Avoiding and Preventing Conflicts with Roommates

College is a time to make new friends, get out of your comfort zone, and explore the world around you. One of the most common features of the experience is having a roommate, which can be a great way to expand your circle and make a new friend. However, living in the same space with someone you barely know isn’t as easy as it sounds, and there are several ways to mitigate any conflicts that are bound to pop up.

Some of the most common triggers for roommate problems include messiness, sharing items, noise levels, and other lifestyle differences. Regardless of any situation that arises, both parties should be respectful of each other’s space and possessions and try to build a good partnership from the beginning.
Shannon Hokanson, a lecturer in the Department of Communication, recommended students follow the golden rule with housemates. “Consider how you would like to be treated when making your home feel safe and comfortable,” she said. “Then be sure to practice the same respect for your cohabitants.”

Nick Kowalski, a sophomore homeland security student, shared that everyone should have an open mind and be flexible when it comes to shared living. Kowalski said, “New roommates are two strangers who know nothing about each other and are still trying to figure things out for themselves. Even if you room with a friend who thinks you know them well, you don’t see how they live or what they do behind closed doors.”

Sometimes the best way to resolve a conflict is to talk about it, and maintain those lines of communication open from the beginning. Be upfront and honest about an action that bothered you so your roommate is aware and they won’t do it again. Be communicative about your habits and boundaries instead of having your roommate guess your expectations.

Area Coordinator Lauren Pfisterer mentioned that residents are asked to complete a shared living agreement at the beginning of the year and in the event a conflict should arise, they can always refer back to that document and revisit expectations as the year progresses. Pfisterer said, “I think it is very important for roommates to take the time to have an open conversation about their expectations of one another while filling this out.”

Anaika Napoleon, a junior chemistry student and a resident assistant at Pinewood hall, said, “Open up a line of communication between one another, don’t’ be silent towards one another, nothing is going to get done that way.”

When addressing an issue, try to approach your roommate in private and make sure everyone’s point of view is heard and expressed. Try to be direct and address behavioral issues rather than their personality so they don’t get defensive, as that can minimize the effectiveness of the conversation. Don’t be passive-aggressive with harsh comments or remarks that are unnecessary to the overall problem.

Although, you may want to do certain things your way, you have to remember you are sharing a space with another person with a different lifestyle, which requires both of you to compromise. This means that both of you give up something but also get something as well. Try to adapt and find a new way to live together.

Another thing to keep in mind when having a conversation is to use “I” statements rather than beginning with “you.” Some students may say, “You always” or “you are”, which can often lead the other person to feel blamed or judged. Changing those statements to say “The way I see it.” or “From my perspective” makes a distinction that you are referring to your own thoughts, feelings, reactions and experiences. It eliminates any beliefs or judgements about the other person.

Although some issues can be fixed between yourselves, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes it can be beneficial to have a neutral party be the voice of reason in a time of distress or turmoil. A residential assistant can help facilitate that conversation and make sure everyone involved is being respected and heard in order to reach an agreement.

Napoleon added, “As an RA, I recommend meeting in a neutral setting where you can be respectful towards one another, address the issue, and resolve it.”

Harold Hillyard, Assistant Director of Residential Life pointed out, “We train our paraprofessional and professional staff multiple times a year on how to conduct conflict mediations between two (or three) roommates. Conflict mediation is important as it tends to open up communication that did not exist between the roommates.”

Co-existing with others who are different is a skill that you’ll use for the rest of your life, and figuring out how to live with your college roommate can be a great learning experience. Even if you realize you won’t be best friends, try to maintain a cordial living arrangement to make the most out of college. But, you never know—you may end up building a friendship that lasts a lifetime.