The 48 Laws of Power Cheat Sheet

the 48 laws of power cheat sheet book cover

This is a cheat sheet for “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene.

It lists all the laws from “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene, plus a quick explanation.

If you need a quick refresher on the 48 laws, this is your page.

Law 1: Never Outshine the Master

  • Make those above you feel superior. Do not brag or showcase your superior talents, or it will make them dislike you (see here how to brag effectively)
  • Rationale: if you prove to be superior, you make them feel insecure, you become a dangerous enemy, and they will want to crush you

Law 2:  Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends. Use Your Enemies

  • Friends will take you for granted, come to envy and resent you, and turn into frenemies plotting against you. Turn your enemies into allies instead 
  • Rationale: people want to feel like they earned what they got. If you provide handouts out of friendship, they will resent you. The enemies you helped and turned into friends instead will always appreciate you and want to prove their worth

Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions

  • Never say what you’re really up to
  • Rationale: when you keep people in the dark, they won’t be able to prepare or thwart your plans

Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary

  • Powerful people impress by talking less
  • Rationale: The more you say, the more you look banal and try-hard. An air of mystery will make you more impressive

Law 5: Protect Your Reputation at All Costs

  • Reputation is the cornerstone of power. If you want to destroy someone, attack their reputation
  • Rationale: People act not based on who you really are, but based on who they think you are.

Law 6: Court Attention at All Costs

  • Stand out from the crowd
  • Rationale: Unknown people have little power. People at the center of attention have lots of power

Law 7: Get Others Do the Work For You, But Take the Credit

  • Make what most bosses do: use their team, but always present the result as if it happened because of them
  • Rationale: You will enjoy the windfall while doing nothing

Law 8: Make People Come to You

  • Avoid chasing people, but make others approach you and ask you for favors
  • Rationale: the person who chases has no power. When people chase you, you have the power

Law 9: Win Through Actions, Never Through Argument

  • Talk is cheap, actions always speak louder
  • Rationale: talking and explaining make you look like a powerless big-mouth

Law 10: Don’t Get Infected by Misery and Misfortune

  • Avoid the losers and complainers, associate with the happy and the winners
  • Rationale: emotional states are contagious, losers will bring back luck to you

Law 11: Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

  • Make yourself indispensable
  • Rationale: when people don’t need you, you have no leverage. When people need you, then you have the power

Law 12: Use Selective Honesty & Generosity to Disarm Your Victim

  • One act of honesty will cover a dozen dishonest ones
  • First, make them trust you, and then you deceive them big
  • Rationale: if you’re always overly Machiavellian, people will catch on, and it will ruin your reputation. Cover your machinations with some fake generosity instead

Law 13: Get Help by Appealing to Self-Interest, Never to Their Mercy

  • If you need help, don’t remind people of the past good you’ve done for them. Instead, find something that will benefit them today
  • Rationale: nobody wants to be reminded of how they have been helped in the past. And nobody wants to help the desperate one. Appeal to what’s in it for them, instead

Law 14: Pose As a Friend Work As a Spy

  • Gather intelligence and learn people’s secrets by getting close to them
  • Rationale: You can’t learn by watching from afar. Only when you get physically and emotionally close will you be able to pry on all their secrets

Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally

  • Don’t wound. Kill
  • Rationale: wounding and inflicting damage will make people seek revenge. If you must hit, hit in a way that your enemies won’t be able to retaliate

Law 16: Raise Your Value Through Absence and Scarcity

  • Don’t be too present. Create value through scarcity and absence
  • Rationale: What’s common is worthless, and what’s rare is valuable. Learn to make people crave your presence, and let them talk and wonder about you when you’re strategically not there

Law 17: Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

  • Predictability makes you an easy target. Make your moves more random and unpredictable
  • Rationale: It’s easy to plot against you when people know what you will do. Instead, especially when you have lots of power, being unpredictable will make people fear your next move. And they will be busier protecting themselves than plotting against you

Law 18: Don’t Isolate Yourself Behind a Fortress

  • Isolation is dangerous: mingle with the people instead
  • Rationale: isolation will cut you off from all sources of information. Being in a crowd also means being in the know

