Five Mistakes to Avoid When Addressing Roommate Conflict

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A new school year is about to begin and that means many of you will be living with new roommates! For some of you, this may be the first time you’ve lived with people who aren’t family members. Though this is a very exciting time, you should be prepared to deal with roommate conflicts as they happen. It’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s human nature.

Even if you’ve done everything right, even if you’ve set clear boundaries, even if you & your roommate(s) are considerate and likable and compatible, it’s highly likely that you will find yourselves in situations where you feel at odds with one another at some point during your lease. Might as well equip yourselves now with the appropriate skills to handle any potential conflicts effectively to save you a great deal of time and trouble later on!

Here are five common mistakes to avoid when the dreaded and inevitable conflict comes up.

Common Roommate Conflict Resolution Mistakes:

1. Mistake: Ignoring the conflict or giving it time to work itself out. The odds are the conflict will not get resolved with added time, the issue will just fester until one roommate explodes with emotions.

Solution: Don’t let things simmer. Address the issue as soon as it is brought to your attention. Be honest and upfront, but don’t blow the issue out of proportion. Let your roommate know that you realize it’s something minor, but that it is a pet peeve of yours or that it makes you feel uncomfortable.

“In my first year, I became sick with mono and slept through almost all of my morning alarms. In my heavily unconscious state I had no idea that I kept hitting snooze and my roommates interpreted this as my blatant inconsideration,” writes this blogger. “As a result, one morning I awoke to a roommate throwing pillows and wrathfully yelling at me. I felt horrible because I was not aware of the problem and I could certainly sympathize with their frustration! Had I known sooner, I could have established a better plan for waking up.”

2. Mistake: Failure to acknowledge or to even hear what the other has to say. It’s easy to feel defensive when you are addressing conflict (which most of us avoid at all costs), but take a step back and try not to take it personally.

Solution: We like this tip we found in this post.

Use the active listening technique or “LARA” method in both the conversation and the dialogue.

L stands for Listen. In this stage of LARA, active listening needs to be practiced, by maintaining eye contact (if culturally appropriate), nodding your head, and showing that you are listening.

A stands for Affirm or Acknowledge. Much like active listening, this stage requires that you say something affirming like “I can understand why it’s difficult for you to talk to your roommate about this and why it is also 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. Do not give advice or force your opinion on anyone, though!

3. Mistake: Using extreme statements such as “You Always..: “You Never..”. This is a surefire way to put your roommate on the defensive and create an impossible situation for you to resolve anything.

Solution: Use “I Statements” as a way to defuse the tendency for your roommate to feel attacked and putting them on the defensive. An “I Statement” makes it about you. It explains HOW the other person’s behavior is making YOU feel. For example, “I feel______ when_____because_____so what I’m hoping is _____.

Instead of saying, “You always leave the lights on late at night and it drives me crazy” perhaps you can try “I feel frustrated when the lights are left on after midnight because it is hard for me to fall asleep and then I don’t do well in my classes, so I’m hoping we can turn the lights off or dim them at a certain time every night, or find another agreeable solution that works for both of us.”

4. Mistake: Holding onto bad habits or having an unwillingness to change. For many of you in your college years, this is a time for learning and growing. Don’t get stuck in old unhealthy patterns and habits that you developed in the past.

Solution: Be flexible with your roommate and adjust your thinking as new situations require. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with your roommate and judging them based on what you would do, focus on being a better roommate yourself. “It is very easy to observe your roommate’s actions and think, ‘I would never do that.’ Be careful of expecting your roommate to behave and think just like you,” it advises in this helpful student living piece. “Judging your roommate and determining that your values are right and his or hers are wrong is a very dangerous barrier to cross.”

5.Mistake: Know when to pick your battles. We know, this sounds like a contradiction to Mistake #1. However, sometimes you just gotta let some things go.

Solution: Decide if this is a battle worth fighting before you bring it up. In most situations, it will become very clear to you whether or not something is worth bringing up. Accept that your roommate (and you!) are flawed and you will make mistakes. Sometimes, we all commit minor or ridiculous offenses that irritate others for a brief moment, but it’s unhealthy to hold on to that resentment.

Solution: Although it is good to be honest when something is bothering you, realize when an issue is worth talking about and when something is so minor or ridiculous that your request may come off as extreme.

When in doubt, contact the Office of Student Conflict Resolution for assistance!

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