‘The manipulative and devious live in a world they perceive as full of people like them.’–Bertrand Russell.
All Robert Greene books sound brutal. But you don’t necessarily pick up a Robert Greene book or even this one called the Laws of Human Nature to see how to be brutal. You pick it up to understand brutality and how to turn that table around for your favor. You have to realize that the world isn’t a great place for nice and overly good people. Good and bad is a spectrum of the same light. The world is a great place for those who have mastered human nature and can control their impressions, meaning that they can switch it towards the right spectrum at a time. Robert Greene’s 18 Laws of Human Nature is an eye opener that teaches you to see behind people’s masks and understand why people do what they do.
Law 1- Irrationality
Right from the first law of Irrationality, he explains how everyone has irrational emotions which makes them see the world based on how they feel and not how it actually is. This is true considering how many times we make decisions against our evaluative judgements.
Examples of humans being irrational are hilariously uncountable, from crying during a love movie you know isn’t real to seeing your parents take sides blindly in an argument that involves you. From almost fighting in traffic for a small dent, making donations you didn’t plan just because of how the Compre hyped you without rationally assessing other possibilities and options just shows how irrational we all are.
The first step to becoming rational is to acknowledge our irrationality and recognize our biases. Everyone has some form of unconscious bias and notions we have received even from a very young age. Therefore as a starting point, we have to think about any experiences that might have shaped our perception of others or a particular situation.
The second step is to understand the inflaming factors. These inflaming factors could be trigger points from our early childhood or inflaming individuals who are always able to bring up certain emotions in us. When we understand these factors, we would likely take a step back when they occur and not act out based on emotions.
The last step is to develop our rational self as we’d become much better at making decisions and we’d feel more in control of our lives.
Law 2- Narcissism
We are to give true love without falling into the narcissistic habit of only trying to take it in.” ― Criss Jami.
Humans tend to exhibit personality qualities such as thinking very highly of oneself, needing admiration, believing others are inferior and lacking empathy for others.
Let’s take for example when I was a team lead on a particular project. I was trying to get everyone to do their part and make the project an outstanding success. There is this particular team member who was lagging behind on his deliverables and limiting our overall progress. I as the team lead tried to question the reason for his inefficiencies. Then he started telling me how his girlfriend of four months ended things with him and how that has affected his life and his output on the project. Honestly I realized I couldn’t care less. I thought that was not an acceptable excuse for his poor performance.
My action towards that team member showed my lack of empathy probably because a breakup with someone would never have affected my productivity. I was more concerned about being the face of an outstanding project than caring for the wellbeing of my team members.
Robert Greene aims to recognise deep narcissism so we can avoid being sucked into toxic relationships. We need to be honest about our true nature and shift toward healthy narcissism by developing different empathetic skills.
Law 3- Role Playing
This law states that people tend to wear the mask that shows them in the best possible light. They hide their true personality. Just like how everyone posts only their ‘wins’ on Linkedin or posts only instagram worthy pictures online. We as humans are very concerned about the impressions others have of us even though we like to deny it when we say “I do not care what others think about me, I live for myself alone!’
We can use this awareness about people to better our ability at reading through the masks of others and use it to our advantage. Impression management, explained by Robert Greene, is an art that we should master to maximize the encounter we have with people in our daily lives. The key steps to master impression management is to:
- Control our non-verbal cues: Master our body language and expressions our face give when we meet people.
- Create a proper first impression: Humans tend to judge based on first impressions and this bias or notions about you will be hard to change.
- Project saintly qualities: Here, we have to project good values and embody characters that are considered as good by the general public.
Law 4- Compulsive Behavior
We all have this particular action, thought or behavior that we perform consistently and repetitively that does not lead to an actual reward. These thoughts could even lead to a disorder, psychiatrists have termed OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I personally have some obsessive activities I do to reduce anxiety. For example, arranging my office or room in a particular way before I can work or even fall asleep. But for Robert Greene, the power of compulsive behavior meant something else. He believed that people never do something just once. They will inevitably repeat their bad behavior. We have to determine the strengths of people’s character when choosing who to associate with and not be taken in by the surface image they may try to project. The idea remains that those who display signs of strength in their inner character will likely repeat it and those who display otherwise will do the same.
Law 5- Covetousness
“People continually desire to possess what they do not have”
Absence is powerful and it is human nature to desire what we do not have.
Most people think that all they need in life is money. Money is their greatest desire and once they become rich, everything will be okay. Then money comes and they still experience this feeling of emptiness. They’re not quite satisfied because they cannot believe that the rush is over and they need something more. This is only human nature because once we have finally obtained that which we desire, we begin to look for the next best thing.
Robert Greene wants us to use the law of covetousness to our advantage by becoming an elusive object of desire. We can stimulate desire with these three strategies
- Know when and how to withdraw: Create some sense of mystery around yourself
- Create rivalries of desire: Creating the impression that we are desired by others will attract others. It could also be a useful negotiation tactic when selling a product of your business.
- Use induction: We can stimulate desire by giving the impression that we are revealing secrets that should really not be shared.
Law 6- Shortsightedness
“The years teach much which the days never know”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
We are more susceptible to manipulation when we are reactive to present events. Robert Greene believes we should not be shortsighted when presented with an opportunity. An excerpt from the book quotes that “With an elevated perspective, you will have the patience and clarity to reach almost any objective”
Looking at your long term goals will always help you make decisions that will align with those goals instead of taking decisions in the present.
When you ask any person now whether they’d take $1 Million now or $2 million dollars in the next two months, most people would choose the former because we are generally shortsighted.
People who are shortsighted fail to give the bigger picture priority. They also fail to critically assess the risks and the future consequences of their present actions.
To become farsighted, we have to embrace the long-term perspective and subdue any instinct that tells us otherwise. We cannot see the passage of time as an enemy but rather as our greatest ally.
Strategy. Business StartUps and Corporate Restructuring Consulting
Uwaoma Eizu is the lead strategist at Hexavia! He is a graduate of Mathematics with two MBAs and over a decade of experience working with startups and big businesses. His core is in building startups and in corporate restructuring. He is also a certified member of the Nigerian Institute of Management, Institute of Strategic Management of Nigeria and the Project Management Institute, USA. By the side, he writes weekly for the BusinessDay newspaper.