Law 19: Know Who You’re Dealing with

  • Pick good targets, and don’t cross the wrong people
  • Rationale: different people must be treated differently. When you know who you’re dealing with, you can adapt your strategy

Law 20: Do Not Commit to Anyone

  • Maintain your Independence as long as possible
  • Rationale: Remaining neutral will allow you to better study and understand the situation. And the warring factions will be coming to you asking for support, giving you more power

Law 21: Play A Sucker to Catch a Sucker: Seem Dumber Than Your Mark

  • Seem dumber than you really are
  • Rationale: when you look dumber and weaker, your opponents will lower their guard

Law 22: Use the Surrender Tactic

  • Don’t fight until the bitter end, but surrender and regroup
  • Rationale: being destroyed yields no benefit. Instead, don’t give them the satisfaction of winning on the field. Surrender to infuriate them and to gain time to work on your next move

Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces

  • Focus on one thing: intensity beats extensivity 
  • Rationale: fighting on too many fronts will spread you dangerously thin. It is better to work sequentially on your projects and targets

Law 24: Be a Masterful Courtier

  • Learn to play the social game, also called “politics”. Make people feel good, learn flattery, and use influence and persuasion over brute force
  • Rationale: Unless you’re already on top, politics matter as much as results do. You must learn to deal with other people in the court: those at your same level, those below you, and most of all, those above you

Law 25: Re-Create Yourself

  • Don’t leave your image and reputation up to chance or, worse, up to others to shape. Be the master of your own image that you want to project
  • Rationale: what’s effective is not fixed in time but changes depending on the time, the culture, and the environment. Recreate yourself to remain in power through the changing times

Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean

  • Don’t stain your reputation with illegal or immoral acts. Let others do the risky business for you
  • Rationale: since reputation is so crucial, you want to avoid getting mired in any scandal

Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following

  • Drop rationality and appeal to some large emotional ideal
  • Rationale: some people crave to believe in something, and some seek a charismatic leader to follow. Be that charismatic leader who also gives them something to believe in. Don’t worry about rationality with these people: emphasize emotions. And they will give you all the power you want (see Donald Trump)

Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness

  • Timidity is weak. Do it confidently, or don’t do it all
  • Rationale: tentative action and body language make you look weak. Look confident and like you know what you’re doing instead, and people will naturally respect you

Law 29: Plan All The Way to The End

  • Don’t start moving towards a goal without knowing how you will reach it.
  • Rationale: the end goal is what matters. Too many people start without knowing what they want. Don’t be one of them: start planning from the end goal backward

Law 30: Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

  • Always look like what you did was easy for you, and you will look far more impressive
  • Rationale: people naturally respect effortlessness over hard work. Everyone can achieve it with hard work, but with natural talent? That makes you look vastly superior. And higher SMV, too

Law 31: Control the Options

  • Provide people with a few options that all benefit you, and they will do your best interest while feeling strong and empowered
  • Rationale: people like to feel in control. Give them a semblance of options, as if they had the power of choice, and they will happily do your best interest

Law 32: Play to People’s Fantasies

  • Give people what they want to hear
  • Rationale: people say they want the truth, but they actually want what makes them feel good. Play to their best fantasies, and they will love you

Law 33: Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

  • Find your opponent’s weaknesses, insecurities, and hot buttons
  • Rationale: some of the most driven folks are all hiding insecurities (see David Goggins’ “Can’t Hurt Me“, for example). Find out which ones they are, and you will know what forces are controlling them

Law 34: Be Royal in Your Own Fashion—Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One

  • Act the way you want to be treated, and pretend you already are who you want to be. And people will treat you like you already are.
  • Rationale: how do people know who you really are? For the majority of people who don’t know your background, it’s based on how you behave and how you dress. Behave like you’re royalty, and people will treat you like royalty

Law 35: Master the Art of Timing

  • Never seem in a hurry, but look calm and collected, like you always have things under control
  • Spot the early trends, and position to take advantage of them
  • Only strike when you’re ready
  • Rationale: Greene bundles up different things under this law. When you look unhurried, you look like you’re in control of your life. And when planning your moves, keep in mind the timing and seek to strike at the best time

Law 36: Disdain things you cannot have: ignoring them is the best revenge

  • Ignore what you cannot have, and you will look superior
  • Rationale: a few things, you can’t have them. And for a few issues, you can’t solve them. If you make a big deal out of it, people will know that you can’t get them. You look powerless. And if you complain about them, you will look butthurt. Instead, don’t let them bother you, and it will seem like you’re above them.

Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles

  • Curate the appearances, make big shows, dazzle people with spectacles
  • Rationale: What people can’t see doesn’t exist. If they can’t see the dirt, it doesn’t exist. What is real is limited by what they can see. And if all they can see is a beautiful facade, that’s the only reality for them

Law 38: Think As You Like, But Behave Like Others

  • When you make a show of being different, people will dislike you. Pretend to be like them instead
  • Rationale: when you go against the grain, you communicate that you are different and superior. People will resent you. Blend in instead. At least, blend in until you have enough power to do what you want

Law 39: Stir Up Waters to Catch the Fish

  • Unhinge your enemies by getting them emotional 
  • Rationale: an angry and emotional enemy is an enemy more prone to mistakes. Make them emotional, and you might be able to profit from some poor decisions

Law 40: Despise the Free Lunch

  • Avoid freebies, they are rarely truly free. What’s worth having is worth paying for, and you will keep your independence
  • Rationale: people who give you something usually want something back. When you accept freebies, you allow others to control you through guilt, reciprocation (see Cialdini, 1984), and the Law of Social Exchange, by which you are now indebted to them

Law 41: Avoid Stepping Into a Great Man’s Shoes

  • Don’t follow great people, or their names and reputations might eclipse you. If you truly master, seek a novel path that will make you stand out
  • Rationale: What happens first always appears better and more original than what’s next. Especially if your predecessor was great, you will look like an average guy who is just keeping up the good work

Law 42: Strike the Shepherd to Scatter the Sheep

  • If you are having trouble, always seek to go to the source. If it’s about people, attack the leader, not the followers
  • Rationale: there is often a major source of your troubles in life. If it’s about people, attack the head of the revolt, not the sheep who are following him. Attacking the sheep will only galvanize the other sheep. Attacking the shepherd will end the revolt

Law 43: Work on the hearts and minds of others

  • Avoid coercion. Seek to make people want to follow you instead. Win their hearts with emotions. Play their fears. And seek to provide just enough rationale to win their minds, too
  • Rationale: unless you are a despot, it’s difficult to get what you want with pure strength and dominance. People resent being forced into something, and over the long run, they will rebel and plot against you. It is better to persuade and influence them instead (also read: power over VS power through)

Law 44: Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

  • Copy exactly what they are doing and saying, and it’s sure that you will be able to get under their skin
  • Rationale: Greene provides two different uses for the mirror effect. One is to get under people’s skin, and another is to mirror exactly what they like so that you can charm them

Law 45: Preach the Need for Change, But Never Reform Too Much at Once

  • “Change” is a big keyword people love to throw around. So embrace. But don’t change too quickly or it will result in pushback
  • Rationale: People love change with words but hate it in practice. So give them what they want: big words of change, but little change in practice

Law 46: Never Appear Too Perfect

  • It’s dangerous to appear better than others or like you have it all. Pretend instead that you’re also human; pretend that you are like them. And most of all, pretend like the power you have requires so much sacrifice that they will not want to take it away from you
  • Rationale: People are jealous and envious of those who look too perfect and powerful. Look vulnerable sometimes, and play up your sacrifices

Law 47: Don’t Push Too Far: In Victory, Learn When to Stop

  • Once you reach your goal, stop: your job is done
  • Rationale: when it looks like we are winning easily, the temptation might be to keep on going. But it might be a trap. Or you might lose what you’ve already won. Stop instead at the healthy target you initially set

Law 48: Assume Formlessness

  • Rigidity is lost in a world that is always changing and on the move. Stay flexible and be ready to change yourself as well as your plans
  • Rationale: everything changes. What worked today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. And you must adapt to thrive

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