Conflict happens. At some point or another, it’s going to happen with you and your roommate. The question is, how will you deal with conflict when it inevitably arrives?

Many conflicts can be resolved easily with mature and respectful conversation between roommates. Other conflicts may be more difficult to resolve and may require assistance through a formal mediation process. In extreme cases, conflicts may not be able to be resolved, resulting in a room change for one or both roommates.

Maintaining a harmonious roommate relationship requires courtesy, mutual respect, lots of communication and an acceptance of others’ differences.

There are two things you need to know when dealing with roommate conflicts. First, how to prevent them. Second, how to peacefully reach a resolution.

How to Prevent Conflict

1. Know the 10 Most Common Triggers for Roommate Problems

  • Money (rent – who’s not paying on time?)
  • Allocation of shared spaces
  • 3rd wheel syndrome (someone’s girlfriend/boyfriend is always around)
  • Messiness / cleanliness
  • Sharing items (food)
  • Study habits and sleeping patterns
  • Noise levels (especially during sleep and study times)
  • Lifestyle differences (cigarette, drug and alcohol habits)
  • Socializing 
  • Values / morals

Before you agree to be roommates, have a conversation about how conflict will be handled if it ever does arise. Talk about how you like to be approached about issues. Be thorough, don’t gloss over a potential issue.

2. Sign a Roommate Agreement

Everyone has quirks: things that you like, things you can’t stand, etc. But when you’re living in a small room and have little personal space, little issues can cause big-time conflict.

Set boundaries early in your roommate relationship – be clear and specific about what will or won’t be allowed in your room or shared space. Write down the rules and make sure each person has equal input. 

Make a plan for who pays and does what/when. Make a plan for things like: how the utilities will be paid, if you’ll share food, and how the apartment will be cleaned. When there’s a problem, look back to this for the terms both you and the other person signed and agreed to in the beginning.

You may think you don’t need a roommate agreement if you’ve decided to live with a friend or someone you already know. It may not be obvious right away that you need one, but after a few weeks – you may start seeing your differences and how they affect each other. 

When you start by talking about your behaviors and preferences, you’ll understand each other better and are more likely to avoid disagreements. Check out this roommate agreement contract template to get an idea of what to include. 

3. Be a Good Roommate

All relationships are two-way streets. When you do run into a conflict with your roommate, be respectful. Take the high road. If not the high road of understanding, then do the basics of building a good partnership.

Ways to be a considerate roommate include:

  • Communicate (without emotion if you can)
  • Establish boundaries (and re-establish them if needed)
  • Respect boundaries
  • Be polite and considerate
  • Be flexible (adapt, compromise)
  • Clean up after yourself 
  • Don’t borrow; but if you do, return the loan in a timely fashion

If you did something that was not thoughtful or considerate, apologize. Taking ownership for wrong actions is often the best way to prevent more conflict.

4. Keep Communication Open

You shouldn’t have to live ignoring your problems and believing that there’s nothing you can do about what’s going on. Finding solutions and brainstorming options can be a great learning experience and lead to stronger relationships in the end.

It is normal to have tension and conflict with another person when you live so closely. But before you make up your mind that you are the one who has been wronged, ask some questions. Reach out to the other with a desire to understand where they are coming from. That doesn’t mean you have to agree, but it does mean you need to keep an open mind that if two people are living in a space there is potential that there could be two sides of the story.

Most roommate conflicts are the result of miscommunication or, in some cases, a total lack of communication. If you can communicate effectively, it will be much easier to develop a comfortable living environment for yourself and your roommates.

How to Resolve Conflict : Confrontation Tips

1. Listen to Their Concerns

Know the difference between just hearing and really listening. For example, while your roommate is expressing his/her concerns about your habit of leaving papers all over the place, are you simply waiting for your turn to defend yourself, or listening? 

Use the LARA method to communicate.

  • L stands for Listen. In this stage of LARA, active listening needs to be practiced, by maintaining eye contact, nodding your head, and showing that you are listening.
  • A stands for Affirm or Acknowledge. Much like active listening, this stage requires saying something affirming like “I can understand why it’s difficult for you to talk about this and why it is so important to you.”  Acknowledge the feelings and needs behind what is being said.
  • R stands for Respond. This is when you can respond to what was said – address the interests and needs that your roommate brought up. 
  • A stands for Add. This is when you can provide additional information or options about solutions.

2. Communication is Key

Sometimes the best way to solve the issue is to have a conversation about what’s bothering you. You should let your roommate know what action bothered you and why. This way, they are aware of what they should and shouldn’t do while living with you. Communication can be extremely effective in most situations and helps to build the relationship with your roommates. 

Try to avoid a “me versus them” mentality. Resolving roommate conflicts should be both roommates working together to fix a problem; problems will often get worse if one roommate lays all of the blame on the other.

When addressing the issue:

  • Approach your roommate in private 
  • Make sure that your roommate has time to talk. If someone in the conversation feels rushed the effectiveness of the conversation may lose its value. 
  • Be direct. Address behavioral issues rather than personality issues. This will help to make your roommate feel less defensive.
  • Be patient. Hear your roommate’s point of view.
  • Make sure that each person gets a chance to express what they feel the problem is.

3. Use “I” Statements

Statements that begin with “I”, “From my perspective”, or “The way I see it…” make it clear that you are speaking for yourself. “I” statements focus on your experience, thoughts, feelings, reactions and decisions and not on any beliefs or judgments you may have made about the other person.

Sentences that begin with “You”, such as “you always” or  “you are” make broad, inaccurate generalizations about the other person and often lead to the other person feeling blamed and judged.

If you are using “I” statements it becomes difficult to make accusatory assumptions about the other person’s intentions or behaviour. “I felt intimidated by your response” has quite a different impact than “You are aggressive with me.”

4. Compromise

Living with other people requires some compromise. Compromise means you get some and you give some. You can’t control everything about your space like at home. You are living with other people. Be prepared to compromise.

Tell your roommates you prefer to keep the room cold at night. Then ask what they prefer. If they like it warm, you will have to come up with a compromise. Be willing to meet somewhere in the middle.

5. Bring in a Mediator

After exhausting your other options, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you live in a dorm, visit your RA. It’s their job to help you handle conflicts. Talk to them about the issues you’ve been having with your roommate and set up a time where they can sit down with you and help mediate a conversation about issues. A third-party influence can make a huge difference in working through problems.

Outside of a dorm or college living situation, a friend can mediate the conversation for you. Mediation can take a while to resolve issues as you work through everything, but it’s better than endless arguing with your roommate. This mediator will act as an unbiased third party, making sure that the conversation doesn’t go off topic and that everyone stays calm. During mediation, you have to respect everyone involved in the conversation and really listen to the questions and answers. This way, you can reach an agreement and solve the underlying conflict.

As adults, we all have the capacity to co-exist with others who are different than ourselves. Getting to know a college roommate and figuring out how to live together can be one of college’s great learning experiences. When the relationship is successful, roommates can build a friendship or establish a contact that will last a lifetime. 

Even if you realize you’ll never be good friends with your roommate, using these tips to avoid conflict will help maintain an enjoyable, productive atmosphere in your college dorm or apartment. 

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