How to Become Machiavellian: Your (Secret) Playbook

statue of Machiavelli

This article explains what Machiavellianism is, and teaches you how to become more Machiavellian.

We teased out the best information from hundreds of studies, tens of books, and lots of experience.
And on the forum, we have the results to prove these strategies work.

Are you ready?

Let’s start.

statue of niccolo Machiavelli
Machiavelli, author of “The Prince

What’s Machiavellianism

Machiavellianism is a personality trait peculiar to self-centered and amoral individuals who pursue personal advancement through a calculative, rational, and opportunistic approach to life

This definition is unique in a significant way: it leaves out manipulation and cheating.

It leaves them out because deception is at most a consequence of Machiavellians’ predispositions, not a primary trait.

And second, Manipulation is a human trait, and not unique to Machiavellians.
Indeed studies have shown that, when cheating doesn’t pay, Machiavellians cheat less than non-Machiavellians.

Why Learning Machiavellianism

Says Tamás Bereczkei:

Their self-assuredness and goal orientation provide them with immense advantages over others in gaining material goods and favorable positions. In contrast, low Machs are concerned with personal relationships and moral norms that often make them vulnerable.

And says Maria Konnikova:

In one series of studies, when a high Mach was placed in a situation with a low Mach, he tended to emerge ahead in most any scenario.

Konnikova, 2016

It makes sense.

Machiavellians tend to be charismatic, charming, and leaderlike.
Couple that with a strategic and opportunistic approach to life, and you get why Machiavellians win.

And “winning” is why you want to learn “how to be more Machiavellian”.

Machiavellian Traits

These are the defining traits of Machiavellianism:

1. Self-centered

Machiavellians put their self-interests first.

2014 study aptly titled “valuing myself over others” found that Machiavellians value individual pursuits over collectivist values such as “loyalty to the community”.

“What’s in It For Me” Keeps Machiavellians Goal-Focused

The Machiavellian is the ultimate “homo economics”.

He asks himself “what’s in it for me”?
And if the answer is “not much”, he sees no point in expending effort.

Non-Machiavellians are more likely to waste time and resources because they regard it as a moral obligation to do their duty.

2. Influential

Machiavellians are skilled at managing appearances and first impressions.

People consider Machiavellians as charismatic and effective leaders (Deluga 2001).
And often judge them to be intelligent even though research shows they’re no more intelligent than others.

3. Dominant

Say Christie and Geis commenting on their studies:

Machiavellians initiated and controlled the structure of bargaining interaction in the group. They were overwhelmingly the dominant, decisive, and sought-after member of the triad.

By controlling group dynamics, Machiavellians heavily influence the outcome.

The best thing?
People were happy to oblige.

Machs Are Good at Making Others Want to Follow Them

Machiavellians might use coercion, if they have the means.

But often, they don’t even need to because people look up to Machiavellians for directions.

To make people want to follow is the hallmark of true leadership, and the type of power that lasts.

Christie and Geis say it’s not possible to say if Machiavellians are charismatic, or if it’s non-Machiavellians who are UNcharismatic and socially inept.
However, the net result is the same: Machiavellians get what they want because others happily oblige.

3. Strategic

symbol of machiavellian strategic thinking

Robert Hare famously said that psychopaths see the world as a chessboard.

But later research showed that the true chess grand masters of the dark triad are the Machiavellians.

4. Calculative

Machiavellians are very calculative.

They are willing to cheat and deceive, but only when the benefits exceed the costs.
And if the risk/reward ratio is poor, they’ll act morally.

And if the Machiavellian’s calculation suggests that “prosocial giving” is best for them, then they will be altruistic.

5. Amoral

Machiavellians don’t see ethical principles as “good” per se.

For example, in social exchanges, Machiavellians don’t feel bound by reciprocity or “fairness”.
In a classic sociological experiment on trust and theft, high Machs stole from those who had previously trusted them.
By contrast, non-Machiavellians resigned substantial material to obey fairness and responsibility norms.

