that was nonsense.
The clerk:

  • Defends company property
  • Has no real upside except a pat on the back
  • Risks his life for a few hundred bucks

Robber: (enters store guns drawn)
Employee: (draws his gun and starts a risky shootout)

Yes, he might get “good feelings”.
But that’s the whole point: a Machiavellian doesn’t think in terms of “ego-candies”. They do what’s best (for them).

And from a Machiavellian point of view, you never act when risks are high and personal rewards are low.

5.3. Second-Order Effects Thinking

Second-order thinking is at the core of effective strategic planning.

In simple terms, this is how a second-order roadmap looks like:

  1. If I do X…
  2. Y happens
  3. How can I respond to Y?
  4. With Z
  5. Are the odds of winning good?
  6. If yes, let’s start the process

And if the odds are not good, concoct another plan.

6. Learn Machiavellian Strategies

Some Machiavellian modus operandi:

6.2. Keep a Foot in Both Camps

Leading people on is reputationally risky (and morally dubious).

But avoiding early commitment is Machiavellian baseline behavior:

Machiavellian: Regimes change are always tricky. You wanna stay neutral. Loyalists are always hung
Low Mach: What’s wrong with you. Aren’t you loyal to anyone?

Of course he is loyal to someone.
He is loyal to himself.

In many situations, this is a fair stance.
It’s not written anywhere that you “owe” loyalty to a boss, group, or company that is already getting value with your work.

Keep Your Options Open

The less amoral version of “keeping your foot in both camps”.

In “The Art of The Deal“, Trump first asks for higher bids, and then reflects:

The truth is, I really don’t wanna sell the yard at any price (…) On the other hand, I don’t want to rule out anything.

6.3. Machiavellian Power Moves

“Power moves” are the tactical level of power dynamics.

This website has several articles based on power moves, including win-lose ones.

Win-lose power moves are short-term patches, often counterproductive in the long run, and harmful to your personal development.

Machiavellian Poetry: Underdog Becomes King

Remember that Machiavellianism is about fluidity.

So power moves aren’t always and necessarily about overpowering others.
They can also be about enticing others to attack you, if that’s what will help you achieve victory.

Football’s most legendary power move was about getting headbutted:

Machiavellian player: (provokes opponent into aggressive overreaction)

Some don’t like Materazzi, the man who tricked Zidane in the video.
And maybe they have good reasons.

But this is not about the player, this is about the tale. About the transformative power of Machiavellianism.

It’s the tale of Machiavellian David VS powerful Goliath on a football pitch (see full analysis in the “upgraded 48 Laws of Power“).

That’s the power of Machiavellianism.
Empowers the underdogs to win against all odds.
Call it, if you want, Machiavellian poetry.

6.4. Machiavellian Corrupting

TPM does not encourage corruption.

Widespread corruption makes society less effective and everyone pays the costs.

But some exceptions apply.

We must keep some advanced stuff under cover

6.5. Social Smoothness

The best outcome is:

Get what you want, while making others happy.

The second best one is getting what you want, without making enemies.

That’s the approach that maximizes social effectiveness.
And to ensure the highest effectiveness on TPM we came up with the “high-warmth high-power” and approach.

From a Machiavellian perspective, the approach is especially useful when dealing with people who have some form of leverage over you.

An example on dealing with cops:

Lawyer: (advising on what to say to police after potential incidents) I’m friends with Mark Viktor and Mark advised me (blame-shift your uncooperative behavior to someone else) that I should never make any statements unless he’s here, and I’d love to talk to you (collaborative frame), but I really want Mark present, so can I (power-giving, makes the cop feel good) call him right now.

Search the forum for “power-protecting” and you’ll see more examples.

6.6. Social Machiavellianism

Social Machiavellianism is advanced level.

It requires high social intelligence, a good understanding of psychology, and confidence mixed with smoothness.
If you come across as brown-nosing or overpowering then you’re doing it wrong.

See an example here:

7. Learn The Art of White Lying

The rule of thumb is:

Tell the truth whenever you can.

