“If the world is like a giant scheming court and we are trapped inside it, there is no use in trying to opt out of the game. That will only render you powerless, and powerlessness will make you miserable. Instead of struggling against the inevitable, instead of arguing and whining and feeling guilty, it is far better to excel at power.”
Robert Greene meticulously unravels the threads of the tapestry of over 3,000 years of world history to distill the essence of power, identifying common themes and consolidating their wisdom into The 48 Laws of Power. His assertion is that certain actions always increase our power while other measures compromise our power or destroy us. Like the laws of physics, the laws of human nature are unconditional. We must acquire essential skills and knowledge to understand people and master our emotions. Learning the rules enables us to both use power potently, and protect ourselves from it.
The 48 Laws are separate and concise; they are also interconnected and applicable to many situations. Greene demonstrates the principles of the laws using writing by the greatest masters of power in history. Depending on our situation all of the laws may apply at some point. Some common threads include: understanding people are self-oriented, people want to validate their dreams, the mysterious is alluring, the familiar is trustworthy, and appearances are more convincing than facts. Other ideas include: remain autonomous but stay connected, avoid others problems and the troublemakers, and success takes hard work, but it is powerful to make it seem effortless. There is much more and a lifetime of practicing these 48 Laws would be necessary for proficiency.
For this summary, I want to focus on how our overuse of words and emotions can erode power.
The Big Idea
Always Say Less Than Necessary
"When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinx like. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish."
This The Big Idea is Law 4. It is human nature to need to explain and interpret what others are thinking. The less you reveal, the more profound and mysterious you seem. The mystery is alluring, and others will want to find out more. Revealing too much makes you appear ordinary and foolish. This idea is also an important component of many other laws. It is important to drive the imagination of others to maintain their interest. Learn to control your words and emotions. Greene warns, “Be particularly careful with sarcasm: The momentary satisfaction you gain with your biting words will be outweighed by the price you pay.” Words are like currency: the shorter the supply the greater the value. They can be used lavishly and foolishly, or with careful parsimony, but once used we cannot revoke them.
Control Your Anger
"Angry people usually end up looking ridiculous, for their response seems out of proportion to what occasioned it. They have taken things too seriously, exaggerating the hurt or insult that has been done to them. They have become so sensitive to slight that it becomes comical how much they take it personally. More comical still is their belief that their outbursts signify power."
Tantrums are the way children express anger because they are powerless and their only option is to become desperately hysterical. When adults become outwardly angry, they may be intimidating initially but after the outburst people interpret the display as a sign of helplessness. Angry people lose our respect. The answer is not to repress our anger but to change our perspective. Remember the The Big Idea and control your expression of anger. Realize the source of your anger is much broader than the event that triggered it. Then shift your perspective and realize in the social realm nothing should be taken personally.
Get to Know People
"The ability to measure people and know who you’re dealing with is the most important skill of all in gathering and conserving power. Without it you are blind: Not only will you offend the wrong people, you will choose the wrong types to work on, and will think you are flattering people when you are actually insulting them."
People come from different backgrounds and have diverse goals, experiences, wants, and needs. If you treat everyone alike, you will miss connecting with their true desires and motivations. If you rely on instincts, you reveal your personal perspective. Appearances are deceiving: people may project an image opposite of their true nature. Remember the The Big Idea and keep your words in short supply. People will fill the silence with information about themselves. People are self-interested and usually eager for self-expression. The confidence also builds trust.
Anyone can become more powerful by cultivating an understanding of others and learning to control their emotions. We can begin by controlling our words. The less we say, the more powerful we appear and the more we can learn about others. The mystery is enticing, but restrain anger it is repelling. Angry people are difficult to take seriously, and they appear childish. By saying less, we also get to know more about others. First impressions (and appearances) are often deceiving. The less we say, the more likely others are to reveal the truth about themselves.
This book divulges much more about the dynamics of power and human nature. It is famous for endorsing the unprincipled use of power. Countless examples prove a noble motive is unnecessary for domination. However, we must remain outwardly civilized even if we are indirectly manipulative and deceptive. Understanding this duplicity enables us to use power to our advantage and defend ourselves against it.