6. Opportunistic

Machiavellians are the princes of opportunism.

Indeed, it’s a major mistake to think of Machiavellians as always acting immorally.

There is a difference between amorality and immorality.

Machiavellians’ expressions of (a)morality is opportunistic.

Says Bereckzei:

In most cases, they are unwilling to help others. But they are ready to support unknown individuals when they are aware of being observed by members of the community. That way, they maintain their prestige (or its illusion) in the group (Bereczkei, Birkas, & Kerekes 2010).

Today’s Machiavellian marketers aren’t even bound by a physical audience. They’ll set up the cameras themselves:

machiavellian marketer example with tai lopez

Says the charitable man in the video after handing out $1.000 dollars:

Machiavellian marketer: some people say I shouldn’t do stuff like this and put the video public (…) not do it to show off (raises the most likely criticism to control the narrative). And there is some truth to that (offers an olive branch to turn some of his critics around). Although (after olive branch moves to address the criticism and set his own frame) I think there is so much negative media, I think it’s OK to publish some positive stuff (addresses the criticism, pre-vents the obvious attack, and fives supporters and undecided people an easy and convenient -for him- narrative to latch onto)

7. Cynic

Machiavellians are suspicious of others, and attribute negative traits to people.

Some scholars even say that Machiavellians cheat out of prevention. In their dog-eat-dog worldview, they think it’s more of a matter of “who cheats first” (McIllwain 2003).

Interestingly enough, Machiavellians are honest about their cynicism, and view non-Machiavellians as weak hypocrites.
In turn, that makes it fair in Machiavellians’ view to take advantage of them.

8. Realist

Machiavellians concentrate on what is -and how to exploit it-.

Non-Machiavellians instead easily get lost in “how things ought to be”, or “what’s fair”.

9. Pragmatic

Machiavellians aren’t motivated by appeals to higher values.

To them, that’s hot air BS for the gullible.

Instead, research shows that Machiavellians are mostly motivated by extrinsic motivation such as money, power, and influence.

10. Rational

Machiavellians are generally more rational than non-Machiavellians.

Non-Machiavellians can also be influenced by rational reasons, but they’re also more easily swayed by IRrational reasons.

11. Emotionally Cool

machiavellian-looking snowman

Christie and Geis call this the “Cool Syndrome”.

Machiavellians generally think more rationally and consider all available options and possibilities in a cold-minded manner (Pilch, 2008)”.

“Muted” empathy, but effective strategists & manipulators

Machiavellians’ emotional intelligence has been a hotly debated topic.

Here is a quck overview:

Machiavellians score lower on some types of emotional and social intelligent tests.
But many EI tests were poorly designed.
When the agreeableness effect was eliminated and when Machiavellians had something to gain, they performed well.
And when they could gain through manipulation, they were very effective manipulators.

The same goes for “mind-reading skills”.
Machiavellians may be average or poor mind readers. But they score above-average when they can manipulate others.

That’s the reason why this website has been critical of the early pop-psychology construct of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1995).
This website espouses instead a more encompassing construct for “emotional intelligence” that includes the strategic, self-interested, and manipulative aspects.

Emotionally Cold Leadership

A famous cinematic moment of Machiavellian cold-bloodedness and strategic thinking:

Godfather: It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business

The moment Michael Corleone showed cold detachment and superior strategic thinking was the moment he gained everyone’s respect.
That’s when he became The Godfather.

12. Fluid

Robert Greene listed fluidity as the 48th law of power:

Assume Formlessness.

That’s Machiavellians.
Machiavellians aren’t just strategic, they are fluidly strategic.

Says Bereczkei:

Machiavellians are not characterized by rigid thought patterns; they do not follow pre-existing schema they adhere at any price (…) The uniqueness of the Machiavellian character lies in (…) flexible decision-making (…) and continuous weighing-up of the situational conditions.

Fluidity has been shown in experimental settings:

Machiavellians earn large profits in social dilemma games but once the experimenters enable free-riders punishment, they restrain their profiteering and increase their cooperativeness (Spitzer et al. 2007).

