I've had my share of "high maintenance" moments. Early in my career, I'd often take offense at criticism--even to the point where I'd stockpile the flaws of the offending co-worker so that I could point them out later on.

At a small startup in Minneapolis, I tended to focus mostly on my own paycheck and benefits, my level of management, and whether the job was satisfying enough compared with other options. As you can imagine, this probably made me a little hard to live with.

In meetings, I remember being really good at confronting other people and really bad at adjusting my own behavior. In secret, people were probably calling me high maintenance. Since then, I've learned a few tricks to make sure I'm "maintenance free"--or at least a little easier to handle.

1. Let people know you are done talking.

This is more than just a social cue. When you talk to a co-worker or your boss, try to pay attention to when the conversation is wrapping up. One clear sign that someone is high maintenance is when he or she can't seem to stop talking.

2. Be on time.

It might seem obvious, but showing up on time is one of the best ways to make yourself seem more useful. Your co-workers won't see you as a kludge on a project. Your boss will accept the fact that you can handle minor issues like arriving on time and might give you more to do.

3. Control your emotions.

The term high maintenance is usually reserved for those co-workers who just can't seem to control their anger. They get worked up over minor problems. I've learned to have perspective. So your accounting department hasn't paid your expense bill. Compared with living in abject poverty or suffering a major illness, waiting a few extra days to get paid is trivial.

4. Don't complain.

It's sometimes hard to know the difference between being constructive at work and complaining. Here's a tip. Complainers rarely have a solution, they bring up the same issue over and over again, and they are not exactly known for resolving problems. Those who are constructive are more interested in moving a project along. In the end, they are motivated to succeed.

5. Finish early.

One of the best ways to make sure no one thinks you are high maintenance is to get things done. When you start a task, don't think too much about who gets the credit. Your reputation at work will improve, because people will trust you to persevere.

Published on: Feb 4, 2014
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