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Roommate Conflicts: Confrontation, Communication & Mediation

Living with roommates isn’t always easy. Sharing a living space may be stressful, and conflicts may arise. Sometimes situations that work at the beginning of the year become more difficult as the year goes on; remember that you and your roommate will be constantly growing and changing in your time at St. Norbert College. It is perfectly normal to have roommate conflicts. In fact, there is a great deal to be learned from handling a difficult situation maturely, respectfully and creatively.

Residential Education and Housing (REH) offers a number of resources to students facing roommate conflicts. Please read through the information below on roommate confrontation, communication and mediation. If you feel you need further advice on how to proceed with the situation, you should speak with your resident assistant. 

Confronting Your Roommate
Communication sometimes breaks down and you may have to confront your roommate with an issue that one of you has with the other. If this happens then it is helpful to have some idea how you are going to go about it.

How to tell if there is an issue:

  • Your roommate may not want to talk to you, may leave the room when you enter or may be complaining to friends about you.
  • Your roommate may become annoyed with you over little things.
  • Your roommate repeatedly discusses concerns indirectly about you via social media.

If you start to notice these things you should not ignore them. If a problem is addressed early, there is a better chance of it being worked out amicably.

How to address the issue:

  • Approach your roommate in private.
  • Confirm that this is a good time for both of you to talk. If one of you feels rushed or blindsided, they will be less able to communicate effectively.
  • Be direct. Discuss the issue with regard to behaviors rather than personality traits. This tactic is less likely to put your roommate on the defensive.
  • Each person should be given a chance to present what they feel the problem really is.
  • Revisit to your roommate contract. You should have it posted in the room. Which of your guidelines are working and which of them need to be reconsidered?
  • Remember that a solution will probably involve each person giving something and getting something. The solution may not be your ideal scenario, but it should be an improvement on the current state of things. 

Communicating With Your Roommates
Most roommate conflicts are the result of miscommunication or, in some cases, a total lack of communication. If you can communicate effectively, it will be much easier to develop a comfortable living environment for yourself and your roommates.

These tips should help you communicate in a healthy way with your roommate(s):

  • Talk to your roommate directly when something is bothering you.
  • Talk face to face, not over snapchat or text messaging.
  • Don’t discuss it behind their back because this can cause a breakdown in trust between you.
  • Be direct. Be clear about what is bothering you. If you don’t tell your roommate that there is a problem, they won’t be able to do anything about it.
  • Remember that communication works two ways: talking and listening. Neither one is effective without the other.
  • If you create a win-win situation, then the conflict is more likely to be resolved. Evaluate the needs of both sides before a solution is proposed, and make sure the solution is acceptable to both parties.
  • Respect each other’s differences. Everyone has different values, lifestyles, expectations and communication styles. Get to know each other and establish common ground. It is easier to solve a problem with a friend than a stranger.
  • State clearly and specifically what you want to achieve by having the conversation.

If you are upset with your roommate, chances are that they are upset with you as well. Being involved in a dialogue means that you will need to be able to listen and given everyone a chance to speak. Criticism is bound to happen and your natural reaction is going to be to criticize back, but that is only going to compound the problem. Learning to accept criticism is going to help you communicate and live with your roommate. If you both find that you are approaching the limit and things are not being resolved, agree to take some time away from the discussion to give you each time to process what is going on. This will also give you each time to develop feedback that is not going to be hurtful and won’t be fueled by anger.

Roommate Mediations 
In difficult discussions, such as roommate conflicts, it is very helpful to have an unbiased third party to help mediate the discussion. Our RAs are trained mediators, with good experience helping roommates come up with solutions to their conflicts. If you find that you and your roommate are having difficulty resolving your conflict, you should definitely approach your RA to arrange a mediation.

We believe that roommate mediations are so beneficial that first-year students are required to complete a roommate mediation before they can transfer rooms. All students experiencing roommate conflicts are strongly encouraged to participate in a mediation.

How mediations work 

  • Contact your RA, either by email or in person, to explain the situation and to request a mediation.
  • Your RA will contact all roommates to find a time that works best for everyone. It is very important that you allow enough time for each person to express themselves and to come up with a solution.
  • Even if you are the person who contacts the RA, remember that they have a responsibility to the well being of all of their advisees. Your RA will give each person a chance to be heard, and they will encourage a solution that is beneficial to all parties.
  • Your RA will bring your roommate contract as a reference. If you have updated your roommate contract since move in, it will be helpful to provide your RA with an updated copy before the mediation.
  • Remember, although the RA is a trained mediator, they are not a magician. Some roommate conflicts require a number of mediations before they find a solution. In other cases, you may find that the situation is not working even after you have all made an honest attempt at mediation. In those cases, and only in those cases, a room transfer may be the best answer.