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When Roommates Collide


When Roommates Collide

Living with a roommate can be challenging and overwhelming. You might have moved into your college dorm without previously having to share a living and sleeping space with another person. To make it even more difficult, you might have a roommate that seems to have the opposite personality—and the opposite schedule—as you. You might consider yourself a “neat freak” while your roommate tends to leave clothes, books and even food everywhere. You might be a night owl and your roommate is an early bird. You prefer to sleep in absolute darkness but your roommate likes to leave a light on. Throw a third roommate into the mix and things can get even more troublesome.

Before you give up and beg housing for a room change, try some of these suggestions.

Tips for dealing with conflict:

  • Talk with your roommate about the conflict. Talking with others about the problem behind your roommate’s back will not help the situation and can cause hurt feelings and lead to more conflict.
  • Try to be open-minded. Consider the situation from a different perspective.
  • Be flexible. Attempt a compromise where both you and your roommate are satisfied with the outcome.
  • Communicate. This is essential for effective conflict resolution. Be clear in your expectations and do not make assumptions. See tips below under Effective Communication Skills.
  • Attack the problem, not each other. Be respectful of other’s different beliefs, values and routines.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. Be willing to compromise with each other to determine the best possible solution.
  • Consult with your RA if you need an objective party involved. Consider developing a roommate agreement if you do not have one already.

If you do, try revising it to meet all parties’ expectations. Your RA can be an invaluable source of ideas and support for dealing with roommate conflict.

Effective communication skills:

  • Avoid making assumptions. Do not suppose you know what your roommate is thinking/feeling or the reasons behind his or her behaviors unless explicitly stated. If you base your actions on incorrect assumptions, the problem will only get worse.
  • Communicate honestly. Talk about your true thoughts/feelings regarding a situation and how you hope it can be resolved.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues such as posture, voice inflection and tone to better understand your roommate.
  • Use “I” statements such as “I feel frustrated when you wake me up at 2am when you come in from being out” instead of dictating what the roommate should or should not do.
  • Be specific. Define the problem and outline specific steps for how each of you will work on the agreed upon solution. Make sure each party is clear about the other’s position.
  • Take turns talking about the situation and be respectful of each other’s perspectives, even when different from your own.
  • Take responsibility for your own actions and make sure to work on your part of the resolution. If you find this difficult, it might mean another discussion with your roommate to discuss alternatives.

Having a roommate can be rewarding but also challenging. Many students have formed lifelong friends with their college roommate(s), but most will agree that they worked hard to work out differences and conflicts in order to have a successful relationship.