Within the first few days after moving into your new housing assignment, you can expect your RA to stop by and talk about setting up a Roommate Agreement. A roommate agreement starts with you and your roommate(s) sitting down to learn more about each others daily routines, to set cleaning schedules, and to create a general baseline of expectations within the space. We in Housing and Residence Life (HRL) understand that a few days into your new space, everything may be great and you may even think, oh we dont need that. But, experience tells us that you shouldnt wait until the first issue arises to start practicing great roommate communication. Do you wait until the first test to start studying? Go on your first run the day of the marathon? No, and the same philosophy applies to setting up a successful living environment. That way, when the first issue comes around, you have a common baseline to start the conversation.
The first step in navigating tough conversations with your roommate is knowing that conflict happens- its inevitable and its okay!
Whether your roommate is your best friend, a great match, or completely random, at some point in the semester they are going to leave their dishes in the sink, be too loud too late at night, snooze their alarm three times, or forget to pick up toilet paper for the suite. When that time comes around, youve got three options: react, avoid, or respond. Reactions tend to tear down relationships and avoidance builds up invisible walls, while being responsive creates bridges that help connect two different perspectives. Here is your go-to guide for successfully navigating responses.
The Response Bridge
Now that you know conflict happens, the first step to respond is knowing your role. Knowing your role, includes answering the question why does xyz bother me? While your first thought may be, because we agreed to take turns taking out the trash and you never do it, think a little deeper. Why does this really bother you? Whatever the reason is, know it. All bridges have two sides and you need to know the foundation of your frustration.
Weve all fallen victim to a case of bad timing. If you try the conversation too early while youre still mad, you are likely to say the wrong thing or the right thing in the wrong way. If you try the conversation too late and youve let the issue stew or boil under the surface, there may now be an invisible wall of tension between you and your roommate. The best way to identify the moment is to assess when you are calm enough to know where youre coming from AND willing to accept some responsibility for the issue at hand.
Once youre ready, check to make sure its the right time for your roommate too. The conversation should be in person, face-to-face, and free of the distractions of other people, tv, phone, etc. Ask your roommate to talk and coordinate a time that works! Try something like, Hey I was hoping we could have a roommate check-in. Whens a good time for you?
An important tool you can use to address the conversation is the P.I.E.R method for a positive conversation, which is outlined below. (Note: If you would like additional support or to practice your P.I.E.R skills, ask your RA! They are a close-at-hand and training resource for positive conversation skills.)
- Start with the Positive - Being direct is a good thing, but while you may have been obsessing over the issue at hand, your roommate may not have even noticed (and that could be part of the issue.) Diving right into your frustrations can lead to shock, defensiveness, hurt, or anger. Instead, open the conversation with the positive. Im sharing this with you because I really enjoy living with you and want this to continue to be a positive experience for both of us.
- Lead with I - Always start with how you feel or how you are impacted by the situation as opposed to what the other person did (or did not) do. When you talk on the phone after our agreed-upon quiet hours, I feel stressed and angry because I am afraid I wont get enough sleep, rather than Youre so noisy all the time.
- Listen, Affirm, Respond, and Add -
- Listen - Honestly listen and try to understand where the other person is coming from. Do not interrupt. Accept that they may not have had time to practice what they are saying (like you may have) and listen to understand, not to poke holes, cut the other person off or fuel your own argument. If you have questions, ask.
- Affirm - Show that you were listening to understand by affirming the other persons feelings. I didnt realize that you had all of that going on last week. I can imagine how overwhelmed you must have felt.
- Respond - Directly address the places where your two perspectives are in conflict or the specific points the other person brought up. Ive been feeling a little lonely and homesick too. I understand that you want to talk to friends from home on the phone often. Or, It sounds like you are frustrated that I go to bed early and I am frustrated that you stay up late.
- Add - Work towards reconciliation or a solution, by adding your own perspective or idea. This could mean sharing something going on in your own life that impacts why you feel the way you do, apologizing for your part in the conflict, or suggesting a compromise to move forward.
- Reflect and Follow Up - A lot of people skip this step, but it can be one of the most impactful tools for building and maintaining relationships. Reflect on how the conversation went, reflect on how the changes are going, and follow up. If in reflection you realize you said things during the conversation that were more hurtful than helpful, be sure to follow up and apologize. If after a week the changes are going great, follow up and share that youve noticed the effort and really appreciate the changes. If a few days down the road the other person seems upset or intentionally not following the new changes, check in and see how they are doing. This could be a great time to revisit the conversation with an RA! Having a neutral third party, especially one trained in positive conversational skills, could be a great help.
Know Your Supports
Difficult conversations can be just that - difficult. It is important to know your support (tools, people, practices, etc.). The first support we encourage all residents to utilize is the Roommate Agreement. Next, we challenge residents to take the first step when issues arise and try the P.I.E.R method, but you dont have to do this alone. Reach out to your RA to talk through your approach and receive tips for navigating responses. And, if you do all this and the conversation still takes a dive for the deep end, reach out to your RA again. Sometimes a mediated conversation with a neutral third party can be really helpful. This is also a great time to make any necessary adjustments to your Roommate Agreement.