The Dark Triad at the Workplace, #2: Machiavellianism

Mach
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In the previous article we were talking about narcissism. In this one we’ll move ahead to look into the issue of the 2nd element, Machiavellianism.

What Is Machiavellianism?

Briefly speaking, it means consciously manipulating others to meet one’s selfish goals. Machiavellians view their work as a game which requires strategic thinking and manoeuvring and others as means for their personal success.

The origins of term are related to Niccolo Machiavelli, a politician and philosopher residing in Florence during the Renaissance. We now know him largely for his famous composition, The Prince, and particularly his quotes like “The ends justify the means” or “Powerful people should feel free to lie, cheat, and deceive whenever it suits their purpose”.

Machiavellians are socially intelligent (they know what can motivate and discourage others) but in terms of emotional intelligence they lag behind). They also are very manipulative and consider other people to be just assets, utilities which can be helpful in achieving their goals.

To put it simply, they don’t view people as individuals with really nice qualities worth admiring and respecting. Rather, they assess them on the grounds of what those people possess: money, social recognition, beauty, exceptional knowledge, abilities, etc. and at the same time search for ways of how they can turn all this to their own advantage.

For example, the Machiavellian won’t think “George is a really nice person, I like him a lot” but “George is really good at X, so if I befriend him he’ll do X for me for free and I can win more”. In such a way the Machiavellian is securing themselves, making sure they have an exit route for the situation that may happen in the future and in solving which George will be the main tool.

How Can One Recognize Machiavellians at the Workplace?

As a rule Mach’s are very farsighted, they think several moves ahead and always leave space for retrieval. Moral dilemmas (e.g., cheating, misleading, manipulating) are not something they will be fretting about. Little surprise then they will not reveal their true identity to others.

  1. Mach’s are highly secretive. They’ll never tell you the real reasons behind their actions and often can just lie about them. They’re also fond of telling really important things when it’s too late.
  2. Mach’s try to make other people do their work. They call it delegating the job responsibilities (apparently to spare time for making further plans of exploitation). Yet they will be the ones to take the credit when the task is completed. Practically this means George did all the work but James forgot to mention it to his manager and received the reward all for himself.
  3. Through manipulation Mach’s want people to be always close to them. They long to be attractive in the eyes of others, so that people will voluntarily keep company with them. When people are closer to Mach’s they are more likely to confide in them which eventually gives the Mach additional power.
  4. Mach’s try to make people dependent on them. While it is George who’s making all the work, he somehow thinks that without James he won’t be ablt to do it. Again, making people dependent gives Mach’s influence over them and a chance to use them for their own ends.
  5. Mach’s never take one’s side. Clearly, conflicts occur at every workplace. Regardless of the reasons for conflicts, Mach’s never express publicly whom they support. Rather, James will tell George he is completely on his side and in an hour he’ll drop in on Andrew and tell him it was all George’s fault. What results is that he wins the loyalty of both of them.

It Can Be Good Sometimes

As always, it depends on the extent to which say, managers are Machiavellian. In reality all of them use at least a bit of those tactics, of course, as subordinates often give them a hard time. So it’s ok to use Machiavellianism to boost performance and make the team move in a right direction, but it ends the moment someone selfishly decides to benefit at the expense of others.

In the 1960s R.Christie and F.Geis created a specific test, Mach-IV. It consists of 20 questions and can tell you if you’re a Low or High Mach (scoring more than 60 out of 100 means high).

Apparently, it’s quite hard to spot Mach at the workplace. However, people working side by side for some time and knowing each other well can probably guess. In any case, companies should develop policies of dealing with Machiavellianism which is nothing else but mental abuse.

Just make sure you can answer these questions: Does workers in my company trust their manager / HR manager / psychologist, etc. enough to tell them they feel they’re cheated, manipulated and bullied at work? And what my company does to support them and deal with those who are doing this?

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