Being successful at work is about more than the skills you bring to the job – it's also about your relationships with your colleagues, and especially about how your boss perceives you. You can have incredible skills in your field, but if no one wants to work with you, it's going to make your professional life harder and harder over time.
Here are eight signs that you might be perceived as a problem employee who's tough to work with – and that you could be putting your professional reputation and future options at risk.
1. You see management as your adversary. If you think peers who get along with their managers are suck-ups, and you see employee/manager relations as an "us vs. them" situation, chances are strong that your attitude is coming through to your manager and marking you as adversarial. And no one wants to spend their days working with adversaries, let alone pay them.
2. You say, "It's not my job" at least once a month. There are times when it's appropriate to say that you aren't the right person to do something, such as when you're swamped with work that your manager agrees is higher-priority. But if you find yourself refusing tasks on a regular basis, you're probably painting yourself as difficult. Job descriptions aren't comprehensive, and most people end up doing work that doesn't fall perfectly within their job description.
3. You take your manager's requests as "suggestions." Sometimes a manager's input really is a suggestion that you are free to take or leave – but more often, managers tend to expect you to do what they've asked. If you habitually ignore requests or input that you disagree with, over time your manager will figure out that she needs to scrutinize your work to make sure you're not rejecting aspects of assignments you don't like. You will probably not find that scrutiny pleasant.
4. You have trouble finding a former manager willing to give you a reference. If former managers don't get back to you when you contact them about a reference and they don't return reference-checkers' phone calls, there's probably a reason. Most managers feel incredibly awkward about turning down a request to be a reference, so if you're seeing a pattern of it happening, it's a sign that you need to rethink what's going on in those relationships.
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5. You always ask for forgiveness rather than permission. It's true that as you advance in your career, you're expected to exercise independent judgment and make your own decisions in many areas, but if something is a major decision with high or public stakes, most managers want to be in the loop. If you regularly make calls that you know your manager might not approve and just hope you can beg forgiveness afterward, you're likely to seem like an increasingly high-risk bet for your employer.
6. You look for reasons things can't be done rather than looking for ways to do them. If your favorite refrain is "that will never work," you might be having a supremely frustrating effect on your team. People sometimes think they're serving a valuable role by playing devil's advocate, but constant naysaying takes the wind out of new ideas and initiatives and squelches people's enthusiasm.
7. You're stuck in a negativity loop. Occasional frustrations at work are normal. But if you feel negative about your job and your company every day, it probably shows – and maybe more importantly, it's probably affecting both your work and your quality of life. When that's the case, your best bet is to figure out whether there's a way to be reasonably happy at work or whether you'd be better off moving on. If you don't make that decision for yourself, it may eventually be made for you.
8. You've disliked every boss you've ever had. If you've never been satisfied with a manager you've worked with, you're the common denominator and it's likely to reflect something that's going on with you. It might be an inability to be satisfied, unrealistic expectations about work, a problem with authority, an anger problem, difficulty getting along with others or something else entirely – but it's worth taking a look at it and seeing if you can spot what's going on.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.
Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report
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