How do cynics differ from sociopaths?

The Machiavellian: Social Chameleon

Machiavellian people tend to be manipulative, exploitative, and selfish. Machiavellians are selfish, cynical and put selfishness above principle. Due to their manipulative and calculating nature, they know almost no limits to achieve their goals. As a rule, they have a pronounced need for power and influence, whereby all means - including those that are not socially accepted - are right to them in order to maximize their self-interest. In this context, they devise clever strategies and smart procedures to enforce their intentions, and their wrongdoing can rarely be proven. At the same time, they are very good at gaining the trust of other people and successfully building networks that they can use for their own purposes.

Machiavellians are basically able to show empathy, but they do so above all when it serves their own interests. As a result, your understanding of other people is often spurious, and entering into relationships is rarely without ulterior motives. Machiavellians often take advantage of their fellow human beings, but they can disguise this skillfully. They are described as social chameleons because they can flexibly adapt their behavior depending on the situation. They have a skilful way of presenting themselves and are usually perceived positively by those around them. Since Machiavellians are able to disguise the negative aspects of their personality, it is difficult to recognize a "real" Machiavellian. In the work context, Machiavellian behavior can have both positive and negative effects on companies.

Self test

What is your dark triad expression? Take the short test.

Strategic and strong in negotiations

On the one hand, there are positive aspects, because thanks to their “cool” and strategic way of thinking, Machiavellians can make important business decisions without being sentimentally distracted or influenced. This is an advantage for restructuring, company takeovers or crisis management, for example. Due to their calculating nature, they can also successfully conduct difficult negotiations and align them in favor of the company.

Selfish and manipulative

There are negative effects above all in the area of ​​cooperation, because Machiavellians are also selfish and want to get their way at all costs. Like people with narcissistic and mild psychopathic tendencies, Machiavellians also tend to be counterproductive at work, which in turn can have a negative effect on the working atmosphere and cooperation within a team. In their work environment, they manipulate people regardless of their function or hierarchical level. If their manipulative and calculating nature is revealed, there is potential for conflict and trust is permanently weakened. Studies (1) have also shown that Machiavellians are less willing to volunteer within the organization or for individual other employees, because they want to work primarily for their own interests. In summary, the behavior of Machiavellians, in addition to the negative consequences, has positive aspects with regard to their strategic strengths, provided that these are in demand and desired in a company.

Series: Dark Triad

Have you ever been annoyed about employees who have nothing to say but always want to be the center of attention? Have you ever wondered about executives who achieve their goals without considering others? Or has your company already suffered from employees who made important decisions on the impulse? Then you should be interested in our article series «Dark Triad», in which we shed light on the dark side of personality. We will show you how you can recognize the characteristics of the dark triad in the application process and what measures HR managers can take if “dark personalities” threaten negative consequences for the company.

Next week

The mild psychopath: Unscrupulous with a cool head


  • 1 Becker, J., & O’Hair, H. D. (2007). Machiavellians ’motives in organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 35, 246-267.