Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is a word or phrase to describe people who are very practical and shrewd, and more concern about achieving their goals rather than looking at softer sides such as friendships, etc? It is more than just self-centred. It is a kind of character which one who inherits it would not hesitate to do very shallow acts just to emerge as a winner/survive, even if he has to betray his benefactors. It is a very insecure kind of character but on the surface is not obvious to be like so.

For example, Tom befriends with Jane in hope of her help at work. Jane helped Tom. Tom, however, may possibly make Jane his enemy one day, when he knows his boss dislikes Jane, so as to appear standing behind his boss.

So in some way, Tom in this scenario, is a what kind of person? In casual words, he is practical, shrewd, self-centred, etc. But is there a more concise word that encapsulates all these words and brings about the idea of such a character?

share|improve this question
    
an Objectivist? ;) –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Mar 12 '12 at 14:15
1  
It's somewhat misleadng to start your idea with 'practical' because that leads in quite a different direction than you intend. 'Practical' by itself has no connotations of interpersonal strategy. But 'shrewd' or 'clever' is enough. –  Mitch Mar 12 '12 at 14:20
2  
Sarcastic answers would be: manipulative, sociopathic (via cornbread), or, in the other direction, rational. –  Mitch Mar 12 '12 at 14:21
add comment

8 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Machiavellian describes someone who manipulates situations to their benefit, using human emotions when suited, and dropping them when not.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Egocentric and manipulating. Machiavellian is too .... well, machiavellian. It embraces too much. Manipulating would be it, nobody manipulates somebody else for the third party benefit. Sorry, didn't see the Machiavellian answer before mine, still, keeping with "manipulating".

share|improve this answer
add comment

You've described an egocentric person.

share|improve this answer
add comment

That person sounds sociopathic to me.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I think "opportunist", given in jwpat7's answer is the best choice, but you might want to also consider "careerist" and the expression, "He knows which side his bread is buttered on."

share|improve this answer
add comment

An opportunist is "someone who takes advantage of any opportunity to advance his own situation, placing expediency above principle"; ie someone who stoops to almost anything to gain an advantage.

Ruthless means, in part, "not thinking or worrying about any pain caused to others"; for example, She ruthlessly pursued her ambition, letting nothing get in her way.

A selfish person is "concerned with oneself or concerned with one's own interests, especially to the exclusion of others."

Per previous answer, a Machiavellian person tries to achieve goals by cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous methods. If you want to suggest lack of scruples, opportunist and Machiavellian do so. If you don't want to suggest that lack, ruthless and self-serving may be a tiny bit better. (I slightly prefer the term self-serving to self-centered in this context.)

share|improve this answer
add comment

Isn't egoist a strong enough and appropriate word for this?

share|improve this answer
add comment

OP tells us approximately what kind of behaviour he's talking about, but the choice of adjective depends very much on the attitude of others to that behaviour.

For example, Tom could be described as pragmatic, focussed, objective, goal-oriented, etc., by someone who either admires him or is simply offering a neutral description. But someone who doesn't approve of the way Tom acts might say he's self-centred, self-obsessed, egotistic, etc.

In the final analysis, all such words are somewhat vague. It might be, for example, that OP specifically wishes to call attention to the fact that Tom's behaviour is often manipulative.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.