Even during a mock business negotiation, Machiavellians used more persuasion tactics, and adapted more flexibly to the changing situation.

Mach & Dark Triad

The dark triad includes Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism.

The dark triad has been criticized, but for some purposes, it’s still a useful construct.

Let’s first better understand narcissism and psychopathy.

Narcissism

There are two types of narcissists:

  • Vulnerable narcissists: thin-skinned, neurotic, potentially depressed, harbors secret grandiosity but outwardly shy
  • Grandiose narcissists: thick-skinned, entitled, arrogant, low observable anxiety

Psychopathy

The two types of psychopathy:

  • Factor 1 psychopathy: (primary) selfish, remorseless, and exploitative. A subclinical, “more moderate” form that doesn’t necessarily include antisocial personality disorder.
  • Factor 2 psychopathy: (secondary) impulsive, irresponsible, sensation-seeking. Can be chronically antisocial (APD), and likely to end up -or remain- in prison

Machiavellianism

Machiavellianism overlaps most with grandiose narcissism, and type 1, subclinical psychopathy.

Says John & Paulhus:

Narcissism predicts ego-promoting outcomes, psychopathy predicts reckless and antisocial behavior, and Machiavellianism predicts a strategic orientation

In brief: Machiavellianism is the most strategic and, potentially, effective of the dark triad. Contrary to narcissists, Machiavellians disregard their ego for what’s effective. And contrary to psychopaths, they can postpone rewards and play the “long game”.

Advantages of Machiavellianism

By now the advantages of Machiavellianism should be obvious.

But for clarity:

1. Life Success

We refer to “success” as defined in common parlance.

And Machiavellians are more likely to:

After all, it makes sense that a plotting, goal-driven individual who is unencumbered by ethics and morals is more successful than the average, no?

2. Self-Reliance

Machiavellians are more resistant to both group pressure and individual pressure.

Says Christie and Geis:

Non-Machiavellians instead “are more likely to do or accept what another wants simply because he wants it”.

Interesting, eh?
When it comes to “good” or “bad”, paradoxically, it might be non-Machiavellians who are most likely to execute heinous orders.

3. Internally Congruent

Machiavellians don’t lie to themselves.

They don’t need to: they’re far more comfortable with their dark side, and can openly admit to themselves.

That means that Machiavellians also experience little or no cognitive dissonance.

4. Most Likely to Become Leaders

As we’ve seen, Machiavellians lead newly-forming groups.

But there might also be inborn preferences for Machiavellian leaders that precede the interactions.

For example, when there are enemies or opponents, group members prefer Machiavellian leaders (Wilson et aI., 1998). 
This might be one of the reasons why some political leaders like to make up external enemies.

Another classic example is the preference for a Machiavellian as president of the United States (Deluga, 2001; Simonton, 1986).

… And potentially better leaders

Geis and Christie examined real-life leadership situations in their classes.

And they noticed that:

Groups with their highest Mach member as leader did better (…) got whatever resources they possessed organized and applied more effectively than other groups.

5. Antifragile Ego

Or, to be more accurate, “predisposition for antifragile ego”.

Machiavellians appear to have little defensive investment in both their self-image and their own beliefs.
And they also take slights less personally (Grande, 2019).

Another experiment showed that after an interviewer disapproved of the research subjects, the non-Machiavellian girls changed their self-descriptions, but high-Mach girls did not.

This generally low ego investment makes for a natural predisposition towards an antifragile ego.

6. Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is much easier to achieve when you’re not busy defending your ego.

Christie and Geis experiments indirectly tell us that Machiavellians are potentially better learners:

The non-Machiavellians are more likely to be upset or angry (…) Machiavellians are more likely to be curious (…)

Disadvantages of Machiavellianism

There rarely are “one-size fit all” in life.

And Machiavellian’s effectiveness also depends on people and circumstances.