But if you truly need to lie, you better know how to do it.
This is how:


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8. Rewire Your Brain With Meditation

Surprised to see meditation here?

Let’s quickly review how it helps with Machiavellianism.

  1. Working memory: research shows Machiavellians have higher working memory capacity, which makes for superior strategizing around people. Meditation has been shown to improve working memory
  2. Cool-effect: meditation can help you gain distance from your feelings, making you “cooler”.

The proof?
People trained in mindfulness act more like Machiavellians when tested in ultimatum games.
Normally, 3/4 of people reject “unfair offers” in ultimatum games, even when the “unfair offers” are still good for them (Guth et al., 1982).
Meditators instead accepted the “unfair” offer more than half of the times, just like a Machiavellian would (Kirk et al., 2011).

9. Recruit Others

It’s through cooperation that humans came to rule the world.

And it’s only through organized cooperation that you can truly reach the highest heights in life.

For recruiting others, see:

9.2. Machiavellian Leadership

Of course, there are plenty of Machiavellian tactics and strategies for leadership and power.


But for the larger picture on collaboration see:

Life Strategy: The Enlightened Collaborator

10. Learn Machiavellian Psychology

Machiavellianism requires a good grasp of human psychology.

But psychology “knowledge” is not enough.
Every psychology undergrad has read Kahneman’s list of human biases. But they’re not (all) Machiavellians.

So, what’s Machiavellian psychology, then?
Machiavellian psychology turns psychological principles into practical strategies for the achievement of goals.

Machiavellians have a natural good grasp of human psychology and persuasion.
If you don’t have a natural grasp, then go for targeted learning.

10.2. Learn Manipulation Dynamics


11. Grow Into “Enlightened Machiavellianism”

To avoid Machiavellianism’s heavy costs, move beyond pure Machiavellianism.

Two quick rules:

  • Be straight in longer-term relationships: pick good partners and friends, establish win-win
  • Be straight in social circles pick good people around you, and develop positive social capital

Machiavellian Strategies

This is where the rubber meets the road.

The next two examples are about “applying psychological principles to everyday life”.

Marketing Example: Social Proof

Some time ago this website had an issue collecting subscription payments for a few days.

So I contacted subscribers to re-process the payment. And this is the picture I sent to show their failed payment:

social proof as a Machiavellian would use


Why did I send a large screenshot?
Why not just text, or just their single failed payment?

Because the list of transactions shows social proof from other buying customers.
In simple terms, it works like this:

machiavellian use of social proof

This is applied psychology.

Take a known psychological principle, in this case, “social proof” (Cialdini, 1984), and find everyday applications to it.

A non-Machiavellian might have sent no picture, or only sent the individual customer’s failed transaction.
And without social proof, his collection rate would have been far lower.

As you can see, Machiavellian skills are money.
No wonder many marketers are Machiavellians :).

Now imagine the upshot to your life when you apply a hundred different principles, on a thousand different scenarios, over a whole lifetime.
It’s the difference between languishing at the bottom of society, or climbing upwards.

Persuasion Example: Forging Consensus

The Toastmaster presidency provides great persuasion case studies.

The president has the title, but no power to “impose” his will.
Instead, the decisions are taken by a majority vote by the board.

In this case, power is all about personal influence.
Luckily, when you have personal influence + Machiavellian strategies, you don’t need anything else.

Here’s the video:

We can’t show some examples from the author’s personal life publicly

In step-by-step terms, here’s this Machiavellian influencing process:

  1. See Power University

There you have it, how to democratically always get it your way.

The “#1 Machiavellian Strategy”

This website uses the expression “value-taking”.

“Value-taking” is an umbrella term for actions or people that make you worse off.
People who are amoral, selfish, and lacking empathy are more likely to turn value-takers.

So the Machiavellian strategy #1. is to spot Machiavellians, and either avoid them, or deal with them judiciously.

Paradoxically, this is also true for Machiavellians, since they cannot gain as easily with other Machiavellians.

Failing this rule can have grave consequences in your life.

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