Post No.: 0642
Most people care about their ‘self-presentation’ almost above all else – image and perceived reputation matters. Most people, without knowing it, will constantly adapt their words and actions to suit different audiences in order to create the desired impression on others.
But some go the extra mile to use charm and cunning manipulation to shape how they’re perceived in order to gain power…
Machiavellian individuals are chameleons. They consciously become different people in different social situations in order to manipulate others in different ways to try to meet their demands. (They might not even allow you to mingle in different parts of their social circles so that you can’t compare notes about their slippery personas.) Machiavellian politicians are more about their personalities than policies. They’ll say whatever will further their own ambitions for greater personal power rather than stick to any firm principles. They may even try hard to make it appear like they’re not trying hard to gain power and are just ‘relatable folk’ (e.g. they might intentionally ruffle up their hair before going on camera to look more informal, friendly and ‘cuddly’, or they prefer getting papped in pubs polishing off pints with pals and packets of peanuts). Simultaneously, they might like to use stylistic or rhetorical devices in their speeches to sound more articulate (e.g. anaphora, epistrophe, schesis onomaton or indeed the alliteration I tried above). Being a good orator or using such speech techniques don’t alone indicate Machiavellianism – but these people know the power of a good speech.
They may hide their strengths to not appear as an overt threat and do other things to put people’s guards down; until the last minute. So they’re frequently underestimated at first. They try to get in the middle because important people supposedly appear in the middle of photographs, heads of tables, rooms, etc..
They know that their own talents and industriousness alone aren’t enough, so they know how to use others for their own ends. They know how to get what they want that others can provide (e.g. sometimes through intimidation, sometimes through appearing like a chum). They play people to their own advantage by any means – verging on the unethical at times.
Anyone who has risen to the top of any social hierarchy has used manipulation whether they know or admit it or not! The art of gaining power over others is to make them dependent on you and yourself independent of them.
They understand that it’s the perception of their effectiveness that’s more important than the reality of it – it’s about the visibility and awareness of them and their work to those that matter. So it’s about managing the perceptions that you portray to the key decision-makers. Perceptions are our truths and realities, so show that you can solve their key problems (like no one else) and appear indispensable.
Machiavellianism is one part of the so-called ‘dark triad’ that also includes narcissism and psychopathy. These traits overlap and tend to correlate in people. So manipulative individuals tend to have narcissistic grandiose beliefs about themselves too. They’re overconfident, dishonest, abusive to their subordinates and like to credit-steal and brag wherever they can. They think they’re superior. They don’t listen to experts or think the rules apply to them. They foment conflict, blame-throw and can explode with rage at any sign of disagreement or disloyalty. There’s always an ‘I’ in their conception of ‘team’ but if they screw up then they’ll try to divert attention away from taking any personal blame by using words that bond, like ‘we’ or ‘us’, to share responsibility without appearing defensive, or by letting us know we’ve made a difference on them in terms of them ‘learning their lesson’ (because it’s not about winning an argument as much as leaving a positive lasting impression on others). Their charm and manipulation means that, even if they fail to actually learn from their mistakes, they’re like Teflon and will slip away with (almost) anything.
Cutting jobs in an organisation to cut costs is a tough decision to make. But deep down these are easy decisions for psychopaths because it’s not their job or salary they’re cutting! They only ultimately care about ruthlessly serving themselves. They’re looking after ‘number one’ even when they’re trying to make it sound like they’re doing everyone else a favour.
Manipulation is central to crafting a public figure’s image but it can collapse if one is found to be duplicitous and playing the public as fools. But watch out because the best are the hardest to initially detect! From politicians, businesspeople to romantic players – they’ll often escape with things because of their sheer (over)confidence and high charisma stat.
Confidence is usually mistaken for competence. To make others believe that you exude confidence – have an expansive body language, keep your vocal tone low, speak early, speak more, and in a calm, relaxed manner.
As broad generalisations – female manipulators tend to use ‘self-disclosure’ manipulation tactics to make you trust them into deepening a relationship for their own ends, whilst male manipulators tend to be more impatient and use ‘argumentative persuasion’ manipulation tactics instead. (So seek for more time to decide if pressured for some commitment – this’ll usually irritate them.) Females also tend to emphasise the advantages of doing what they want you to do, whilst men tend to emphasise the problems if you don’t.
Within some circles, like in corporate business or high-stakes politics – people aren’t coy, at least amongst their peers, about using manipulative methods upon the unsuspecting to succeed. A key text for international diplomats to read is Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince; although this could also be about being forearmed against what strategies other diplomats might use against them. Another useful text is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Know your opponent, know yourself, and know the situation.