These are some downsides of Machiavellianism:

1. Poorer Relationships

example of machiavellian relationship failure with melania and donald trump
Melania Trump more than once refused to hold his husband’s hand

Low empathy and over-emphasis on power can make for poor relationships. And an overly callous and calculative attitude can turn people off in the long run.

Indeed, employers are dissatisfied with the attitude and behavior of Machiavellians (Bereczkei, 2017).
And research suggests that people prefer non-Machiavellians for close relationships such as confidant, good friend, or business partner.

No surprise here.
Who in their right mind would want a Machiavellian who stabs you in the back just when you needed help the most?

That’s one of the reasons this website had some concerns with the popular literature on Machiavellianism such as “The 48 Laws of Power“.

Avoided by Higher Quality People

This is more speculative, but it follows basic logic:

The better one is at reading people, the more he avoids overly scheming, overly cynical Machiavellians.

And that ultimately prevents Machiavellians from networking, making friends, or keeping partnerships with the highest quality people.

For the evidence, I’ve observed it in my life, and we’ve had further circumstantial evidence on the forums:

In another case, John spotted a value-taking, low-empathy ahole, and eventually started making inroads to disempower and isolate him.

2. Potentially Bad for Business Reputation

Manipulation and opportunism carry risks.

As David Sloan notes, even after successful manipulations, Machiavellians may suffer a reputation loss that decreases their social capital, and reduces future opportunities.

Listen to mobster Sammy Gravano haranguing his overly-scheming brother-in-law:

‘You’re right, they can’t do nothing, but you know what will happen? Everybody will hear about it (…) This will be the best two hundred thousand I’ll ever spend because people will say not only is Sammy qualified to do the job, but he’ll stay with you, win or lose.’ ’That’s important to businesspeople, Eddie,’ I said. ‘That’s why you were never successful in business. Because you scheme too fucking much.

Underboss, 1999

Over-scheming in the wrong settings might not even qualify as “Machiavellianism”. It’s just short-term thinking, and self-defeating behavior.
A smart Machiavellian would never cheat when repeated win-win is available.

3. Low Performance in Structured Work Environment

Say Paulhus and Delroy:

The research on career success is consistent with the original notion of latitude for improvisation (…) Machs remain cool, exploit interpersonal relationships, bend the rules, and improvise. When this flexibility is constrained, Machs are likely to incur problems.

But this is not necessarily a drawback, and more like a question of poor job fit.
Plus, jobs with no latitude for personal improvisation are more likely to be “grunt jobs”.

Where should Machiavellians go, then?

Well, Hunt and Lawrence (1984) found plenty of Machiavellians among marketers.
Not surprising, since much marketing is based on (mild) manipulation.

Also see:

4. Life Dissatisfaction & Alienation

Machiavellians are more dissatisfied in life.

They’re more dissatisfied at work, as well as with the role they fulfill in everyday life (Ali et. al., 2010).
Despite their higher partner count, Machiavellians are also more dissatisfied in their sex life.

Even deeper than “dissatisfaction”, Machiavellians are alienated.
They feel alienated in their personal relationships. They believe they are isolated, and that their life is essentially meaningless.

And the gap in life satisfaction is all the more obvious when the “dark triad” is contrasted to the “light triad” composed of “Kantianism”, “humanism”, and “faith in humanity” (Kaufman et al., 2019).

We can speculate Machiavellians are dissatisfied because of:

  1. Focus on material pursuits (“hedonic treadmill“)
  2. Overly-cynic attitude

In short: when it comes to life satisfaction, it might pay to be good (TPM note: as long as “good” doesn’t mean “naive”).

Now our question becomes:

Is it possible to combine the advantages of Machiavellianism, while avoiding the downsides?

Read on.

Beyond Machiavellianism: The “Enlightened Machiavellian”

Three Steps to Enlightned Machiavellianism:

1. Add “Machiavellian Mode” Atop Your “High-Quality Personality Foundations”

Machiavellian skills are useful.
And so are several Machiavellian traits and thought patterns.

