How to Deal with Bad Lab Partners

What to Do if Your Lab Partners Are Uncooperative or Incompetent

Lab partners are the norm in the workplace as well as in science classes.
Lab partners are the norm in the workplace as well as in science classes, so it's important to know what to do if you're having trouble working together. Comstock Images / Getty Images

Have you ever taken a lab class and had lab partners that didn't do their share of the work, broke equipment, or wouldn't work together with you? This situation can be really hard, but there are steps you can take to make things better.

Talk to Your Lab Partners

This may be harder than it sounds, if your problem is that you and your lab partners don't speak the same language (which is relatively common in science and engineering), but you can improve your working relationship with your lab partners if you can explain to them what's bothering you.

Also, you need to explain what you would like them to do that you feel would make things better. Be prepared to compromise, since your lab partner may want you to make some changes, too.

Keep in mind, you and your partner may come from very different cultures, even if you're from the same country. Avoid sarcasm or being "too nice" because there's a good chance you won't get your message across. If language is a problem, seek an interpreter or draw pictures, if necessary.

If One or Both of You Don't Want to Be There

The work still has to get done. If you know your partner won't do it, yet your grade or your career is on the line, you need to accept that you're going to do all of the work. Now, you can still make sure it is evident your partner was slacking. On the other hand, if you both resent doing the work, it's reasonable to work out an arrangement. You might find you work better together once you acknowledge you hate the task.

Willing But Unable

If you have a lab partner who is willing to help, yet incompetent or klutzy, try to find harmless tasks that allow the partner to participate without damaging your data or your health. Ask for input, let the partner record data and try to avoid stepping on toes.

If the clueless partner is a permanent fixture in your environment, it's in your best interest to train them.

Start with simple tasks, clearly explaining the steps, reasons for specific actions, and desired results. Be friendly and helpful, not condescending. If you are successful in your task, you'll gain a valuable ally in the lab and possibly even a friend.

There's Bad Blood Between You

Maybe you and your lab partner had an argument or there's past history. Perhaps you simply don't like each other. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to escape from such a situation. You can ask your supervisor to reassign one or both of you, but you'll run the risk of getting a reputation of being hard to work with. If you decide to ask for a change, it's probably better to cite a different reason for the request. If you absolutely must work together, try setting boundaries that limit how much you actually have to interact. Make your expectations clear so both of you can do the work and retreat.

Take it to the Next Level

It's better to try to work out problems with your lab partners than to seek intervention from a teacher or supervisor. However, you might need help or advice from someone higher up. This might be the case when you realize you can't meet a deadline or complete an assignment without more time or changing the work dynamic.

If you decide to talk to someone about your problems, present the situation calmly and without bias. You have a problem; you need help finding a solution. This may be difficult, but it's a valuable skill to master.

Practice Makes Perfect

Having trouble with lab partners comes with the territory. The social skills you can master dealing with lab partners will help you, whether you're only taking one lab class or are making a career out of lab work. No matter what you do, you'll have to learn to work well with others, including people who are incompetent, lazy or just don't want to work with you. If you are making a career of science, you need to recognize and accept you'll be a member of a team.

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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How to Deal with Bad Lab Partners." ThoughtCo, Jan. 5, 2018, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2018, January 5). How to Deal with Bad Lab Partners. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How to Deal with Bad Lab Partners." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2018).