Good roommates are hard to find even more so now because many of us don’t know how to be one any more. 90% of today’s college students have never had to live with a sibling so the skills they would have developed – negotiation, resolving conflict, and detachment are in scare supply. So how do you develop these skills “on-the-job” or “in-the-environment”. I recommend three key strategies.
First, practice “i” statements so you’re owning your perspective and feelings e.g. “I feel the apartment needs to be cleaner and it doesn’t seem that we’re on the same page”. Every roommate conflict I’ve dealt with (and I’ve working through hundreds) has at least two sides if not more. Everyone in the conflict has contributed to it or it wouldn’t exist. That being said sometimes an individual has more of the burden and needs to own up to making things right. Everyone should at least be able to respect each other if nothing other than we are human beings deserving of respect. (I know this is hard and may not fit all situations but it’s important to be able to do so and let go of the strings of conflict which are holding you in place).
Second, FACE-TO-FACE communication is critical. Good roommate relationships require 1:1 time – texting and emails and phone calls don’t cut it. Digital communication often misses the nuances of the message and certainly if you feel a fight coming on you do not want to do it via email or text (you’ll leave a trail behind and it’s often not in your favor). I know you’re feeling that if you can just get the words out there then all will be well. But it’s often HOW those words come out, and HOW you convey your feelings, and HOW you respond to your roommate that makes all the difference. And of course there’s FEAR – fear of how the other person will receive it and things will just get worse. Well if they’re bad now you can make it worse if you don’t treat the other person with respect. You should practice with someone not invested in your point of view – is there a colleague, family member, coach, who can listen to you and help you frame the discussion so it has a chance of being successful.
Three, before you speak ask yourself – Is it True? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? While I find that I can find good reasons to justify my emotional or rational responses (which are often disguised as factual arguments) it’s the third question that typically helps me be more respectful and understanding. Another way to put it is “Seek first to understand then be understood” (Stephen Covey).
So be a good roommate by learning how to see things from the other person’s point-of-view and developing effective communication skills so you can resolve roommate conflict with confidence.
Marcie Tucker, Ph.D.
MyRoomsolution helps individuals create and maintain healthy roommate relationships through on-line tools to support communication and conflict resolution skills.