“Anyone compelled to choose will find far greater security in being feared than in being loved.” This famous quote from Prince Machiavelli is one of the guiding principles of Machiavellians. Machiavellianism is a personality construct and not a personality disorder like narcissism or anti-social (sociopath and psychopath). It is a way of looking at the world which influences behaviors, feelings, and thoughts.
Prince Nicolo Machiavelli wrote the Italian book The Prince in the 1500s. It outlines a political philosophy on how rulers are to govern their subjects. He explains how being cynical, unprincipled and interpersonally manipulative are the keys to success as a ruler. A ruler is not bound by traditional norms and should only be concerned with maintaining and achieving power. The book argues pragmatism over morality with a focus on power over happiness. The main point is a common saying even today: the end justifies the means.
The guiding principles of Machiavellianism are:
- Never show humility; rather arrogance is a more effective way of dealing with others.
- Morality and ethics are for the weak: powerful people are free to lie, cheat and deceive others when it benefits them.
- It is better to be feared than loved.
Characteristics of Machiavellians:
- The master deceiver who appears to be trustworthy and wise but has no inward desire to possess these characteristics.
- Prefers courage and decisiveness over kindness.
- Prefers miserliness over generosity; malice over benevolence.
- Breaks promises when the advantage of the promise has disappeared.
- Not concerned with the immediate approval of others, rather focuses on the long-term gain.
- Examines the lives of others and strives to emulate their victories.
- May consult other’s advice but relies on own intelligence to succeed.
- Cruelty is necessary for maintaining order.
- Values some bad characteristics such as vindictiveness, stubbornness, and miserliness in order to stay in power.
In the workplace, Machiavellians:
- Believe that maintaining personal power is a motivating factor.
- Justify pitting one person against others, neglecting to share important information, spreading false rumors, backstabbing, and using other manipulative behaviors.
- Feel that generosity in moderation is good but a having a reputation for it can be destructive because it uses up resources.
- Use the fear of punishment as a motivating factor. Harshness in management is acceptable.
- Limit the use of fear so as not incite others to hatred. Hatred is avoided but bullying is common.
Sometimes the workplace has The Dark Triad which groups narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy together creating malevolent qualities. Narcissists are grandiose, prideful, self-centered, and lack empathy. Machiavellians are manipulative, exploitative of others, cynical, and deceptive. Psychopaths are impulsive, calculating, callous, without conscience, and dangerous.
Some Machiavellians know exactly where they obtain these personality constructs from where others are merely emulating the behavior of those they highly esteem. Unfortunately, society rewards these behaviors in certain occupations and therefore reinforces this almost 500-year philosophy.