How to Manage Conflict With a College Roommate

How to Manage Conflict With a College Roommate

September 20, 2021

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One of the biggest unknowns of college is finding a roommate. Hopefully, you found or were paired with a roommate who shares your interests, study habits, and ideal living conditions.

Sharing space with another person, whether you have been friends for years or are complete strangers, can be extremely challenging. Getting comfortable living with a roommate can take time, and you may encounter conflict.

The best way to resolve any tension is to speak to your roommate directly. Read on to learn more about how to talk to your college roommate about issues and what to do if you're struggling to resolve conflict.

4 Tips for Addressing College Roommate Problems

To manage conflict with your roommate, you must be able to directly vocalize your concerns and be willing to communicate effectively with them.

1. Be Direct

When conflict arises, you may be tempted to ignore issues or to respond with passive-aggressive behavior or comments; however, you should always be direct and honest with your roommates when an issue is bothering you.

Usually, the sooner you can hash out your grievances, the less likely your feelings will build up and cause frustration and resentment. If the problem upsets you or your temper rises, you may want to cool off for a day or two before speaking with your roommate. Consider scheduling a time to talk so you aren't interrupted.

2. Communicate Openly

Typically, many conflicts are the result of miscommunication. Being able to openly discuss how you feel and why is an important step to resolving conflict. You should be direct without being accusatory or hostile.

If you feel your roommate becoming defensive, try reframing your feelings by using "I" statements. Focus on starting sentences with "I feel" and "I need." Body language and tone can be lost in text messaging, so try to have the discussion in person.

3. Be Willing to Adjust Your Expectations

Part of communicating openly is understanding your roommate's point of view. Avoid falling into a "you versus them" mentality and keep an open mind while having discussions with your roommate.

You may also need to be willing to compromise. Although establishing and maintaining boundaries is important in any living situation, consider what your non-negotiable boundaries are and in what areas you would be willing to negotiate.

4. Give Your Roommate Time to Change

Unlike what we often see in TV shows, your conflict may not be automatically resolved after a single conversation. If your roommate is trying to change a habit, they'll likely need time to make that change.

Depending on the issue, you may need to give your roommate several weeks to adjust. If your roommate's behavior continues, you may need to speak with them again. You can also ask your resident advisor, or RA, for help if you don't see a change within a reasonable amount of time.

3 Strategies for Resolving College Roommate Conflicts

Sometimes your attempts to be open and communicate with your roommate may be unsuccessful. If you've tried to resolve your conflict and failed to make progress, you may want to consider these actionable steps.

1. Revisit Your Roommate Agreement

Many colleges have dorm students complete a college roommate agreement. This binding contract addresses each roommate's responsibilities. Some may be generic, or you and your roommate may add your own specific clauses. All parties sign this social contract for sharing space.

If your roommate is openly breaking their part of the agreement, you may want to revisit the roommate contract. Be direct and specific about how your roommate is not upholding their end of the agreement.

2. Get Mediation Help From Your Resident Advisor

You revisited your roommate agreement, but after a month or two, your roommate's behavior still hasn't changed. Now what? Consider asking your RA for help. Part of an RA's responsibilities is mediating conflict between roommates.

Although the specifics of roommate mediation may differ among colleges, the concept is the same: Each student gets a chance to discuss the issue and express how they feel. Then, your RA will help you brainstorm options for moving forward.

The RA creates a detailed plan to be followed by all parties, including specific benchmarks and deadlines. This plan should include a step for what to do if one of the members does not comply.

3. Request a Room Transfer

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may not be able to resolve conflicts with your roommate. If you and your roommate still cannot find a way to coexist peacefully after mediation, you might consider requesting a room transfer.

Each college maintains its own room transfer policy, but typically you'll have to go through a formal request to transfer rooms. If your request is approved, you'll most likely have a short time frame to switch rooms.


Feature Image: Brian van der Brug / Contributor / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

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