Difficult Partners: 5 Tips to Make it Through the Day

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A while back Steve Whitehead wrote a great post for the EMTSpot.com that explained five things that he felt made an ideal partner. This prompted me to ask,  “What do you do if you get teamed up with a bad partner?”

This is Steve’s response and Everyday EMS Tips for making it through the day with a difficult partner. Steve writes:

Great question Greg. Let’s face it, great partners make a huge difference in making the shift fun and enjoyable, but not every partner is going to be great. In fact, some of them are going to be down right bad.

So what do you do when you get teamed up with someone who’s less than stellar? In fairness to those of you who may not have the pick of the litter sitting next to you in the front seat. Here’s five ideas to make a bad partnership work. Some of these might seem obvious to you, some may be a surprise. All of them have worked for me.



1) Show concern (but don’t be annoying).

There are few really bad partners. There are many good partners that have bad shifts, bad weeks, and even bad months. If you can be there for a partner going through a bad patch and look out for someone who’s having a rough time, it may help you develop a partnership based on real, authentic trust.

Ask yourself if perhaps there’s something going on in your partners life that may be spilling over into their work performance. Could there be substance abuse problems? Are marital or professional issues troubling them? If so,let them know that you’re there to help. You don’t need to pry or follow them around asking, “Hey, what’s wrong?” but you can say something like, “You know Bob, you’ve seemed a little off your game for the past few shifts and if there’s something you want to talk about or something I can help you with, I hope you’ll let me know.” Then let it go.

2) Have their back

If your partner is distracted, tired or just plain burned out, there’s a good chance that they are not on their game the way they need to be and someone needs to be looking out for them. For the sake of your safety, their safety and the patients care, someone needs to have their back. Yes, I know, it’s no fun always being the grown-up and carrying the partnership, but someone needs to step up and guess what? That’s you cowboy.

This is your chance to be the partner that everyone else wants. Keep your head up on scene and pay attention to what’s going on. Watch the routing to the hospital. Help with the medications, assist with the critical skills and jump in on the assessments. Make it all look easy. No partner lasts forever. You can use this time to improve your game.

Having your partners back doesn’t just mean doing the job. If your partner’s developed a reputation for being the person nobody wants to work with, a moment is going to come when your partner isn’t there and someone’s going to want to badmouth them. Don’t play along. When you’re siting in the break room and that coworker pops off with, “Sooo, how are things going working with … Bob?” Smile and say, “They’re going great. Why do you ask?”

Make it clear that badmouthing your partner isn’t in your playbook. Everyone will respect you more for it. No matter how frustrated you are with the situation, bashing your partner can’t be in the rules.

3) Build their trust

Before things can get better with your dysfunctional partner, they’re going to have to trust you. There’s no way around that. Can you name one person who positively influences you that you don’t trust? Neither can I. Before anything else on this list can work, your partner needs to know that they can trust you. That’s going to mean being honest about your own frustrations when you’re talking with your partner and genuinely looking out for your partner’s best interests. Always.

4) Set a good example

You may not need to say anything to positively influence your partner. What you do will always be more powerful than what you say. Love your job. Show up early. Check out your equipment. Get in service and stay positive. Learn something from each patient. Think twice about gripping about bad calls or frustrating patients. In time, your partner might come around and regain that love of the job that they must have had at some point. Maybe they won’t, but at least you’ll enjoy yourself in the process.

5) Have your boundaries

You are who you are because of you, not because of who you’re partnered with. Your partner needs to know that you have your boundaries. Just as you can’t change who they are, they can’t change you either. Some things about you can’t be compromised. Know your boundaries and don’t let your partner compromise them.

Worst Case Scenario

A few partner relationships can be nightmares. Sometimes bad partner relationships can go to far. Some things are never appropriate. We don’t abuse patients. We don’t violate established policies and procedures. We don’t break the law. We always stand ready to serve. We don’t compromise the patients dignity or act with disrespect. We don’t lie. We don’t steal.

If one of these situations arises, you’ll need to let your partner know, in no uncertain terms, that your values will not be compromised. Stand firm in who you are.

Hopefully those boundaries will never be crossed. Regardless of how successful you are at turning your bad partnership into a good one, there’s nothing preventing you from leaving the partnership for a stronger partner.
Keep your head high and don’t compromise yourself. See bad partners as a blessing, instead of a curse. They’ll appreciate you, others will respect you, and in the end you just may end up with a trusted friend.

Steve is a Paramedic/Firefighter in Colorado. He is also an EMS educator and accomplished EMS author. Read his excellent blog, the EMT Spot.