Surviving in a Machiavellian Environment (Until You Get the Hell Out of Dodge)


Machiavellian is a term adopted by a “political philosophy of Italian writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who advocated views involving cunning, deceit, and the notion that “means justify the ends” (Taylor, 2016). Machiavellian people are usually in a position of power who use cunning, manipulative, persuasive, and sometimes downright dishonest techniques to get their way with various groups of individuals:  upper management, people who work for this type of person, clients or customers, and anyone who will serve his or her purpose and fulfill his or her agenda.  The primary object is getting his or her way through control and power without caring how it affects other people or counting the long-term costs, in which case, sometimes ends up biting the Machiavellian type right in the ass.

Based on my own assessments and observations in working under a Machiavellian environment, hopefully, will give you some insights and help you to be more observant and not make some mistakes I made. Also, I have modified some behaviors to get along with, not only the Machiavellian but those who he or she forms an alliance with.

Signs you are working in a Machiavellian Environment:

  1. Your manager pits co-workers against each other.  He or she may drop a subtle reference that another co-worker does not agree with the department methods and how he or she’s perceived “negative” comments are hurting the department.  The employee may have given some helpful suggestions or comments, but the manager will use the employee’s words against him or her.
  2. Your manager takes credit for someone’s else’s ideas. Let’s say you have an idea and you share it with your manager, he or she in return will share it with other employees as if he or she thought of it him or her self.  The flip side, if the idea goes against what he or she is after, the manager will share with staff and once again, use it as poly to turn other employees against one another.
  3. Overtalk an idea to get buy-in on a bad decision and then not taking responsibility for the decision.  Remember, you as an employee can give suggestions, but it is the manager or management who makes over $100,000 a year who has the authority to implement any decisions they deem necessary. Management will use tactics to thrown onto employees guilt and deflect responsibility when, in fact, management is to blame for poor decision-making.
  4. Overexerting higher performing staff and not holding lower performing staff accountable. Chances are an employee turned manager was once a lower performing employee him or her self and by a stroke of luck, is now a manager of a department.  The manager will over utilized higher performing staff members and use excuses as to why he or she does not hold all employees accountable, such as he or she is putting you in charge because, “I can trust you, but I cannot trust him or her to do the job.” By avoiding conflict, a weak manager will burnout higher performing staff.
  5. He or She breaks a confidence.  This type of manager expects loyalty but does not give loyalty in return.  For example, I shared something on a confidential basis with my manager, and he, in returned, shared it with another co-worker. Breaking confidence is bad, bad business. It shows a lack of leadership ability to be trustworthy and show integrity.
  6. He or she distorts reality.  Usually, a Machiavellian type will tell you what to think, instead of welcoming your thoughts and ideas as your own. For example, employees accusing management of showing favoritism.  Instead of correcting his or her behavior, he or she will say, “What do they mean, there is no favoritism in this department.” A weak manager deflects responsibility and distorts the truth.
  7.  A Carrot dangler.  To keep staff on their toes and possibly not lose staff, this type of manager will make promises he or she cannot keep. For example, promising higher positions in the company or organization to keep people complacent and loyal to the Machiavellian type.  Also, he or she keeps employees guessing on the going on within the Department.
  8. Shows pseudo-empathy and concern about the staff. If an employee is getting ready to go on disability due to surgery because of a torn rotator cuff, the manager may ask, “Well, how are you going to be able to type?” Instead of, “I am sorry to hear about it, let us know what we can do to help” (true story).
  9. Expects you owe him or her if you ask to do something to better yourself.  For example, if your organization offers employees to go to computer courses to improve their knowledge of Excel spreadsheets, now all of sudden you are expected to take on a project that belongs to another employee (who may be doing less work). This type will expect you owe him or her, even if the opportunity belongs to all employees.
  10. Exploit strengths and weaknesses.  The Machiavellian type will study his or her prey and use a strength or weakness against an employee. For example, If an employee shows they are a people pleaser, this kind of manager will say, “Will you please do this job for me, you are the only person who can perform this job function?” Remember – Sharing too much information is more harmful than sharing too little.  The Machiavellian type will use anything at his or her disposal to fight dirty and not play fair.

The Do’s and Don’ts of a Machiavellian Environment

People earn your trust, respect, and loyalty. It is not a given.  I will never forget when I sat down with a manager and one of the first words out of his mouth, “I expect loyalty.” It proved to be a red flag of things to come. Do build trust, respect, and loyalty, but do not compromise your values and beliefs for the sake of fitting in.

Do hold your cards close to your chest.  Do not share personal information in a Machiavellian environment.

Do speak directly to your manager or employees if there is a conflict. Do not talk to other employees negatively or positively about other employees or the manager. If you speak too soon about an employee, either way, your words could be used against you.

If your manager takes credit for good ideas and no responsibility for bad decisions, do not offer any suggestions.  Figuring out if your manager is a taking credit fraud may take time to find out because people want to feel like they contribute to an organization by providing thoughts and ideas.

If your manager comes to you and speaks against another employee, do not get emotional and self-righteous about it. Say nothing at all and smile. There are always two sides to every coin.

Do work on getting along with management and co-workers alike. Do not appear too loyal to one person or form alliances with any group.  In this type of an environment, it is best to stay above the fray.

Do not be so readily agreeable or available n a Machiavellian environment. At times, do assert yourself and make it known you are not a doormat or easily influenced by bad behavior. The wolves and sharks will have a feast if you don’t. Do say, “No comment,” if the response is appropriate.

Do not get caught up in the emotions of a Machiavellian environment. Do try and remain unbias in all situations until you know the whole story and if after knowing the story, keep it to yourself.

Do keep an impeccable work ethic, regardless of what other employees may or may not be doing.  Do not complain if Suzy is not doing her work or doing as much.  Chances are the manager has formed an alliance with Suzy, and he or she will use your words against you.

Do remember you know yourself better than anyone else.  You work for your manager, but he or she does not own your thoughts and feelings.  Do not second guess yourself or the Machiavellian environment if something does not sit well with you.

Do realize you will never win against this type of person.  Do not try to play games to get back, get even, or to put the Machiavellian type in his or her place. Chances are you hold a higher moral code than your opponent and the emotional investment is not worth it. You can learn how to work with this type of manager while looking for other prospects to move on.  Once you learn about a Machiavellian type, you will never fall prey to his or her tactics again.

Please keep in mind, these suggestions do not cover every situation. When going into a new environment, it is better to sit back and assess each person in the organization. You want to maintain your power and control without forfeiting who you are as an individual. Chances are, if you have worked in this type of environment or with a Machiavellian type manager, you have sharpened your human behavioral skills and have become more perceptive and wiser.  You will learn to adapt and not make the same mistakes in a new work environment – hopefully a healthier, more functional work environment than the Machiavellian work environment.


Taylor, B. (2016, November 21). Machiavellianism, Cognition, and Emotion: Understanding how the Machiavellian Thinks, Feels, and Thrives. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from

Suggested Readings

Greene, R., & Elffers, J. (2002). The 48 laws of power. London: Profile Books.

Greene, R. (2008). The 33 strategies of war. London: Profile.

Machiavelli, N., Neville, H., Marriott, W. K., Machiavelli, N., & Machiavelli, N. (2011). The art of war & The prince. El Paso, TX: El Paso Norte Press.


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