It is important to understand your weaknesses and other people’s weaknesses. Your weaknesses can distort your reality and cause you to make tactical mistakes. Understanding other people’s weaknesses can help you persuade and influence them.
Keep in mind that weakness itself is relative to the situation. What is a strength in one place can be a weakness in another. For example being outspoken might help you be a good debater but it could cause you problems working as a customer service representative.
Weaknesses can also be thought of as thumbscrews. Thumbscrews were an old torture device that people used to get confessions. Robert Greene suggests sharing a weakness of your own to see if someone will share a weakness back. He also says to look for details of their life like how they tip and what they wear. Look for things they worship and look for what makes them act like a child. Find contrasts in their life and strong emotions. Once you found the weakness or thumbscrew, make sure you are the person who fills this void or has the ability to threaten the use of the thumbscrew. For example, if someone needs social validation, be the person who always compliments them in front of other people. If they don’t do what you want, the social validation will stop.
Ultimately once you found a person’s weakness, whether it be something they need or something they fear, find a way to get your hands on it and either give the person access or threaten them if they don’t do what you want. Also check out our article on the key to manipulation so you can learn how weakness leads to manipulation. So what are some weaknesses in a person?
Step 0: Find Your Weaknesses So They Don’t Distort Your Perception
The first thing you need to do is figure out your own weaknesses. This is important because if you don’t know your own weaknesses then they will be more able to distort your view of the world. Knowing what your tendencies are will help you realize when your brain is distorting reality versus when it is recognizing something important. For example, you might have a strong need for certainty. When people act negatively towards you your brain could seek certainty by making you think those people are out to get you and not just having a bad day. This is a cognitive distortion because your brain is misinterpreting reality in order to achieve a core need.
First apply the following methods on yourself and then once you start to notice how your brain distorts reality, then you are ready to start using these methods on others.
The best way to figure out your own weaknesses is to take a big 5 personality test. The test will tell you what your personality is. Then look at method #1 below and figure out the weaknesses you are more likely to have. The great thing about this method is that your weaknesses are often strongly related to your personality, so by finding your personality using science, you will also come across your weaknesses.
Once you have a list you can either 1 ask a close friend that you trust what they think you struggle with most, or 2 see a therapist, or 3 ask yourself how you would go about manipulating yourself if you had to. Meditate on these things for a few months before you try to see other people’s weaknesses.
Method 1: Use Personality Theory Psychology
The most commonly used way of categorizing people based on personality is the Big 5 Personality Test (OCEAN). The Big 5 is made up of five spectrums. Your place on the spectrum is measured in relation to other people. For example if you are high on openness, that means you score higher on openness relative to the rest of the population.
Once you understand a person’s personality you can then infer many things like their values, the interests, their fears, the strengths they have, and even weaknesses. We did an article on this here. The categories and some corresponding weaknesses are:
- Openness vs Low Openness. People high on openness tend to like intellectual discussions and enjoy art. High levels of this trait can correlate with difficulty sticking to one decision and instead jumping from topic to topic. They tend to be more novelty and sensation seeking which means limiting their ability to explore would bother them. High openness often correlates with a desire to reject authority, so setting rules on people like this could bother them. They also are more likely to have paranoid personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder. Low levels of openness means the person is likely to reject new things and stick with what they already are familiar with. That means one weakness of someone low on openness is that they won’t do as well in social or work situations that require them to constantly try new things.
- Conscientiousness vs Low Conscientiousness. People high in conscientiousness are orderly and dutiful. This means disorder and chaos will bother them. They also tend to be perfectionists which can be a serious weakness that stops them from accomplishing things. Conscientious people are more likely to be conservative political attitudes. Low levels of this trait correlate with criminal behavior. They are more laid back and tend to be messy. This means one weakness of low levels of this trait is that they will have worse academic and work place performance. They will also have a harder time saving, be more likely to abuse substances, and be more impulsive.
