As a senior in college I have had relatively little experience with roommate conflict until this year. I was blessed freshman year to have a great roommate with whom I could live very peaceably and became very close who I have lived with for all four years of college. Even in my first two years as an RA, I did not handle many roommate conflicts, as most of the women on my halls were seniors and had figured out their living situations to a point where major conflicts rarely occurred. This year, however, I am RAing on a hall of mostly freshmen and transfer students, and since nobody on my hall knew their roommate(s) previous to deciding to come to Grove City College, there is occasional conflict.
There are definitely good ways to handle conflict with your roommate and bad ways to handle conflict, so here are some of the most important pieces of advice that I have for you after navigating through several situations this semester.
Be as direct as possible without being aggressive
Nobody likes when someone is passive aggressive towards them. Deal with the issue as directly as possible without being aggressive. If your roommate is borrowing your clothes without asking and you want her to stop or ask first, sit down with her and talk in a calm voice and do not beat around the bush. Something like “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve been borrowing my clothes a lot lately and it has been a little bit frustrating because sometimes I want to wear clothing that you’ve taken…” or “I’m really glad that we can share clothes, but I’d prefer if you asked before borrowing something of mine” is a direct way to approach the subject without escalating the situation. Attempting to deal with the situation passively, such as through leaving notes on your roommate’s desk or sending angry text messages, will often lead to a war of passivity and anger rather than resolution.
Use “I” statements
When addressing an issue with your roommate, try to focus on your actions, reactions, and feelings. Saying “I get frustrated when I can’t find my red shirt because you’ve borrowed it” is going to be a less confrontational and more successful way of approaching the topic than “You really frustrate me when you borrow my clothes.” By using “I” statements you allow your roommate to approach the conversation openly, rather than making him/her feel like they need to shut down and defend themselves.
Seek to understand
A lot of the conflicts that I have seen and heard about happen because two people are not understanding one another. In navigating conflict with your roommate, always seek to understand his/her point of view and empathize with their situation – most people are not malicious when they do something that bothers you. Along with this, give your roommate the benefit of the doubt, he/she is probably not trying to frustrate you or make your life difficult, they probably simply do not realize that it is an issue.
Make a roommate agreement
This is a great thing to do before a conflict arises, so that you can refer back to it, but it is not too late to make an agreement even if a conflict arises first. Open up a discussion for how the two of you share your room – maybe there is more that should be addressed than just the one main issue. Let this be a time where you both candidly discuss what sharing a room would ideally look like. You can Google “roommate agreement forms” and find several versions on the internet – choose one that will work for you.
Involve your RA
Talking about the conflict with your RA is not “tattle-telling.” While I cannot speak to the role of the RA in roommate conflicts at other colleges, RAs at Grove City College want to help you to navigate the situation to bring reconciliation to your relationship with your roommate. Our goal is to teach you and support you in handling the situation, not to do it for you or to yell at your roommate. Your RA is a resource that you should use, and it is always helpful to discuss the situation with him/her early on so that they are aware of the situation in case it escalates despite your best attempts to solve it. This will allow you to solve or be removed from a bad situation as easily as possible.