Having a roommate is tough – even when you like each other. And while everyone knows you should just “be direct” when there is a problem, so few of us feel like we have the skills to do it effectively! Here are some suggested tips for having a difficult conversation with your roomie:
Starting Point: Be polite, and talk about your feelings and the behavior that is a problem – don’t make value judgements about your roommate. For example, instead of, “You live like a slob!” try something like, “I get really stressed out when pizza boxes and other food items are left out overnight. I want to brainstorm some things we can do to make our living situation more enjoyable for both of us.” No name-calling or aggression, of course!
- Give them 1-3 specific examples of the behavior bothering you. Don’t overload your roommate.
- Tell them what is at stake. Are you worried that the room will no longer be a place you can both comfortably hang out? That you won’t be friends anymore? That tensions will keep rising and stress you both out?
- Express your own contribution to the problem and your commitment to improving. Maybe you put off telling them it was bothering you, or you wrote a note that seemed passive-aggressive (even if it wasn’t intended that way). Apologize for your own actions and share how you can improve.
- Tell them you are dedicated to finding a solution, and work together to find a compromise!
As a sidenote – this model can be helpful in addressing lots of other conflict, too. Having a hard time on a group project when it feels like you’e the only person contributing? Frustrated with a coworker who keeps making your job harder? The same guidelines can help foster a more constructive conversation – and keep you from becoming overly frustrated, exhausted, or outraged.
Many times, a simple conversation is all you need to fix a problem between people. However, if you’re still stuck, feel free to consult a friend, mentor, or – if you’re an on-campus student – an RA, who is trained in facilitating these kinds of conversations. Conflict is challenging, and we all need a little help navigating it sometimes.