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!

Sources for this article

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Roommate Etiquette 101


Whether it’s a friend or a stranger having a roommate can be an amazing shared experience… but not one that comes without a little work. By simply taking a few steps you can ensure you and your roommate will always remain simpatico and get the most out of your living arrangement.

Step #1 Establish Guidelines From The Start

Avoid unnecessary arguments by establishing clear guidelines early on. Agreeing on schedules and day-to-day rules helps avoid misunderstandings and annoyed housemates.

Some suggested topics to cover include:

  • Bill paying procedures
  • Cleaning Schedule
  • Dirty dishes policy
  • Significant others coming over
  • Sleeping habits
  • Noise levels
  • Drinking habits
  • Pet policy
  • Allergies and general health requirements

Step #2 Respect Each Other’s Personal Space

It’s always a good idea to not enter your roommate’s space without their permission. Think about it, would you want someone entering your room when you’re not there?

Step #3 Respect Each Other’s Belongings

Unless you have an agreed upon rule for sharing food try to be mindful of your roommate’s food. There’s nothing worse than coming home after a long day dreaming of your left-over pizza only to find it eaten by someone else.

This rule also extends to personal belongings. Nothing stirs up bad feelings quite like the notion of someone rifling through your private stuff.

See this? Don't do this.

Step #4 Clean Up After Yourself

Even if a cleaning schedule is agreed on you should always be mindful to pick up after yourself. Certainly don’t leave trash or opened food lying around or an angry roommate will be the least of your troubles.

Step #5 Address Concerns

Bottling up feelings of annoyance will lead to an eventual explosive argument. Speak your mind as problems emerge and work together to find solutions. Whether the problems are big or small you will always be better of for addressing them openly.

Step #6 Don’t Expect To Be Best Friends

Though it’s certainly possible you may end up being best friends with your roommate, the expectation it will happen can often create an uncomfortable dynamic for a roommate. Be friendly but also be aware that their interests, schedules, and friends may not align with yours.

Step #7 Be Open To Change

Living with a stranger (or even a friend) will inevitably bring about new experiences and customs. You should always try to keep an open mind to these differences and change and go with the flow.

Step #8 Remember It’s A Shared Space

What’s most important to remember is that the home you occupy is a shared one. If you’re bringing people over, give your roommate some warning. Before blasting your rock music at 3AM, remember your roommate is one wall over and probably asleep. If you are leaving trash out, don’t forget someone else could be coming home to it.

If you stick to these rules you should be well on your way to having a comfortable shared space. Best of luck!

How to Find the Right Roommate for You

Happy Roomates

Now that we are renting properties for the 2015-2016 school year, it’s time to find your roommate if you have not already done so. While this process can be fun and exciting, it’s important to do your homework and find the right person. Trust us, you don’t want to be stuck in a lease with someone who you have nothing in common with.

Whether you plan to live with a friend or a friend of a friend or a stranger- you must find out important details about their personality, habits and lifestyle preferences before making a decision.

Tip #1-Set up an interview.

Even if you are moving in with someone you know, set aside time to have an honest discussion to find out of this is a good fit. Be honest about your expectations and make sure they match those of your potential roommate. Don’t tiptoe around the subject in order to seem polite, be upfront.

Tip #2- Ask questions before signing the lease.

Talk about your likes/dislikes, cleaning habits, friends, significant others, sleeping habits, etc. Establishing an open line of communication from the beginning will save you from potential misery down the line. Here are some basic ones you’ll want to cover-

1. Are they an early riser or a night owl? Light sleeper or good sleeper?

2. What is their typical work or school schedule? Will it conflict with yours?

3. What do they need to feel safe and secure (locking windows, etc)?

4. Are they neat or “relaxed?? Get clarification as this means different things to different people (and no one admits to being a slob).

5. What are their favorite/least favorite chores? How to do they like to divide up household work (chore list, just do it when they feel like it, etc.).

6. Are they extra-sensitive to fragrances and/or odors? This may affect what you choose as cleaning products and you may have to hide your running shoes after going to the gym.

7. Are they allergic to anything? (Examples: peanuts, perfume, milk, flowers, mold, smoke).

8. Do they smoke, drink, or do any other kinds of recreational drugs?

9. Do they enjoy talking or do they prefer to be quiet all the time? Do they talk about feelings or keep to themselves?

10. Do they enjoy decorating, or do they not care about decorating? What decorating style do they have?

11. What kind of music do they listen to and, more importantly, do they particularly enjoy listening to it when it’s loud?

12. How much TV do they watch? What do they watch? Are they fans of a sport team that you do not support or a sport you do not like

13. Do they like to share some items like pots and dishes or do they prefer to have separate everything?

14. How often do they invite friends and romantic interests over? Are you comfortable with the crowd they hang out with?

Source How to Find a Good Roommate on WikiHow

Tip #3-Listen to your gut instinct.

Your instincts are usually right on. If you get a weird feeling about a potential roommate, tell them politely that you don’t think it would be a good match and move on.

The University of Oregon Office of Dean of Students has additional resources for Off Campus living in addition to a list of places to search or advertise to find a new roomate. You can always contact our office at (541) 485-7776 for more questions, we are always willing to help in any way we can.

photo credit: Fun Ladies via photopin (license)