5 Signs of a Machiavellian Personality

The term comes from Nicolo Machiavelli’s infamous book The Prince. The Prince teaches rulers and leaders that virtues like honesty are expendable if deceit and brute force accomplish the goal faster. In the context of psychology, a Machiavellian personality refers to someone who necessarily chooses to be manipulative but rather is. 

Machiavellianism is a type of manipulation that solely benefits you while puts others at risk. This personality trait is part of the dark triad, and it is linked with other personality traits like narcissism and psychopathic personalities. Unlike other personality traits that make up the Dark Triad, people with a Machiavellian personality do not like being the center of attention. 

According to Dr. Dale Hartley, people with Machiavellian personalities are predisposed to deceit. Hence, lying and deceiving others is their relationship modus operandi. Additionally, most Machiavellians lack empathy and see others as stepping stones to their goals. They believe that if someone allows themselves to be used, then it is their fault. Examples in TV and media are Little Finger from The Hunger Games and Tony Soprano from The Sopranos. 

Don’t get me wrong, we all of us are capable of being duplicitous–moments of white lies or excuses to get out of something qualify. But, more often than not, you may feel a bit guilty after lying to that person. However, someone with a Machiavellian personality type will not feel remorse after deceiving someone. 

Before we delve into the signs of a Machiavellian personality, we should cover a bit of history. The term and the criteria for the personality type were developed in 1970 by psychologists Richard Christie and Florence Geis. Both psychologists developed an exam where a person had to agree or disagree with statements such as:

  • “The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear.”
  • “It is wise to flatter important people.”
  • “The biggest difference between most criminals and other people is that the criminals are stupid enough to get caught.”

Those with higher scores on the Mach IV have a Machiavellian personality. 

Below are five traits of a Machiavellian personality. 

  • Focused on their ambition.

Being ambitious can be a good trait to have. But, being fixated on them to the point where you willingly sacrifice others for your goals is brutal. There is a fine line between ambition and obsessing over control. 

Popular media usually portrays Machiavellians as power-hungry villains who want to control others. However, the degree of villainy depends on what that person’s ambition is. Machiavellian personality types are persistent and will do whatever it takes to achieve their goal, but they do not necessarily have evil intentions. 

  • Cynical 

Certain moments in life, like a tragedy or loss, can push us towards cynicism. In these moments, it is easy to lose faith in others and ourselves. As a result, you can become withdrawn and dark. However, while these stages in life can change you perceive the world, the changes are usually temporary. That is what differentiates you from a person with a Machiavellian personality type. 

Someone with a Machiavellian personality is distrustful of the world and believes that people are either losers or winners. 

  • Sly

A trait of someone who scores high on the Mach IV is craftiness. They are intelligent, creative, and ingenious. If placed in a tough spot, they will find a way out of it. 

Most Machiavellians will take advantage of environments that create space for flexibility and circumvention. Usually, workspaces with vague rules are perfect environments for someone with a Machiavellian personality because they do not have to excuse their behavior. Since the rules are not written out, they can get away with anything

  • Arrogant

Another trait of those with a Machiavellian personality trait is arrogance. Not all Machiavellians are arrogant. However, a majority seem to possess a high regard for themselves and their intelligence. As a result, some may feel entitled to manipulate others. 

  • Effusive or overly charming

Another trait is charm. Like most manipulators, those with a Machiavellian personality type are good at telling people what they want to hear. Hence, gaining someone’s trust to manipulate them makes it easier for a Machiavellian to their goal.

Additionally, their charm helps them be evasive and mask their true intentions.

While this trait is separate from the others in the Dark Triad, many tactics employed by a Machiavellian are used by narcissists and psychopaths. 

Encountering or being in a relationship with someone with this kind of personality trait is challenging. But, prioritize yourself and seek help if necessary. 

Sources:

Academy of Management. (2021). 15 signs you work with a narcissist, Machiavellian, or psychopath. AOM Insights. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://journals.aom.org/doi/10.5465/amp.2017.0005.summary. 

Garis, M. G. (2020, January 24). The dark triad personality includes narcissism, psychopathy, and a third lesser-known demonic trait. Well+Good. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://www.wellandgood.com/what-is-machiavellianism/. 

Hartley, D. (2015, September 8). Meet the Machiavellians. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/machiavellians-gulling-the-rubes/201509/meet-the-machiavellians. 

Jacobson, S. (2015, January 8). What is machiavellianism in psychology? Harley Therapy™ Blog. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/machiavellianism-psychology.htm. 

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