All posts by Allison M. Vaillancourt


Taking Down the Takers

I’m a naturally trusting person who generally finds that assuming the best of people leads to good results. From time to time I run into someone who takes advantage of my trusting nature, and I find these experiences extremely disorienting. When this happens, I begin to wonder if my life philosophy is naïve and whether I should mete out my trust, time, information, and resources more carefully.

Thanks to Adam M. Grant at the Wharton School, I have a new framework for knowing when to be generous …


Are You Managing Up?

Whenever there is a change in leadership in an organization, at least a few people get nervous. Will the new person in charge think I’m competent? Will the current balance of power and status be disrupted? And most important, will I survive in the new world order?

Many people do just fine when a new leader takes over, but those who do not often have something in common: They fail to manage up. That is the practice of engaging with the person above you in the organizational food chain in the way …


The Risky Business of Avoiding Risk

Sensing boredom and maybe even fatigue, I recently raised the “what’s next?” question with a colleague who has been in the same role for many years and seems to move slowly through her days.

“My goal is to stay where I am,” she explained. “I’m comfortable with what I’m doing; and with all the stress at home, it’s nice to have something predictable at work.”

Given her obvious lack of energy in her current role, I asked her if she thought that staying in the same position for so long was a good id…


The Company We Keep

Diane Fennig’s recent post about the importance of creating a digital signature prompted me to consider the ways in which our LinkedIn connections influence the way people perceive us. Do people with 500+ connections seem somehow more impressive than those with far fewer, or do we suspect that people with several hundred connections are indiscriminate when it comes to creating their networks? According to LinkedIn, it is best not to accept invitations from people we don’t know, but I regularly r…


The View From Under the Bus

At some point in your career, it’s possible that you will find yourself confused and in trouble. You may struggle to make sense of something that makes no sense at all—perhaps called to defend yourself for taking actions that you never took, accused of failing to complete an assignment that you actually delivered with a bow on top, or charged with uttering words that would never come out of your mouth.

In an effort to gain a little focus, you may make your way to a washroom to splash cold water …


Canine Career Tips

One of my favorite research articles of all time—“Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks,” published by Tziania Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo—came to mind last week as I listened to a Radio Times interview with Brian Hare a professor at Duke and a co-author of The Genius of Dogs.

Those of you familiar with the lovable-fools research may recall that when it comes to selecting partners for work projects, Casciaro and Sousa Lobo found likability trumps ability. People…


Stop E-Mail Drone Strikes

In the course of working with people in conflict, I am often asked to advise on how to respond to zinger e-mails—electronic nasty-grams that contain words, phrases, or demands that would almost never be expressed orally.

My most common response to a “How should I respond to this e-mail?” question is to suggest a nonelectronic response. “Don’t be tempted to craft a retort,” I say. “Go talk to the person. This will probably make them very nervous, and that might be a good thing.”

In a conflict-ave…


A New Way to Look at Networking

In some of the career-development workshops I offer, I ask attendees to give me their business cards. I choose one card randomly and ask the owner to raise his or her hand. Then I walk over, look the person in the eye, and say, “It’s 2:30 in the morning and I’m returning from a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon. I’m 100 miles from Tucson and my car has just broken down. I really need a ride home. Can you come and get me?”

The typical role-playing response involves significant squirming and a strin…


Are You Too Good to Be Noticed?

Two recognition episodes last week prompted me to consider the factors that influence who gets awards and why. The first occurred during our annual staff-awards ceremony, when the M.C. read a nomination letter for a man described as making considerable but quiet contributions in his department.

“We might call him the strong and silent type, because he doesn’t draw attention to his work,” the M.C. said. “As a result, he tends not to get the recognition he deserves.” I was happy to see that he had…


Are You Prepared to Walk Away?

In the last month or so, I have observed three tragic career train wrecks. In each case, I looked on in horror and what seemed like slow motion as otherwise smart people demonstrated profound naïveté about how to navigate their careers.

As I watched the events unfold, I found myself wanting to shout, “No, no. Don’t do it!” But in each case I arrived too late to be helpful. I was able to diagnose what had caused the derailment, but I was too late to the scene to prevent the damage.

Case 1 was a s…