Tips for Thought

Critical Lessons You Can Learn From the 48 Laws of Power

The 48 Laws of Power has created a reputation because of its frank depiction of power dynamics. Written by Robert Greene, this handy guide has been banned in prisons across the United States for its “controversial” takes on relationships that involve power.

Nevertheless, many of Robert Greene’s lessons still ring true. Much like Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” many laws can be applied in work, relationships, and even dating.

If you are contemplating picking up this book, here are some helpful lessons you can expect once you take the plunge:

1. Learn to say less than necessary.

Also known as Law 4: “Always say less than necessary,” this refers to a person who must learn to control their words. In a way, a person must understand that their words carry a certain amount of weight. When a person speaks a lot but gives out little helpful information, his words garner less respect because he is talkative and lacks substance. Alternatively, if a man says little, people reflect on the weight of his words and his intentions behind them. They would then find a way to either appease or reflect on the meaning of his words.

2. Recreate yourself.

In a world where reputation is critical, especially in social media, it is better to be in charge of your image than to let the public define it for you.

Whether consciously or not, people in society wish to assign you a role. They want to fit you into a box so they can figure you out quickly. However, this makes you susceptible to their judgments and criticisms, making you powerless. Avoid this trap by learning to master your image. Work on yourself like clay, learn to talk the talk, walk the walk, and avoid letting others define you. Remember, you are the master of your image.

3. Assume formlessness.

Also known as Law 48 or the last law in the book. Bruce Lee said it best: “Be water, my friend.”

If you put water in a cup, it becomes a cup. Water is the softest yet most versatile element. It can create gentle waves but crushing power when necessary. Adapt this mindset by learning to be flexible with your surroundings. Know when to go with the flow and learn to combine gentleness with strength.

4. Never put too much trust in friends; learn how to use enemies.

This statement is one of the most controversial laws of the book, and for a good reason. After all, friendship’s whole point is cultivating trust so you can count on them, right?

However, in Robert Greene’s book, this sense of trust can easily be exploited when we allow ourselves to be blinded by friendship, especially when it comes to ambition.

For instance, say you have a business you want to start from the ground up. You’ll find that your friends may be great outside the workplace. Still, when it comes to working commitments, they are less likely to tell you the truth because they focus on “pleasing their friend” instead of being honest.

Alternatively, an enemy or a person who has zero to gain from you is most likely to give critique. As uncomfortable as that is, this can be a blessing in disguise since you earn free feedback without paying much for it. In Greene’s Law 2, sometimes learning to use your enemy in work can significantly advantage you in the long run.

5. Play a sucker to catch a sucker.

The game of power is all about appearances and creating an impression. Greene’s 21st law talks about how looking unintelligent and incompetent can be used to your advantage. When you give the impression that you are meek and have limited skills, people put less pressure on you to prove your worth and are likelier to let their guard down around you. Alternatively, an openly brilliant person becomes an attractive target for users and manipulators.

In summary, Robert Greene’s bestselling book still has other lessons you can use to your advantage. However, these are just a few lessons from The 48 Laws of Power.

Controversial as they are, the author has done a stellar job in compiling various philosophies shared by many strategists within 3,000 years of existence. From Machiavelli to Sun Tzu, when we learn to control our image, thoughts, and actions, we become more empowered to garner change and create a captivating reputation that many cannot resist.