RA gives tips to avoid roommate conflict

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Rachel Madjerac

Whether this is your first time living with someone or you’ve lived with them for the past three years, there are bound to be issues—it’s a basic fact of life. Living with other people is hard. You have no space that is your own, you have to plan cooking and shower times around all of your schedules and you all have different ideas about how things should be done.

When you are living with friends, it is often hard to imagine that there are going to be issues because you are so close. Thinking this way makes it all the more difficult to address problems when they do arise. You don’t want your friends to be mad at you and you don’t want to start a big fight within your friend group; yet, you can’t just sit in your anger because at some point you’re going to blow up and it won’t end well for anyone involved.

A lot of people struggle with confrontation—it’s hard to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. Perhaps one of the most important things to remember when bringing up an issue with a friend or roommate is that the way you say something is often more important than what you actually say. Your attitude going into the discussion sets the tone for the entire situation. Even if your words are friendly, if your tone isn’t, the conversation is not going to go anywhere.

When addressing an issue, you should cater your approach specifically to the person you’re confronting. Not everyone is receptive to every type of confrontation, and if you go about addressing a problem the wrong way, you can make the situation significantly worse. Some people find notes to be passive-aggressive, while others find them to be a great way to avoid the awkward face-to-face conversation. Make it a point to tell others how you would like to be addressed if someone has an issue with something that you are doing. Ask them how they would like you to handle it in return. Also, if whatever is bothering you only concerns one of your roommates, do not bring it up in front of everyone else. There is no need to get other people involved.

Before you confront someone, you should think about what exactly it is that is bothering you. You don’t want to start a conversation claiming that you are angry that there are always dirty dishes in the sink, and have it quickly turn into you accusing them of never being around because you think that they don’t want to be friends with you anymore. So, take a moment and think about what is actually upsetting you before you say anything. A good rule to follow is the “48-hour rule.” If someone has done something that upset you, give yourself a 48-hour window to talk to them about it; if you don’t make an effort to address it within 48 hours, let it go. If whatever happened is a big deal, you should talk to the person as soon as possible after the incident occurred.

Another thing to consider is that oftentimes, people don’t know that they are doing something that is making you angry. You may have been thinking about something that happened all week long and they don’t even remember doing it. When you bring up an issue, make sure to explain what it is specifically that you are referring to. It is important not to make them feel like they are being attacked because if they have to go on the defensive, you aren’t going to be able to have a productive conversation.

A good distinction to make when figuring out what to say when confronting people is between someone’s behavior and their personality. For example, if they are making a mess and not cleaning up after themselves, you don’t want to say that they “are” messy, disgusting or dirty because this is saying that you have an issue with who they are as a person, not with something that they are doing. Instead, your comments should refer to the actions that led to the accumulation of the mess. When you do this, you are framing your issue as being with what they have done, not who they are.

Confrontation is never fun and having to confront someone you live with can be even more difficult. Before saying anything, take time to think about the problem and the person you are confronting. When you are speaking with them, be sure to remember that they most likely haven’t had the time that you have had to think about the situation. Don’t be afraid to bring up things that are bugging you—your friends are your friends for a reason and communicating with them is only going to make your friendship stronger.

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