Here are some things you may want to consider discussing with your roommate(s), regarding the use of your room environment.
How will you communicate with each other when there is a problem? What do you feel comfortable or not comfortable talking about?
Arranging the Room
It is important to arrange and decorate your room when you have both arrived so that each of you has some ownership in your environment. If you want to rearrange your room in the future, be sure to talk to each other first. When decorating (i.e. on your walls and outside on your door), please be considerate of each other and make sure that you are both comfortable with the posters, pictures, etc. that you display.
Chores and Cleanliness
Discuss expectations for room cleanliness. Knowing each other’s habits can help alleviate stress later. Do you prefer a clean room or are you likely to leave items lying around? How clean does your room need to be? How often should you clean – on a daily basis, or when there are visitors? How will you share responsibilities?
Where will your alarm(s) be placed? What about the snooze button? What happens if someone is sleeping through the alarm? How much sleep do you need nightly? How will your class schedules affect your sleeping habits? What time do you go to bed? What time do you need to get up? How will you work through differences in sleeping patterns? Will you use a fan or keep windows open?
During what hours will the TV or stereo be used, and at what volume?
What do you each define as noise, and what is too loud and what is not? What environment do you need for sleeping and studying in the room? At what times should noise be minimized? What activities will take priority in the room when there is a conflict? When do you plan on scheduling study time, and how much time? Will you take breaks? What are your class schedules like?
Will you buy groceries together or individually? If you have food in the room, can roommates borrow food from each other? If so, how soon should it be replaced or paid for?
Will you share or borrow any personal items? Which items cannot be used by anyone other than the owner? Set clear expectations for the use of these items: Is permission is required to use them? Is maintenance is required? If you purchase items together, how will you split the bill, and who will own them at the end of the year? If you do share some belongings, make sure they are accessible to all roommates and are not hidden or locked away.
How do you feel about privacy? How are your needs different?
How do you feel about overnight guests, or overnight guests of a different gender? How often may guests visit and how long can they stay? Does there need to be advanced notice or discussion? Where will overnight guests sleep? Do you have any rules about cleaning up after guests? Who is responsible when your guest is in the room for a long period of time and you are not? (FYI, the residence hall policy states that overnight guests are permitted if it is acceptable to all roommates, and guests can stay no more than two consecutive nights, and not during finals weeks.
Early and frequent communication is critical to keeping a good relationship with your roommate(s). Living with others can be challenging, but you can make your relationship a success by:
- Having respect
- Being flexible
- Appreciating your differences
- Being willing to communicate
- Having genuine care and regard for others
- Being willing to compromise, but also asserting your rights
- Being honest with your feelings
- Keeping in mind what rights you value the most
- Considering not what is ideal, but what is reasonable
- Working on what you can agree about, but not arguing about difficult subjects (you can ask your RA to mediate if necessary)
Communicating About Safety
You and your roommate(s) might have different ideas about safety, so it is important to discuss issues and find an agreement for keeping you, your room, and belongings safe.
Some issues may include:
- When to lock the room
- Hosting overnight guests
- Sharing passwords
- Carrying keys and student ID cards
- Allowing people to be in your room when roommates are not present
- Following residence hall, University, state, local, and federal policies and laws
- Note: Safety and security experts highly recommend that doors remain locked and un-propped, passwords not be shared, keys and ID cards remain with the owner at all times, and laws/policies are followed in order to maintain the safest living environment.
- Everyone involved in the conflict should get together at one time.
- Each person involved should agree to be up-front and honest with their feelings on the matter(s) at hand.
- Each roommate should take a turn describing their perception of the situation, how they feel about it, and what they want.
- Use “I” statements. The word “I” in a statement lets you take ownership of your feelings. It removes the blaming tone and will probably decrease your roommate’s defensiveness.
- Everyone should agree to compromise and help develop a solution. The alternative is continued tension and escalation of the original issue.
- Describe a situation that would be an acceptable solution to everyone. If you cannot agree among yourselves, bring in a third party (such as your RA) to mediate.
- Talk about what changes will be needed to resolve the problem.
- Make a plan of action and set a time frame for these changes to occur.
- Everyone should be committed to the plan, and make necessary personal changes.
- If necessary, set a future date to evaluate and re-negotiate.
Start right. Set a time to discuss the conflict, which is convenient to everyone involved. Avoid bringing it up when someone involved is not there. A good approach would be, “Could we talk about what is going on? When would be a good time for us to work things out?”
Remember that everyone involved is equal and has equal rights to be heard. Create this sense by sitting on the floor or at the table where each person is at the same level.
Set aside your desire to “win.” Winning an argument is not the same as succeeding in conflict management, where you and your roommate(s) win over the situation.
All roommates should be able to talk freely about how they feel without being uncomfortable. Make sure that each person’s ideas and feelings are being heard and are clear to everyone involved. Be willing to share your feelings honestly and don’t expect others to know how you feel about something without your explanation.
- Avoid blaming each other. Whose fault it was is irrelevant when everyone agrees to work toward a solution.
- Be task oriented in sticking to the topic. Avoid digressing into other non-related grievances or incidents.
- Avoid generalizations or blanket remarks. Avoid comments like, “You NEVER take out the trash.” A more constructive approach would be, “I felt like you didn’t do your share of taking out the trash this week.” This statement specifies a time frame, as well as articulates how you feel about the situation.
- Talk about actions that can be changed, rather than personalities. “Please do not leave your books on the refrigerator,” can lead to a change of habit, while “You’re a lazy slob,” will only lead to defensiveness and hostility. Personal attacks destroy communication of productive ideas and solutions.
- Don’t team up with another person against your roommate(s). This creates defensiveness. You should all be working together for a solution.
- Don’t psychoanalyze your roommate(s). Avoid, “Maybe you don’t realize this about yourself, but…” Most people don’t like the feeling of being analyzed or critically examined by another person, especially in a conflict situation. Instead, take responsibility for your own feelings: “What you’re doing makes me feel…”
- You don’t have to let a confrontation go from bad to worse. Take responsibility for keeping the tone of the discussion calm through your own example.
If the Arrangement Doesn’t Work
If you and your roommate(s) have made an honest but unsuccessful effort to work out your problems, you may need to realize that you cannot live together. It may be better to part ways than to continue in an uncomfortable situation. Before you come to this conclusion, you may want to consider outside help. If you and your roommate(s) have tried to work out your conflicts among yourselves, but were not able to accomplish any resolution, a third party may be able to assist. Remember that the University Housing staff is available to assist you.