Dealing With Roommates (and Other Conflicts)

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!

  1. Give them 1-3 specific examples of the behavior bothering you. Don’t overload your roommate.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.