Manipulation isn’t always as blatant or easy to detect as you might think. In fact, some of the most cunning manipulators are maestros at being subtle, craftily veiling their ulterior motives behind a veil of charm and persuasion.
The term “Machiavellian” comes from 17th century Italian diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote about power and manipulation in his works. People considered Machiavellian are often deemed adept at manipulating others for their own gain.
In this article, we’re going to delve into the playbook of these types of individuals, so that you may learn how to suss them out and protect yourself from these tricksters. To do so, we’ll uncover the classic manipulation tactics they use, giving you a much-needed insight into their manipulative game.
So buckle up, because here are the 8 classic manipulation tactics used by Machiavellian types.
1) Playing on your insecurities
Manipulation often begins with a deep understanding of a person’s insecurities. In essence, a master manipulator knows how to play on these vulnerabilities.
Machiavellian types are no different. They’re experts in identifying your weak points and using them as leverage. They make you question your worth, your decisions, and even your perceptions.
This tactic is incredibly effective because it makes you reliant on the manipulator for validation. It’s a way of keeping you off balance and in a constant state of self-doubt.
However, recognizing this tactic is the first step to counteract its effects. By understanding that a manipulator may try to exploit your insecurities, you’re one step closer to protecting yourself from their influence.
Just remember – everyone has insecurities, but they shouldn’t be used as weapons against you.
A favorite and a particularly sinister technique used by Machiavellian types, this strategy involves disarming the victim by leading them down a dimly lit path which ends with them questioning their own sanity.
You might’ve heard of gaslighting in reference to lovers (usually jilted ones), but this isn’t solely for the charlatans and playboys out there. In fact, pretty much anyone – from the supermarket cashier lady, to the colleague who sits to your right, to your landlord – can have Machiavelli characteristics.
Amongst their favored tactics is gaslighting, a universal manipulation tactic which is so powerful because it chips away at a person’s confidence and self-belief. This leaves the victim far more susceptible to even more manipulation as the relationship snowballs.
The key to combating this tactic is to trust your own instincts and seek validation from other sources (whom you trust) when necessary.
3) The “foot-in-the-door” technique
Machiavellian types often use a tactic known as the “foot-in-the-door” technique. This involves them asking for a small, easy-to-grant request first. Maybe that you pass them their coat, or hold the door open for them.
Next, they follow it up with a larger, more significant request. You’re not sure how you agreed to it, but suddenly you’re picking their kids up from school, 5 days a week. Free of charge, as well.
Research shows that people are more likely to agree to a big request if they’ve previously agreed to a smaller one. It’s a psychological trick that exploits our natural desire for consistency. The nifty thing is that when we’ve said yes once, we find it surprisingly difficult to say no the next time around.
So, although you should aim to be kind and gracious, be wary of little errands which turn into you waiting hand and foot.
Next time you find yourself agreeing to a small request, be on the lookout for the bigger one that might follow.
Play dumb, bat those big lashes and stand in all your naive glory.
This is a classic tactic used by Machiavellian individuals. They shrug and stand in doe-eyed confusion, pretending to be totally ignorant or uninformed about a certain subject to manipulate others into doing something for them.
By feigning ignorance, they force others to step in and take over. Like a parent caring for a lost little child. This often results in the manipulator getting their desired outcome (they can have their cake and eat it), without having to lift a finger. It’s a sneaky way of avoiding responsibility while still getting things done their way.
This tactic can be hard to spot because it’s often disguised as helplessness or lack of understanding.
However, if you notice a pattern of someone frequently needing help with tasks they should be capable of handling and then asking the world of you, you might be dealing with a feigned ignorance tactic.
5) Guilt tripping
Another common tool in the Machiavellian arsenal is guilt-tripping, which involves manipulating someone by making them feel guilty and playing upon that shame.
The manipulator may assume the role of the victim, exaggerate their disappointment and sadness, or even bring up past favors to make you feel obligated to comply with their request.
The aim is to make you feel so desperately guilty that you’ll do absolutely anything to alleviate these negative emotions and absolve your induced guilt. Should you even dare to reject the plea, you’ll be painted as the most wretched and unkind soul on the planet.
Guilt-tripping can be damaging as it often leads to resentment and strained relationships.
Hence why it’s important to remember that healthy relationships involve mutual respect and understanding, not guilt and obligation. If you find yourself constantly feeling guilty around someone, it might be a sign they’re using this manipulation tactic on you.
6) Love bombing
We mentioned gaslighting and guilt tripping, but these are often prefaced by a lesser yet still vital tactic — love bombing.
Here, the manipulator builds up a relationship and a connection with the victim. This is a technique often used in the early stages of a relationship, where the manipulator showers their target with undue affection, steady compliments, and bold declarations of love or emotion.
This can seem utterly romantic at first – who wouldn’t want to be adored and cherished? Finally, you feel seen, heard, and valued!
However, beneath this shower of affection lies the manipulator’s ulterior motive: to make you emotionally dependent on them.
This dependency allows them to control you more easily, as you’re less likely to challenge or leave someone you believe you’re deeply in love with. The shift from love bombing to manipulation can be quite subtle, making it all the more dangerous.
Remember, real love isn’t about control or creating dependency.
It’s about respect, understanding, and mutual growth. If it feels too intense too quickly, it might be love bombing rather than genuine affection.
7) Silent treatment
There are few feelings worse than being in active conflict or disagreement with someone, only for them to shut you out and throw away the key. They stare at you in stony-faced silence and refuse to engage or make up, leaving you feeling like a nervous wreck with all abandonment sirens wailing.
Silent treatment is a form of emotional manipulation that involves ignoring or refusing to communicate with someone as a form of punishment.
This kind of behavior can create a power dynamic in which the person giving the silent treatment holds all the control and yokes the victim. It’s a manipulative way of avoiding conflict resolution and forcing the other person to give in or apologize just to restore communication.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, it’s essential to recognize it for what it is, (namely manipulation) and not blame yourself for someone else’s decision to shut down communication, which is truly an unhealthy tactic when used consciously.
8) The fear of loss
Machiavellian types often manipulate by creating a sense of fear or urgency. It turns into a case of “act right this second”, or have the manipulator’s love and affection stripped away in an instant.
They paint themselves as the prize which they may rescind at every moment, creating an atmosphere whereby the victim is saturated in fear of missing out or losing something valuable.
They might suggest that an opportunity is limited (usually spending time with them), or that you’ll lose social status or other valuable benefits if you don’t act immediately. (Probably to do their bidding or hasten the speed at which you respond to their every wish and demand.)
This fear of loss can cloud our judgement, making us more likely to make hasty decisions that we might not have made under normal circumstances.
If you feel like someone is dangling their love in front of you on a thin string, it’s crucial to take a step back and recognize this tactic when it’s in play.
Remember, it’s better to miss out on something than to rush into a decision that you might regret later.
Understanding the game
The 8 manipulation tactics listed above, as insidious as they might be, are not invincible.
Whilst I would never encourage you to engage with them, there is a great benefit to understanding them so you can spot them afar and protect yourself.
Our best defense is employed when we spot the enemy at large, and recognizing these techniques can empower us to navigate through life without getting stuck in the webs Machiavelli individuals spin.
Remember — knowledge is power.
Now that you’re aware of these tactics, you’re better equipped to spot them and protect yourself.
Be bold in trusting your own instincts, remember to question that which doesn’t feel right, and rest assured that it’s it’s okay to say no. You’re the one in control of your own life, not some puppet on a string.