In a recent episode of Dr. Phil, the good doctor was helping a woman come to grips with the fact that she had be conned out of her money – and I don’t mean a few thousand dollars. For the past few months, she had been engaged in an online relationship with a man who, according to his story, was unable to leave the country where he was sent on a business trip because someone had stolen his passport…and then he became ill…and then he needed money to bribe the local police to let him go…and then he needed money to send to the babysitter who was taking care of his kids while he was gone. Every time he asked his “true love” for money, she consented: To the tune of over one million when everything was added up. When asked why she handed over the money so easily, all she could say was (I’m paraphrasing from memory) “I loved him. And he loved me. He was charming and romantic and understood me.”
The woman was clearly conned. Clear to those of us, that is, who have the luxury of being able to see her situation from an outside perspective. You can call her ignorant, foolish, and naïve, but she was the victim of a man who has a good understanding of human emotion, human behavior, human motivation, and human nature. A man with good social insight, a key trait of emotional intelligence, and zero empathy.
Social insight is largely considered a valuable skill. Being able to perceptively and accurately appraise people and anticipate what they might say or do allows us to adjust our own behavior and social approach accordingly, avoiding awkward missteps, hurt feelings, and conflict. But there is a dark side to social insight. A keen understanding of human nature can be used for evil. Social insight, if not complemented by empathy and a strong sense of social responsibility, can lead to dishonest, deceptive, and manipulative behavior.
We analyzed the profiles of people who took our Machiavellian Personality Test, focusing specifically on 60 individuals who are socially insightful but not socially responsible and who lack empathy. Sadly, here’s what our study reveals about this group:
- 25% would rather have fake but powerful friends than un-influential, real friends.
- 72% would rather do bad things to others than have bad things done to them.
- 52% would rather live a life of success than a life lived according to their values.
- 50% would rather be a cheating winner than an honest loser.
- 25% would rather be feared than loved.
- 50% have dated or befriended someone in order to gain something.
- 43% refuse to help others if they can’t get something out of it/benefit from it in some way.
- 45% admit that they only look out for themselves.
- 52% believe that “all is fair in love and war.”
- 53% believe that the end justifies the means.
- 38% believe that cheating or lying is only wrong if a person gets caught.
- 70% believe that using insincere flattery is justifiable.
- 65% believe that in order to get ahead, one must “step on a few toes.”
- 70% believe that listening to gossip allows them to gain valuable information.
- 43% claim that if an ignorant or naïve person is taken advantage of, it’s their own fault.
- 47% can “turn on the charm” at will.
- 55% are willing to pretend to be someone they’re not in order to get what they want (e.g. lying about their job title/achievements in an interview).
- 50% have been labeled as “manipulative”
- 45% as “ruthless”
- 43% as an “egomaniac”
- 73% as “selfish”
- 73% as “mean”
- 58% as “opportunistic”
- 2% have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
- 4% have been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder.
In order to get something they want…
- 90% have resorted to lying
- 81% guilt-trip
- 64% use intimidation
- 50% use blackmail
- 75% use manipulation
- 45% flirt
- 76% use flattery
In order to move up the career ladder…
- 23% would resort to blackmail
- 21% would sleep with someone in a position of authority
- 29% would dig up dirt on other people
- 15% would sabotage other people’s work
- 39% would be willing to lie
- 11% would take credit for an achievement they never actually attained, while 13% would take credit for someone else’s idea
- 39% would suck up to upper management
There have been several debates going on about the “dark side” of emotional intelligence; and theoretically, it makes sense. Research indicates that people with a Machiavellian personality actually score low on emotional intelligence overall. What these researchers are missing is that emotional intelligence can be broken down into individual competencies, like social insight, emotional control, and ability to read body language. And this is where are con artists excel. Social insight is a valuable skill, but it must be balanced out with empathy.