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Roommate Living: From Foes to Friends

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Oct. 08, 2014

Passive-aggressive sticky notes. Throwing trash on each other’s beds. Breaking decorations, locking doors, angry shouting matches.

These are some ways roommates deal with issues, and I’ve seen most of these in college so far. For most students, dorm living is their first experience sharing their living space with non-family. Transitioning can be hard, but it is possible that living on dorm floors can be the best living arrangement of your life. However, this can only happen if you strive for an open and respectful relationship!

Throughout the year, you and your roommate(s) may have conflicts ranging from trivial chore duties to destruction of property. It’s a reality of college living. And it’s important to know how to handle these conflicts of interest to make your year the best possible for both of you. I’d like to share a few steps in resolving disagreements with your roommates. These are derived from my year living with a random roommate, a year as an RA, and now this year living with 4 of my best friends. The key to a solid roommate connection is purposeful communication.

  1. Obtain their full attention. It may seem convenient to confront a roommate while they’re busy with a videogame, but it demeans the whole conversation. As young adults, it’s a useful life skill to seize someone’s full attention.  I can be as simple as saying, “Hey, can we chat for a few minutes?” If they’re busy, ask them to give YOU a preferred time. This helps make the discussion a priority for both of you.
  2. Communication, not accusation. “I feel/think that ___” instead of “You are a ___”. If you’re feeling angry or confused at a roommate’s behavior, remember that they may not even notice the tension. So if you approach them with guns a-blazin’, calling them inconsiderate jerks, they’ll get angrily defensive. I truly believe that if you approach someone earnestly, they’re more inclined to listen. Most resident conflicts I’ve resolved as an RA involved these key statements: “I didn’t know he/she felt that way”; “I didn’t think it was rude”; “He/she never told me that”. There is ALWAYS room for better communication!
  3. Develop specific conclusions. It’s best to avoid settling on “I’ll try not to do that in the future”.  You must come into the conversation with goals in mind. If your roommate is being loud at midnight after multiple requests to be quiet, generate specific rules to discuss. “Neither of us can play music past 11pm without headphones” is better than “Just turn it down, okay?” This will make subsequent conversations much easier without having to argue over rule interpretation – “For the last time, your music isn’t low enough!”
  4. Ask the roommate for feedback. Conversation is a two way street. Your roommate may have qualms they are uncomfortable sharing with you. If you consistently tell your roommate it’s okay to voice disagreements, they will be more receptive to feedback from you. Frequent, casual questions are the best. Do they like the living arrangement? Do they want to change anything? What’s stressing them out? These factors affect the room atmosphere, and supportive relationships make roommate friendships beautiful.

I’m sure some of you are thinking “there is no way my roommate would chat like this”. After all, disagreements are difficult topics of conversation. If conversations get difficult, remember your support system for dorm living (your RA, building staff, advising center, etc).

You and your roommate are in this school year together and can come out with AMAZING experiences. By speaking openly and honestly you can turn your cooking nights into heart-to-hearts, your hangouts into hilarious near-death experiences, and your shared space into a family. Regular and meaningful communication is key!