Using Sun Tzu – The Art of War to Fight Office Battles

I consider Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to be my Career Bible of sorts.

I received the book as a gift for my 19th birthday from a mentor. I’ve never let it go since.

So yes, you heard it here first:

I apply ancient war strategies at work!

Let’s take a single sentence and break it down, shall we?


To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.

He wins his battles by making no mistakes.

Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.



Don’t be a dumbass and don’t slack off.

If you don’t make mistakes, you are building the best defense possible, and you just need to watch out their mistakes to be able to take them down.



Let’s translate “enemy” into a difficult colleague who gives you a hard time, puts you down, steals your credit or basically is making your working life a living hell.


  • Pay attention to your work. You may think no one cares or is watching, but they are.
  • Don’t make mistakes. Check your details.
  • Back up your claims. Don’t say “he’s lazy” when you’re the exact same way.
  • Examine your actions. Are you getting dragged into a petty fight via email for no reason?
  • Pick your battles. Arguing a moot point with an idiot makes you the bigger idiot.
  • Pay attention to your environment. Observe what others do and find a pattern.
  • Try to anticipate what your colleague will do next. Then trap them with a well written email.
  • Stay calm and plan your moves. No one ever won a battle without a plan, but be patient.
  • Once you have the upper hand and win, then finish it. No mercy.


So I had a difficult colleague.

She would always CC (CC = Carbon Copy) everyone around me. Her manager, her manager’s manager, the project lead, her teammates and any stray cat walking by.

This annoyed me to no end because you don’t really need to CC everyone on an email if they aren’t involved. It’s not a big deal and some companies promote it, but it’s really frustrating to not be able to have an open line of communication without being tracked.

I’m an easy going person and if you have a quick question, just email me, ask me, and I’ll reply.

I’ll also do the same if you are asking questions you don’t want anyone else to overhear, especially if you aren’t sure.

So if I asked her a simple question like:

Hey, where’s the water jug in the kitchen? (Fake example)

She’d email me back, CC”ing everyone around her with her answer:

It is on the second shelf beside my lunch.

You should really make a note of where it’s kept for future reference.

Here is a diagram I drew in Paint to show you how to get there.


Please call me if you have a problem finding said water jug.

I’ve also attached an image of me pointing to the jug.


For real?

Yes. For real.

Knowing her nature was to “document” how hard she was working via unnecessary emails to everyone who manages her, I kept that in the back of my mind.

“…the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself”

The opportunity came when she thought she caught me making a mistake (who gloats about that anyway?), she emailed everyone including my project managers squealing:

It’s wrong!

Whatever you did, screwed up everything I had in there originally.


I tried to do it like this and it won’t let me.


After a fast check of my work, and knowing that I didn’t make a mistake, because I had kept Mr. Tzu in mind:

“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands…”

“He wins his battles by making no mistakes.”

@MoneyCrashers #mcchat

Since I was well positioned and armed with knowledge, I knew I had a chance to give her a good “what fer”.

I emailed her back removing everyone from the list.

I explained and asked her “off the grid” to explain to me what she did.

She emailed me back, re-adding everyone I had left out of the email with something along the lines of:

Here’s what I did.

And here’s what you’re saying should happen.

It doesn’t work like that.


Are you telling me you can’t fix it?

That is totally unacceptable. You’ve had 3 weeks to do this.


Oh yeah?

“The skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy”

I hit Reply All and said:

As I emailed you a week ago, you need to follow specific instructions on the checklist I created specifically for you.

That email has been re-copied onto this email with the step you didn’t complete highlighted in red and bolded.


Here’s the diagram of how to complete the step for future reference, and I’ve already taken the liberty of doing that step for you.


If you still don’t understand how to follow the rest of the checklist, or if you have any questions I’d be happy to sit down with you and walk you through it.

She has never tried to CC others to point out my “mistakes” again, in fear of getting burned by the fire.

So readers, sometimes you need to bide your time, grit your teeth and wait for the choice (but not out of line) opportunity to give people a little friendly taste of their own medicine*.

*Yes, I realize I’m not the nicest person sometimes, but I believe in treating others the way I’ve been treated.

My status quo is to be nice. But when you cross that line, you better be ready for some Sun Tzu’ing because I will respond and treat you in the same way you have treated me.

Have a Sun Tzu example of your own?

Was this post even interesting? Let me know. 🙂

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.