- Extroversion vs Introversion. Introverts tend to be weaker in social situations, especially when they also have high levels of trait neuroticism. They get exhausted faster in social situations and can feel overwhelmed. Extroverts need constant action. This is a weakness because isolating and limiting an extrovert’s activities can really destabilize them.
- Agreeableness vs Disagreeableness. Those high in agreeableness are more likely to be take advantage of because they are cooperative, humble, and less aggressive. Agreeableness can be a weakness in that it makes people care more about getting along with others than being selfish. Pressure works on agreeable people. Disagreeable people also have weaknesses. Since they tend to be selfish and aggressive, they can often offend people and become isolated because of their need to win, compete, and control. Appealing to self interest, shaming their social character, or attacking/supporting their ego are particular weak points for disagreeable people.
- Neuroticism vs Low Neuroticism. Neurotics have weaknesses like worrying, anxiety, emotional instability, depression, anger, and jealousy. They respond worse to high pressure situations. Those low in neuroticism are less likely to worry, so they could be prone to taking more risks if combined with other traits like high openness.
Method 2: Use Value Theory Psychology
We wrote a whole article on this here, but basically a person named Schwartz did a study that listed human values. If you understand what a person wants and values, they you also understand what they fear and dislike. That means you know their weaknesses. For example, if a person values security, they will have a weakness of not being able to perform well in areas that require adapting and learning new ways of solving problems.
Schwartz value theory is split into 10 categories. Each category has a general inverse, meaning if you value one category you are less likely to value the opposite category. See our article for a picture of how this works.
The 10 value or need categories are:
- Self direction leads people to want independence and exploration, which means they will be bothered or have a difficult time with conformity and tradition.
- Stimulation leads people to seek excitement, leading to similar weakness listed in #1.
- Hedonism is pleasure seeking, which leads them to avoid accomplishing tasks that aren’t pleasurable.
- Achievement makes someone value success, which means it is also a weakness. People who value this will likely do more things if promised success or threatened with career failure.
- Power seekers want wealth and authority and to preserve their image. This means anything that attacks their desired image is a weak point.
- Security is when people want a sense of belonging and stability. These people will act when their stability is threatened which makes them predictable and vulnerable in new situations.
- Conformity is similar to security and the next category of tradition. those who want these things tend to do worse when confronted with new situations.
- Tradition as a value can be a weakness when the tradition is wrong or ineffective. Often times the situation that brought about the tradition doesn’t exist anymore so the tradition just unnecessarily constrains a person. Those who value tradition are unlikely to choose a new course of action even when it is important, which is a weakness.
- Benevolence is the value of being helpful, honest, and loyal. This is a weakness because it means people can be guilt tripped or shamed using these desires.
- Universalism is when people value justice and equality. This can be a weakness since these people might self sacrifice in order to achieve what they perceive to be a more just state. But what happens if their sacrifice is in vain?
It should be noted that there are generally 4 groups that the 10 values fall into. Conservation (which includes security, tradition, and conformity), self enhancement (which includes achievement, power, and hedonism), openness to change (which includes stimulation, self direction, and hedonism), and self transcendence (which involves universalism and benevolence).
There are two ways to use these weaknesses or values listed above. 1 you can simply threaten the person with situations that go against the thing they value. 2 you can help the person fulfill the value in exchange for what you want.
Method 3: Use The Image Projection Trick
One trick for figuring out a person’s weakness is to use the image projection trick.
There are two ways to apply this trick to figure out a person’s weakness. First, people often project the things they don’t like about themselves onto others. Is there someone you know that constantly accuses people of lying even when those people are generally quite trustworthy? They probably have either a fear or a problem with lying. Simply look for examples of psychological projection and you will start to see their personal weaknesses and fears.
The second trick is to look for the image they are trying to convey to the world. Look at the way people dress, the things they talk about, and the things they associate with themselves. Look for inconsistencies. For example, a man might drive a large lifted truck and talk tough. This might mean they are actually sensitive inside. Careful though, this is a very general process and the ‘tough’ guy might actually just be tough. The key here is to look for situations where the person’s image doesn’t match their behavior. That mismatch is evidence of a psychological weakness.