That’s why we’re writing an article on “how to become Machiavellian”, after all.

What’s not useful is the inability to see beyond pure self-interest, to care for others, and to appreciate “higher ideals and values”.
That’s one of the reasons why Machiavellians are dissatisfied and alienated. That’s not true life success, is it?

Being the highest-quality man or woman one can be also includes the ability to care. And the ability to bond with other humans, and to feel happy, and accomplished.

So the best approach is to develop a “Machiavellian mode” that includes mindsets, skills, thought processes, and attitudes. And add that on top of an empathic personality capable of caring and loving.

Ironically, even from a “Machiavellian point of view” that’s the most effective approach since it’s more effective to be than to pretend.

2. Switch Between Ruthless & Loving

The quest for a life edge with the acquisition of “dark triad traits” is not a new idea.

Psychologist Kevin Dutton for example says that psychopathic traits are useful in moderation.

And I partially agree with that.
But even more than moderation, I believe it’s situational.

Sometimes, you don’t need moderation.

Some circumstances need your most ruthless and strategic coldness. And some people too.
That’s where you will don your Machiavellian hat, and go full-on “prince of darkness”.

And some other circumstances -and people- deserve our very best selves. And that’s where you will go full-on “light triad”.

So the “secret” is to take Machiavellian’s own strategic fluidity, and adapt it to Machiavellianism itself.

3. Develop the “Machiavellian Scanner” (& Keep It Always On)

The “Machiavellian scanner” analyzes situations and people looking for opportunities and risks.

In terms of risks, it scans a few crucial nodes such as:

  • Leverage: would this person be able to f*ck me up, if they wanted?
  • Power: is this person one-upping me, disempowering, social climbing, undermining… ?
  • Value: is this person taking without giving?

The “Machiavellian scanner” runs in the background.
It starts flashing orange when it sees small signs of danger, and it flashes green when it sees opportunities and/or great high-quality people.

From Naive to Machiavelli: Can You?

Red Riding Hood attacking the wolf

The 1-million dollar question:

Is it possible to become more Machiavellian?

Christie and Geis, the psychologists who first came up with the Machiavellian construct, asked that very question in their seminal book “Studies in Machiavellianism“.
And they speculate that “it’s probably possible”.

Strong of first-hand experience, this website answers that it’s most likely possible to become more Machiavellian.
The evidence comes from the people who have learned, used, and achieved goals with Machiavellian strategies and mindsets.

The next question:

Can Over-Machiavellians Become More Empathic?

Question:

Can a high-Mach become more like a low-Mach?

Christie and Geis also asked themselves this question, but ultimately say they cannot answer.
I think Machiavellian -> empath is more challenging.
But based on personal experience, it can be possible to improve.

How to Be Machiavellian

So…

How can you acquire empowering Machiavellian traits and skills?
Power University is a good shortcut.

For some pointers, here is how:

1. Always Be Asking: What’s In It For Me?

People in your life either give, or take.

And different courses of action either make your 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 explained with infographic
Thanks to Ali Scarlett

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:

  • Victors write history as propaganda
  • There is only 1 law of nature: power
    • It’s fair for those with power to do whatever they want
  • Bad policies are often good politics
  • 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
  • If you got a problem it’s your F problem. People don’t care about it
  • 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 it.
To Machiavellians, rules by themselves say nothing.

And this is their thought process around legality:

machiavellian thinking process in flow chart

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.

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.
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. SecondOrder 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 Chameleon

A good Machiavelian adapts to the people he’s with.

He makes it seem like they’re close and similar, which increases people’s acceptance and liking.

6.4. 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.
See:

Note:
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:

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.

6.5. Machiavellian Corrupting

TPM does not encourage corruption.

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

But some exceptions apply.

Please refer to Power University.

6.6. 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 this website we came up with the “high-warmth high-power” matrix 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.

6.7. 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.

