Fisher Mediation
Placeholder - Slide Some parties in a Dispute Never See Themselves as Others Do.

Are You Representing a Machiavellian?

Do you sense you are being manipulated, conned or used by your client? If you are fortunate your body is reacting to this client or prospective client in a way that raises warning flags — such as your gut churning, heart skipping beats or beginning to race, tightness in the chest or the fight/flight mechanism kicking in. If so, listen to the warning signs and be alert going forward as to who you might be dealing with — possibly a Machiavellian personality.

The psychological concept of Machiavellianism is based on Niccolo Machiavelli, the Renaissance diplomat and philosopher. Machiavelli was the author of “The Prince” which proclaimed strong rulers should be harsh with their subjects and enemies and that glory and survival justified any means, including being immoral and brutal. In the 1970s, psychologists Christie and Geis developed their “Machiavellianism Scale” which tests along four psychological axis, now called the Mach-IV test.

People who appear highly Machiavellian are focused on their own interests and use interpersonal manipulation, such as use of flattery and deceit to achieve their own goals and interests. They are detached and lack emotional involvement with others. They have a dysfunctional connection to their own emotions, are unable to feel the emotions of others and they lack empathy.

Be alert for these additional Machiavellian characteristics. However, know that many of these are also prevalent in some narcissists and sociopaths or psychopaths:

  • Money and power are more important than relationships
  • Exploit and manipulate others to achieve their own agenda
  • Lie and deceive when necessary
  • Avoid commitment and emotional attachments
  • Are capable of harming others to achieve their own goals

Those high on the Machiavellian Scale are focused on their own wellbeing. Their belief system allows them to be patient and at the same time deceptive to get ahead.

My research did not reveal how to manage these devilish people. However, tools used to manage narcissists and sociopaths might be helpful: Compromise is difficult because they feel they have done nothing wrong. Don’t confront. Be polite. Your relationship and opinions are professional, not personal. Be firm and consistent. Set clear boundaries and expect them to be broken. Insist on backup information to claims. Manage expectations. Trust your instincts. Be prepared for crisis.

Acknowledgements: “What is the emotional core of the multidimensional Machiavellian personality trait? Authors Ain, Carre, Fantini-Hauwel, Baudouin, Resche-Richard, National Institutes of Health, 2013. “What is Machiavellianism in Psychology?”, Harley Therapy, 2015.