“Though it’s not particularly likely that you are going through this at this very moment, these scenarios are nonetheless likely to either happen or be witnessed at least once in a person’s career, even if — and perhaps especially if — that person is a high achiever who does a great job.”
Have you been thinking it’s unusual that no matter where you work, you seem to have bosses that regularly lash you? Think it’s weird that your colleagues never really seem to like having you around? Not only that, but it’s extra bizarre because you know you’re at least somewhat friendly and sociable and after all, you produce great results and put in a top notch effort. Yet for some reason, in your past three offices, someone ends up having it out for you. Though it’s not particularly likely that you are going through this at this very moment, these scenarios are nonetheless likely to either happen or be witnessed at least once in a person’s career, even if — and perhaps especially if — that person is a high achiever who does a great job.
Today we are going to explore six rather Machiavellian rules that are valuable to follow despite them not being particularly fun realities to hear. These are what I feel are amongst the six most workplace-relevant of the 48 Laws of Power outlined by the great Robert Greene in his book of the same name. If you’re someone who can’t figure out why someone at work isn’t enamored with you, or if you seem to piss people off wherever you go, or you have witnessed others with that effect and you’d like to avoid the same happening to you, I hope that these six laws should prove helpful.
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Some will dislike the nature of these rules because they sound heartless and even manipulative. While I don’t personally practice or love the realities behind all of Robert Greene’s laws, myself and 1.2 million others have gained from it, and household names from Kanye West to Drake to Fidel Castro have all cited reading and being influenced by the book. Without further ado, the six main reasons your bosses or colleagues may have it out for you — even if, or especially if, there shouldn’t be any particular reason to.
Never Outshine the Master. This law can essentially be summed up as: “in your desire to please or impress your superiors, you may instead inspire fear and insecurity.” Not a fun thought, but this is immensely important. While many people in leadership genuinely push for their reports to exceed themselves, there are many others who will actively resent an “underling” that threatens their position of status or power. This can be particularly noteworthy in lateral relationships as well, as in the workplace many people are likely to feel that they are in some way competing with teammates for promotions and job stability. These individuals will feel as though you are making them look bad or making their job less valuable or even obsolete. This can even go in an upward direction in the sense that you can actually go too far in publicly outshining your managers. Greene shares the historical account of King Louis XIV (14) and his finance minister. The finance minister built an enormous chateau and threw a lavish party to show off his connections and charm. He expected the King to see him as indispensable for it, but instead the King was offended that people were more charmed by the finance minister than by him. The King shortly thereafter found a reason to sentence the finance minister for 20 years, and the King later built the Palace of Versailles in an effort to go more lavish and magnificent than his former minister’s chateau.
So Much Depends on Reputation. Yes, avoiding having a target on your back and rising through the ranks yourself is indeed a balancing act of proving yourself and performing and behaving well without at the same time appearing too perfect, a law we will discuss further soon. Reputation precedes you, and if you’d like to ensure others do not hate you AND that you have a chance to rise through the ranks of your organization, you’ll need to cultivate a good one. Greene outlines four key ways to safe-guard and grow your reputation, but I feel that they are more applicable to a battlefield or war scenario than in a typical modern day office setting. Nonetheless, the important takeaways here are: 1) to never get angry or defensive if others slander you as it shows insecurity, and 2) to avoid ever going too far attacking another person’s reputation, or in other words don’t gossip about others too frequently or negatively lest it just become a reflection of your own poor character.
Win Through Your Actions – Not Argument. If you think you can “win” an argument in an interpersonal or professional setting, think again. Any momentary triumph you enjoy in the aftermath of “winning” an argument is minuscule compared to the resentment and ill will you are likely to stir up in the process of proving someone wrong in a war of words. Getting others to agree with you through your actions proves much more powerful in building an alliance and is much less likely to cause people to see you as an argumentative pain in the neck that made them look bad or feel dumb. Greene recommends picking your battles, feigning ignorance, putting a spin or rhetoric on what you’re saying, and in some cases even being a bit cunning by offering something for nothing.
Do Not Offend the Wrong Person. As noted before, the above rules should not be looked at as trying to navigate life through deceit and manipulation, and this fourth rule is just one important reason why. With many different types of people in the world, it is extremely important that you pay attention to your words and actions and ensure that you know your audience well enough not to offend them before saying or doing something that risks it. Some people will, upon being deceived or outmaneuvered, spend the rest of their lives seeking some form of revenge. Greene identifies five particularly “dangerous” types of people to be extra careful around: the “arrogant and proud” man, the “hopelessly insecure” man, the suspicious man, the calculating man who shows no anger on the surface when offended, and the “plain, unassuming, often unintelligent” man who will not directly seek revenge but is very likely to waste your time and energy and potentially gossip about something you’ve done or said about someone else.
Think As You Like, But Behave Like Others. This is one of the harder pills to swallow amongst all of the 48 laws of power, as it seems to urge you not to stand out or be contrarian. Indeed, the contrarians can be the inventors who shape the future, but they can also appear the attention-thirsty jerk whom others find condescending. Similar to the first rule and the next rule, it is important never to make others feel inferior, as this is both a poor way to make friends and a great way to plant the seeds of silent rivals. Greene outlines many ways and characteristics of a person who thinks against the grain but rarely or never goes or speaks against it, but suffice to say that in most cases, blending in with the crowd is the safe route that avoids people seeing you as an outsider or even an enemy that they wish to destroy.
Lastly, Never Appear Too Perfect. Many of the above rules have focused on finding a balance between exemplary performance and avoiding resentment around your accomplishments. While outshining others is always dangerous despite at times being necessary, appearing to have zero faults or weaknesses is tenfold riskier. As Greene poetically puts it, “only gods and the dead can seem perfect with impunity.” Whether or not your performance and behavior actually is perfect is completely beside the point — you should make an active effort never to appear that way. Occasionally displaying defects and admitting to harmless vices makes someone appear more human and potentially even humble and self-aware. Whether those defects are genuine is unimportant — when you fear you may be appearing too perfect to the people around you, find subtle ways to essentially self-deprecate a little bit and avoid appearing flawless.
Again team, these aren’t the most “kumbaya” tenets to live by or even think about, but hopefully if you’ve gotten too far you can at the very least appreciate the truth and wisdom behind them, as you have likely witnessed or experienced the consequences of transgressing the above laws. Of course these are just 6 of Greene’s 48 laws of power, and I’m sure in the future we will explore more but the focus today is simply to make you aware of possible transgressions you are committing if or when your bosses or colleagues seem to have it out for you.
Pick up your own copy: The 48 Laws of Power