Some exceptions:

  • Self-defense lying: necessary to retain some self-protection leverage (subscribers only)
  • Power-bluffing: an example is in “how to deal with street hustlers
  • Strategic weak-bluffing: Roger Dawson introduces himself as a collecting agent for foreign investors rather than the building owner. That way renters don’t think that “it’s OK not to pay some rich fat cat”
  • Blame deflection: maintain good relationships by scapegoating the blame to circumstances or individuals who pay no price (see example above with “the lawyer told me to… “)
  • Social balm: make things less awkward or maintain better relationships. See “how to refuse a date” for examples

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.

charicature of donald trump as a puppetteer

See:

But for the larger picture on collaboration see:

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

See:

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:

Question:

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:

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 he has 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.

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

  1. Present all options with a strategic preframe: preframing is half the persuasion (Cialdini, 2016)
  2. Gather intel as you speak: who is nodding along, who’s going to support your favorite option?
  3. Negatively frame the options you don’t like: don’t overdo it, just ending with the “cons” is enough (“recency effect”)
  4. Present your favorite option last
  5. Positively frame your favorite option: frame it as fixing important cons from the previous options, plus some benefits that make it seem an obvious win
  6. Imply it’s your preferred option: smoothly is the name of the game, avoid imposing. If you have status, people will naturally want to support your preferred option
  7. Ask the group if “they also like this last option”: power-protecting, everyone feels it’s up to them
  8. Start the group vote with your most ardent supporter: pick the person most likely to say “yes”
  9. Democratically go to your second-best supporter: after the “most ardent supporter” choose left or right according to where the most supportive member sits
  10. Jump in with your vote: jump in saying you also support the decision. Now it’s 3 people, a small group
  11. Continue the vote: most of the time you reach consensus with this process. If not, you’ll most likely still get the majority. If still not, use your social capital to graciously impose and “just this time give you a chance”
    • Alternatively, after 3 people agree, say: “would you guys all be OK with this option”? Notice you don’t say “do you agree”, but “would you be OK”, which lowers the bar for “yes”

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:

Business Example: Cohen / Trump

Cohen was a Trump fan.
He even said he’d “take a bullet for Trump”.

As most good and loyal admirers, Cohen thought that Trump would reciprocate and form a win-win relationship.

Big mistake #1: Machiavellians with no empathy don’t reciprocate love.

Big mistake #2: in his misguided belief that Trump would stand behind him, Cohen became Trump’s “fixer”, doing dirty work for him.

And when things started getting hot, Trump let Cohen go down like the fall guy he always intended him to be.

Cohen called himself a “fool” and says that he is “ashamed of his weakness and misplaced loyalty”.
And after he “got Mach’d”, he warns those who are making the same mistake:

They’ll all get up there and continue to spew the Trump doctrine, which as you can see from me, doesn’t bode well. It doesn’t put you in the position that you think you’re going to be in. I mean, just look at Rudolph Giuliani

Charismatic and Machiavellian men like Trump can inspire ardent support.
But as an enlightened Machiavellian, you now know better: avoid blind faith in Machiavellians.
When incentives misalign, they’ll throw you under the bus like a used rug.

Also see:

Relationship Example: Tyson / Givens

A cautionary tale of amoral Machiavellians in relationships:

The video refers to the “dumb rule”, which we might more aptly re-christen as “IQ rule”:

Relationship IQ Rule

It’s generally safer to pick partners who are less Machiavellian than you are.
For men who want to remain the relationship leaders, partners who are not much smarter than they are better.

SUMMARY

Machiavellianism is a set of skills, attitudes, and mindsets.

People who want to advance in life are well-advised to work on their Machiavellian intelligence.

This website recommends learning Machiavellianism and learning to leverage some of its traits.

However, Machiavellianism also presents important drawbacks that can decrease life satisfaction.

Be careful not to turn into an overly cynical and completely amoral individual. The goal is to make Machiavellianism part of a general effort towards self-development, including the development of your own ethics and morals.

This is a preview from Power University, where you can find more practical strategies & examples.

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