Method 4: Measure Desperation
Desperation is a general weakness that stems from someone beginning to lose hope that they will be able to achieve some value or idea that they hold. We did a whole video on desperation and how it gets you manipulated if you are interested.
To spot desperation, simply look for emotional outbursts or risk taking behavior. Ask yourself what the person wants most in life and whether they are well on the path to getting it. What are they doing that doesn’t seem to make sense? Desperation is a weakness in itself as it makes people more likely take bad risks.
People are also weak when they experience a big shake up in their life. This could be a relationship change, moving to a new area, a career shift, an ideology change, or something else.
Method 5: Pragmatic Considerations
Finally people sometimes have weaknesses that are situation driven and not related to their personality at all. For example, a manager might have high levels of turn over in their employees. This means someone quitting is a weakness. To spot weaknesses like this, simply ask yourself what the person spends the most time and stress working on each day. Weaknesses can be anything from a small apartment, bad security, frequent angry customers, high levels of demand, or social pressure.
This pragmatic approach means the weakness isn’t driven by a biological wiring, but by the necessity of the situation. You can even set up situations where your actions create a weakness or need in someone that you can then fix. This happens in business all the time where a competitor’s action causes problems. For example, another company might hire all the manual laborers in an area and then pay them well so that you have to come to them for workers.
Method 6: Cognitive Biases
Every human has cognitive biases that distort how they look at and understand the world. Cognitive biases can be thought of as mental weaknesses or mental blind spots. Here are a few really common biases that lead to weakness in decision making. The full list is here.
- Emotions like anger, sadness, or jealousy can cause people to not think or approach a situation rationally. If you can get someone emotional, they will be more likely to make a bad decision.
- Confirmation bias is the tendency to only pay attention to things that confirm your belief, and to ignore that which contradicts what you already believe. This is a weakness because people can present ideas is if they already cohere with what you’ve believed in the past. This will make you less likely to critically analyze the idea.
- False consensus bias is when people think everyone agrees or holds the same opinion. This is further reinforced by social media which curates feeds to what the person wants to see. This is a weakness because the group, or perceived majority isn’t always right.
- The halo effect is the tendency for competency or success in one area to be perceived to apply to other areas of a person’s life. Just because they are socially successful doesn’t mean they are also good at making money. The halo effect applies particularly with attractive people as they are seen to be smarter and more competent. This is a weakness because it causes you to distort how the world actually is which can lead to tactical mistakes.
- Optimism bias is when people overestimate how likely a good thing is to happen. This can lead to bad risk taking. See our video on desperation here.
- Ingroup bias is when people give preferential treatment to those who they perceive are similar or in the same ‘group’ as they are. This is a weakness since a person you think is in your group could hurt you while a person who seems out of your group could help you.
- Attribution bias is when people make mistakes while trying to understand why a person acts a certain way. For example they might attribute reckless driving to a person’s rude personality rather than the fact that they are just late to work.
Method 7: The Common Weakness List
Sometimes it is easier to spot weaknesses in people when you know what to look for. Here is a list of common weaknesses that people have.
- people want to be heard or understood
- people want to feel significant
- emotions like anger, sadness, shock, and disgust
- not taking criticism well
- impatient or impulsive/lacks ability to plan long term
- passivity or inability to assert oneself
- strong willed or the desire to not be controlled
- sensitivity/takes things personally
- a desire to procrastinate
- conflict avoidance
- shy or socially awkward
- needs constant stimulation or excitement
- seeks social validation
- needs to win everything
- too altruistic
- takes responsibility too much
- skirts tasks or responsibilities
- blunt or outspoken
- takes on too many tasks and gets overwhelmed
- isn’t willing to try new things and experiment
- jealous or envious
- can’t handle pressure
- risk taking
- physical weaknesses or medical weaknesses
- aesthetic weaknesses