There’s a reason so many business professionals read The Art of War. For anyone who’s ever worked in an office, you may be aware of the similarities between battle and life in a cubicle. This is why it’s so important to know what’s right and wrong at your workplace, and when to go to your general to tell him what’s going on under his nose.

1. When you report for the sake of the company.

Coworkers’ misbehaviors mean that your company as a whole is doing a bad job. The people misbehaving aren’t the only ones at fault—management too is responsible when productivity is low. If this is the case, you have genuine reason to be worried about the future of the business you work for. Do not go to your boss to get back at someone. That plan will backfire, either because he wants to know more and goes seeking information on his own, or because word will get back to the person you have a grudge against, and issues may become more acute. Only go to your boss if you’re concerned about the future of the business.

2. When you’ve followed professional standards.

You can’t go to your boss about other people unless your own work is top-notch. You have to be following professional practices, i.e. not taking lunch breaks that are too long, or coming into the office twenty minutes late. These are factors that will undermine your credibility. It also helps to be proud of your performance, so that if your boss wonders about you, your word is as good as your work.

3. When you know the facts.

Only go to your boss when you’ve seen your coworkers taking a two hour lunch break, not when you’ve heard office gossip about it. Office politics can be complicated, so don’t form allegiances and try to rat on someone. Your own reputation will suffer if you don’t have good evidence. Only go to the top dog about an issue that you have seen with your own two eyes.

4. When your own position is on the line.

If you have doubts about your coworkers’ intentions toward you, it may be a good time to approach your higher-ups. Office bullying is common, especially between management and subordinates. If you feel like you’re doing your best and not getting the respect you deserve, or if someone is making a direct attack on you without good reason, it may be time to take a stand. You may want to first stand up to your superior. If that doesn’t work, go straight to your boss.

5. When your subordinates don’t listen.

If you’re the manager and your rules are not being followed, especially after you’ve said something to your subordinates, don’t hesitate to go to your boss. Second and third chances aren’t for the workplace—if someone is continually messing up, it’s time to let them go. Maybe they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

6. When it’s more than a scapegoat.

There’s a difference between a person who infects the rest of their team with lackluster performance and low morale, and a person who does their job just to get through the day. Neither are good, but the former is definitely worth approaching the boss about. The latter is a mistake in hiring, but an inevitability in most businesses. Just try not to have an entire team of people like that.

This cutthroat approach may seem out of place in many small businesses and startups, but a lack of Machiavellian strategies can lead to many failed first companies, especially when employees don’t work hard or grow accustomed to just getting by. When looking out for the future of your business instead of thinking about hurt feelings, your company can grow for its own sake.

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