Some attitudes are fair enough in the appropriate contexts. For example, one should assert oneself, ask for what one wants and complain about things that one isn’t satisfied with. Speak your mind, state your views and help decide the changes. Know your worth – no one else will stand up for you if you don’t stand up for yourself. So speak up and out for what you require and for anything you’re entitled to. Don’t be passively unobtrusive if ever wronged. If anything doesn’t seem right or you are unsure then don’t hesitate to enquire. Don’t take baloney from anyone – don’t be ‘too nice’ if you might lose out or suffer needlessly. Demand things to be on time and to standard, or take your business elsewhere. Make your presence felt. Take command of situations and try to dominate the opposition in competitive contexts. Small fish can eventually grow to eat big fish.
Some attitudes are okay if they don’t go too far. For example, one should utilise other people for one’s own aims, but they should never be dehumanised and viewed as just pawns in one’s own game. It’s better to get others onboard to help you realise your ambitions by considering what’s in it for them too i.e. win-win outcomes.
But some attitudes are downright devious. For example, one can almost always find some kind of dirt on anyone if one looks hard enough for it. An attitude of ‘not having much sympathy for others because they won’t for you’ will only contribute to a culture of reciprocal callousness. And bullying is never condonable. We’ll likely receive from others what we give to them. Paranoia magnifies when you hurt others!
Be warned as there are two forms of power – one that people will voluntarily and happily (continue to) give to you because you earned it from them, and one that’s imposed on people either directly or indirectly such as by force or by simply being wealthier than them. With the former we’ll fight for that person, whereas with the latter we’d like to stab them in the back if given the opportunity or laugh at them if they fall!
You can gain power through fear and intimidation, by building alliances with influential people, by being competent at one’s job, and/or through helping others. So although barking and aggression can help and one mustn’t be ‘too nice’ that one ends up being walked over – it’s important to be agreeable (generous and trustworthy) rather than disagreeable (hostile and selfish) because you’ll need to work well with others to go far. Being extroverted can help because being energetic, sociable and assertive helps.
You need to be liked but not taken for granted. As a leader, you need to be loved as well as somewhat feared. Fear is a powerful tool to get people to behave in certain ways. But you cannot just destroy or alienate your competition in a hierarchical contest otherwise you’ll have no pack left to lead! So you must win whilst also being cooperative. Moreover, if you rule primarily by fear then if you end up needing help but your power and ability to cause fear recedes – don’t expect anyone to come to your rescue. You cannot overtly exploit others or be despised otherwise you’ll be deserted or people will be plotting to even the score behind your fuzzy back at every opportunity.
Thus so-called ‘dog-eat-dog’ Machiavellian manipulation requires highly-incentivised bodyguards! A higher-level game is one where a smile, some praise, some kindness, will encourage reciprocation i.e. if you really want to win friends and influence people (people you want to meet or may possibly end up meeting again someday, instead of ‘use then dump’) – then be generous and considerate! (For more about this, read Post No.: 0608.) The key is to be nice first, and hopefully this will be reciprocated indefinitely. Or if the other party ever defects then punish, but be quick to forgive in order to return to a productive relationship.
I’m personally wary of anyone who thinks ‘isn’t everyone just ultimately selfish and doing things for their own benefit even if they appear to be kind to others?’ because it’s like they cannot conceive of performing genuine acts of selfless sacrifice or altruism for anyone else. And all they’ll ever do for you – if anything – is because they’re calculatingly trying to get something from you. Or if they feel they’re not going to get enough of what they want from you then they won’t care about you anymore or they’ll attempt to force it from you.
Those who you most probably won’t get close to or long-term with are to be trusted most cautiously. Their interests are less tied with yours. However, this can lead to discrimination as perceived ‘outsiders’ are prejudiced against – thus we need to give everyone a chance.
The key to eliminating any grudges or potential sabotage against you is through ensuring that any sense of injustice felt by others is dealt with openly, effectively and immediately. Don’t ignore it and assume it’ll go away on its own accord because it won’t.
If you have a problem with someone then it’s your problem, so manage that person by first understanding their motivation/goal and work on your relationship with them. We don’t directly change others – we change ourselves and how we treat others, and in doing so others will hopefully change how they treat us. This kind of manipulation is healthier.
Woof. So you don’t have to use ‘dark arts’ manipulation methods if that’s not authentic to your conscience. But it does help for us to learn when sly manipulation techniques may be being used or attempted on us – and that’s what this post is about. You can reply to the tweet linked to the Twitter comment button below to share what you think about that – should we fight fire with our own fire here or try to neutralise it with water by pointing out what others are fiendishly trying to do? Or if it’s dependent on the context then in which contexts are these manipulative attitudes admissible (e.g. politics, business)?