Modern-Day Machiavellians: The dark side of empathy

Niccolò Machiavelli’s political reign lasted 14 years, and in that time he left an indelible mark on modern political theory. In his treatise, The Prince, he proposed that ruling through fear would be more effective than ruling through love. While he was undeniably cunning and unorthodox, it is difficult to deny the fact that Machiavelli had a keen understanding of human nature. In modern psychology theory, “Machiavellianism” is one of the three “Dark Triad” traits (along with narcissism and psychopathy, a nasty combination), and is characterized by the tendency to manipulate and deceive others for personal gain.

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If you need a more modern example of people who epitomize a Machiavellian personality, just watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones.

“When you know what a man wants, you know who he is and how to move him.”

 Petyr Baelish

“The more people you love, the weaker you are.”

Cersei Lannister

Empathy is said to precede compassion or acts of kindness, but the ability to understand the feelings of others can also be used with ill-intent, and Machiavellians know this. A study we conducted at Queendom reveals that Machiavellians have a great capacity for empathy – even more so than non-Machiavellians. Analyzing data from 997 people who took our Integrity and Work Ethics Test, we discovered significant differences between Machiavellians and non-Machiavellians on a number of traits, including the following:

(Note, scales range from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the stronger the trait.).

Empathy

Score for Machiavellians: 73
Score for Non-Machiavellians: 67

Machiavellians are skilled at picking up on other people’s emotions. They have a good understanding of human nature, and can identify the fears and desires of others.

Manipulation

Score for Machiavellians: 62
Score for Non-Machiavellians: 6

Machiavellians can influence people to achieve their own ends by preying on their weaknesses or toying with their emotions.

Deception

Score for Machiavellians: 60
Score for Non-Machiavellians: 9

Machiavellians will lie or misrepresent facts and information in order to deceive others. They will only reveal the truth if it suits their purpose (e.g. to gain favor with someone; to pit two people against each other, etc.).

Calculating

Score for Machiavellians: 65
Score for Non-Machiavellians: 10

Being opportunistic, Machiavellians will immediately seize the chance to take advantage of a situation or a person (especially if that person is vulnerable). Every move and decision they make is carefully planned, like a play in chess. Machiavellians will only help others if it benefits them in some way.

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Desire for Admiration

Score for Machiavellians: 60
Score for Non-Machiavellians: 8

Machiavellians crave status and power and the respect that comes with it. They will do anything to achieve a position of authority, and even more so to keep it.  Machiavellian-type leaders are more likely to use fear (e.g. firing ultimatums) to keep employees in line.

Vindictiveness

Score for Machiavellians: 59
Score for Non-Machiavellians: 8

Not only are Machiavellians more likely to hold grudges, they are unlikely to let slights or transgressions committed against them go unpunished. They may even go out of their way to get back at someone who wronged them.

Disdain for Weakness

Score for Machiavellians: 56
Score for Non-Machiavellians: 17

Machiavellians tend to dislike overly emotional people, and often interpret a lack of emotional discipline as a sign of weakness.

Disdain for Gullible People

Score for Machiavellians: 58
Score for Non-Machiavellians: 19

Machiavellians have little sympathy for people who don’t think for themselves and who believe everything they hear. And given their opportunistic nature, Machiavellians are likely to take advantage of people who can be easily fooled.

Schadenfreude

Score for Machiavellians: 56
Score for Non-Machiavellians: 8

Machiavellians often take pleasure in seeing others fail, especially if it’s an enemy. They feel vindicated when someone who has allegedly wronged them in the past gets a taste of their own medicine.

Machiavellians know how to play people. They can tug at the heart-strings and stab someone in the back without thinking twice if it means advancing their own agenda. And although Machiavellians only scored 6-points higher than non-Machiavellians on empathy, the results are statistically significant. In fact, Machiavellians scored higher on the Empathy scale than they did on Manipulation and Deception, two core traits of this personality profile. This is what allows Machiavellians to influence and deceive people so successfully: They have an amazing ability to read people, to understand their feelings, reactions, and motivations, and to use this knowledge against them. Normally, empathy allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and it typically leads to compassion. However, Machiavellians empathize purely to gain information that puts them at an advantage; they empathize without internalizing the feeling, kind of in a depersonalized way. For individuals with this personality profile, the end always justifies the means.

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Insightfully yours,

Queen D