Machiavellianism is a personality trait that, unlike psychopathy and narcissism, is little known.
People with ‘Machiavellian’ traits are unemotional and regularly deceive and manipulate others.
People with Machiavellian traits tend to agree with statements like these:
- “It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.”
- “Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so.”
- “It is safest to assume that all people have a vicious streak and it will come out when they are given a chance.”
- “It is wise to flatter important people.”
Common signs and examples of Machiavellianism
Seven common signs and examples of a Machiavellian personality are:
- Competing with others rather than cooperating.
- Manipulating others in order to reach their goals.
- Luring others into wild behaviour to further their own ends.
- Making plans for personal benefit with no consideration of their effect on other people.
- Promoting their own interests.
- Minimising or controlling other people’s power of influence.
- Failing to share critical information with others, if it suits their interests.
Whether in the home or the office, Machiavellians display all these sorts of devious behaviours and more, but do it as subtly as possible.
Machiavellians, though, are not obsessed with being the centre of attention, though, like some other dark personalities.
Professor Birgit Schyns, a psychologist and expert on organisational behaviour, along with colleagues, writes:
“Machiavellians are sly, deceptive, distrusting, and manipulative.
They are characterized by cynical and misanthropic beliefs, callousness, a striving for … money, power, and status, and the use of cunning influence tactics.
In contrast to narcissists, Machiavellians do not necessarily have to be the center of attention and are satisfied with the role of puppeteer, unobtrusively pulling the strings.” (Schyns et al., 2019)
Unsurprisingly, Machiavellianism is a personality trait linked to infidelity, along with the other dark triad traits of narcissism and psychopathy.
People high on any of these traits are more likely to cheat.
Unfortunately, then, Machiavellian traits are sometimes attractive — at least a dark and brooding appearance that suggests Machiavellianism is more attractive to some women, one study finds.
What is Machiavellianism? Traits and examples
Those with Machiavellian traits — named for a 15th century Italian diplomat — are very good at getting others to do what they want by using lying and flattery, as needed.
Their motto, if they had one, would be: “The ends justify the means.”
In other words, do whatever you have to in order to get what you want.
They understand what motivates other people and display cold selfishness in getting it from them.
Despite this, they are so good at manipulation that they are often well-liked by others who do not realise their evil intentions.
One study of popularity among teenagers found that those with a classic ‘Machiavellian’ personality are both feared and loved at the same time.
It is a great example of how Machiavellians can be aggressive when they need to be, but can quickly switch to being nice.
The Machiavellian personality is one of the so-called ‘dark triad’ of malevolent personality types.
Drs Daniel N. Jones and Delroy L. Paulhus, experts on dark personalities, explain:
“They were so named because individuals with these traits share a tendency to be callous, selfish, and malevolent in their interpersonal dealings.”
The Machiavellian personality
While most people know about psychopaths and narcissists, few have heard of Machiavellianism — perhaps that is the way they prefer it!
Machiavellian people’s personality tends to be disagreeable and undependable, which leads them to lie, cheat and betray, when it suits them.
Unlike the psychopath, the Machiavellian keeps a close eye on his or her reputation.
The Machiavellian personality type is named after a 15th century politician, Niccolò Machiavelli, Jones and Paulhus explain:
“Early in the 16th century, Niccolo Machiavelli acted as chief political advisor to the ruling Medici family in Florence, Italy.
The details of his counsel are well known because Machiavelli laid them out for posterity in his 1513 book, The Prince.
The gist of his advice for maintaining political control is captured in the phrase “the end justifies the means.”
According to Machiavelli, a ruler with a clear agenda should be open to any and all effective tactics, including ‘manipulative interpersonal strategies such as flattery and lying.”
The quotes are from Jones & Paulhus (2009). Machiavellianism. Handbook of Individual Differences In Social Behavior.