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Machiavellianism in Organizations: Justifying the Means by the Ends

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  • 0:05 Machiavelli
  • 1:00 In Organizations
  • 3:08 In Practice
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Sherri Hartzell

Sherri has taught college business and communication courses. She also holds three degrees including communications, business, educational leadership/technology.

Manipulation can be a powerful tool that is frequently put into practice by people who have a Machiavellian personality. This lesson describes characteristics of Machiavellianism in both high and low Machs.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Do you remember hearing the name Niccolo Machiavelli while sitting in history class? Perhaps you associate the term Machiavelli with the idea of being a master of deceit. You might even think of someone you know who is an opportunist and think of them as having a Machiavellian personality. Even if you do not know of Machiavelli, you may have heard of the phrase 'the ends justify the means.'

Portrait of Niccolo Machiavelli
Portrait of Niccolo Machiavelli

The reason why we associate the idea of a person manipulating someone else for personal gain with Niccolo Machiavelli is conceivably due to his most famous writing: The Prince, a nobleman's guide to the acquisition and use of power. In this book, Machiavelli details the correlation between manipulation, control and personal gain. Machiavelli believed that if a choice had to be made between being loved or being feared, being feared was the better choice.

Machiavellianism in Organizations

Machiavellianism , often abbreviated Mach, is a personality trait that is characterized with the use of manipulation to achieve power.

Psychologists have developed a series of instruments called Mach scales to measure a person's Machiavellian orientation. The continuum spans from being highly manipulative to being highly submissive.

High Machs are those who would be considered highly manipulative, not easily persuaded, but persuade others more than low Machs, successful in reaching their goals and tend to win more. People with a high Mach personality tend to be calm, unattached, calculated and look for ways to exploit loose structures or vulnerability in people. High Machs flourish in face-to-face settings where there are limited rules and structure and when emotions hold little value in goal achievement. Therefore, high Machs are best matched in professions that reward their 'do whatever it takes' attitude such as sales or jobs that offer commission for results.

Low Machs are on the opposite side of the Mach spectrum and are characterized as being highly submissive. Those individuals with a low Mach orientation are willing to accept direction imposed on them and thrive in highly structured situations. Low Machs are less motivated by things such as power, status, money and competition than high Machs are. Winning is not everything for low Machs; they operate with a much higher set of ethical standards than their high Mach counterparts.

Machiavellianism can be both positive and negative in organizations depending on how it is used. When Machiavellianism is used to increase managerial effectiveness by providing necessary direction to subordinates to accomplish organizational goals, it is considered a positive attribute. However, when Machiavellianism is used for personal gain at the expense of subordinate or organizational success, it would be considered highly negative.

Machiavellian Orientation in Practice

To better understand Machiavellian orientation, let's take a look at two different people: Maria the high Mach and Martin the low Mach.

Maria is a sales representative at Portable Pet Pods. In this past quarter, Maria has surpassed her sales quota and in many cases outsold her coworkers by 50%. As with most sales people, what makes Maria successful is how persuasive and convincing she can be when selling products for Portable Pet Pods. As a high Mach, Maria approaches each sale with logic, precision and assertiveness so that she can increase her chances of selling a product to her customers. She uses manipulation to convince her customers to buy her product line and has even been known to stretch the truth to make a sale. Maria has been referred to as a 'cut-throat' salesperson because she is willing to do whatever it takes to make a sale.

She has even been accused of stealing sales leads from her coworkers. Maria makes no apologies for her aggressive tactics she uses to earn her spot as the top-selling representative in the company. The fact that Maria is able to communicate with her customers in a face-to-face setting only further helps Maria in using her Machiavellian style. She comes off as confident and relaxed to her customers who interpret that as her reassurance in the products she is selling.

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