Law 19: Know Who You’re Dealing With—Do Not Offend the Wrong Person (48 Laws of Power)

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Overview of Law #19: Know Who You’re Dealing With—Do Not Offend the Wrong Person 

There are many different kinds of people, and each will react differently to attempts to deceive them. You need to know who you’re dealing with and avoid the types who will waste your time or exact revenge.

Principles of Law 19

In your quest for power, you can’t treat everyone the same way. According to Law 19 of the 48 Laws of Power, there are many different types of people, and you need to be able to recognize which type you’re dealing with and respond appropriately. 

Here are the five most dangerous types, most of whom you should avoid dealing with because it’s either a waste of time or it will come back and bite you. With these types especially, you should know who you’re dealing with.

  • Oversensitive and egotistical: Overreacts, often violently and disproportionately, to any perceived slight.
  • Insecure and fragile: Lets hurt feelings simmer, then attacks with small cuts that eventually add up.
  • Pathologically suspicious: Imagines everyone is after him. Like Stalin, genuinely unhinged but easy to fool. You can get him to turn against others, but take care that he doesn’t target you.
  • Cold and calculating: Doesn’t show anger when offended, but calculates the right moment for revenge and waits for it. He’s a snake — crush him rather than injuring him.
  • Slow-witted or literal: Lacks the intelligence and imagination (to envision potential rewards) to fall for a scheme. You’ll waste time trying to fool him. Test him by telling a joke to see if he gets it, or reacts literally. If the latter, move on to someone else.

To wield power it’s essential to be able to read people and know who you’re dealing with. If you don’t understand your targets — choosing the wrong person or doing the wrong thing — you’ll waste time at best. At worst, you bring trouble on yourself, for instance, by insulting people when you think you’re flattering them, or by triggering their insecurity. This is essential to understand when following Law 19 of the 48 Laws of Power.

Before dealing with someone, do your research. Never trust your instincts, or trust appearances. People can easily hide their true nature. Do not offend the wrong person.

Putting Law 19 to Work

Here are just a few of the many examples of how not to apply Law 19 of the 48 Laws of Power. These people underestimated or failed to understand their opponents. They did not follow Law 19: Know Who You’re Dealing With—Do Not Offend the Wrong Person.

  • Oversensitive and egotistical: A powerful shah who had a huge empire dissed Genghis Khan by ignoring his offers of an alliance, and was destroyed. His mistake was assuming that Genghis Khan was weaker than he, and he rejected his overtures with insults. Khan turned out to be both sensitive to insults and extremely powerful.
  • Oversensitive and egotistical: In 1910 there was a con artist ring operating out of Denver, led by Joe Furey. Furey suckered a Texas rancher into giving up a fortune. But unlike most suckers in Furey’s experience, he didn’t just slink away quietly in embarrassment. He set out to take down Furey and the entire con artist ring, a feat that took him five years and great expense. Furey didn’t understand that he was dealing with an insecure man who wouldn’t tolerate offense.
  • Literal: Because he was a simple man who took things literally, Henry Ford stymied a consortium of art dealers who tried to sell him a collection of 1,000 paintings. To whet his appetite for the works, the dealers created a beautiful book of the paintings, which they presented to Ford as a gift. His response was to question why he should buy the paintings, when he had a book that depicted them so beautifully. Because the dealers hadn’t done their homework, they wasted their time and money dealing with an immovable target.

Exceptions to Law 19

Are there any exceptions to Law 19 of the 48 Laws of Power? Should you ever not know who you’re dealing with? No. There’s no exception to the need to understand people before you deal with them.

Law 19: Know Who You’re Dealing With—Do Not Offend the Wrong Person (48 Laws of Power)

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Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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