What is Machiavellianism? Definition and examples

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)

Machiavellianism is a political theory or view which supports the use of any means necessary to maintain political power. Machiavellianism displays a pessimistic view of human nature and promotes unethical and opportunistic ways of manipulating the population of a country.

The theory or philosophy is based on the beliefs of Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527). Machiavelli was an Italian politician, diplomat, humanist, playwright, poet, and philosopher. Many people refer to him as the ‘father of political science.’

Machiavelli was a senior official in the Florentine Republic for several years. He was in charge of military and diplomatic affairs. From 1498 to 1512, he was the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence.

The following quote comes from Machiavelli’s book ‘The Prince’:

“Whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature.”

Machiavellianism in modern psychology

Machiavellianism is also a personality trait in modern psychology. A Machiavellian person has a duplicitous interpersonal style. He or she has a lack of empathy and a cynical disregard for morality. The individual focuses on personal gain and self-interest.

According to Harley Therapy:

“Machiavellianism in psychology refers to a personality trait which sees a person so focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to achieve their goals.”

“Machiavellianism is one of the traits in what is called the ‘Dark Triad’, the other two being narcissism and psychopathy.”

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People with high Machiavellianism are terrible managers.

Some signs and personality traits

Below are some personality traits that people with Machiavellianism typically have:

  • Individuals are focused only on their own interests and ambition.
  • They seem confident and charming.
  • In order to get ahead, they will manipulate and exploit other people.
  • They are typically unaware of the consequences of their actions and behaviors.
  • When necessary, they will lie, cheat, and deceive.
  • Power and money matters more than relationships.
  • They tend to use flattery frequently.
  • There is a total lack of values or principles.
  • They have a cynical view of morality and goodness.
  • Empathy is either deficient or totally lacking.
  • To achieve their goals, they are capable of harming others or causing others harm.
  • Due to their calculating nature, they can be extremely patient.
  • Most people with Machiavellianism find it hard to identify their own emotions.
  • Some individuals are difficult to get to know and may seem aloof.

Machiavellianism in the workplace

According to Wikipedia:

“Machiavellianism in the workplace refers to a personality trait where individuals behave in a cold and duplicitous manner in business settings.”

In 2010, a study by a team of researchers – Re‐Examining Machiavelli: A Three‐Dimensional Model of Machiavellianism in the Workplace – was published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

The authors put forward a new model of Machiavellianism based in organizational settings. It consists of three factors:

  • Maintaining power.
  • Harsh management tactics.
  • Manipulative behaviors.

People who are high in Machiavellianism tend to be more willing to lie and are less likely to give honest answers at interviews. They are also skilled liars. In many cases, they see lying in interviews as fair.

A good boss should tap into the resources and talents to support and bring out the best in the employees they manage. People who are high in Machiavellianism do not have the qualities to do this.

In politics, using tricks and lies through manipulative Machiavellian behavior is seen as poor performance.