For some students, moving off campus may be a welcome reprieve from closet-sized dorm rooms and the monotony of dining commons food.
No matter where a student lives, though, he or she will most likely still be sharing a living space.
With that, conflict is bound to happen. But it’s how you deal with it that matters, said Michael Hecht, distinguished professor of communication arts and sciences. Productively dealing with differences can strengthen, rather than hurt, the relationship, he said.
How to resolve an issue depends on three main factors: the nature of the problem, the other person and the relationship between the people involved, Hecht said.
For a smaller, short-term issue, it might be easier to endure it than confront a roommate about it. If it’s an issue that’s going to aggravate someone for a long time, then students should use their communication skills to address it, Hecht said.
“There are ways of being polite to the other person and at the same time being assertive of your own needs,” Hecht said.
When it’s time to talk about an issue with a roommate, it’s best to take ownership, he said. Don’t blame the other person. Instead, someone approaching their roommate should express how they are feeling and talk about how to solve the problem together, Hecht said.
He said making some basic rules and creating a chore list early in the semester can help keep conflicts at bay, although they’re impossible to avoid altogether.
Students should pick the right time to approach their roommates about something that’s bothering them, said Ryan Steinberg, assistant director of Residence Life. It should be a time when both people can sit down and discuss the issue.
He said a resident should tell the roommate what behavior is bothering him or her, rather than criticizing the roommate’s character. When sharing a living space, students need to recognize that how people are acting is not who they are, Steinberg said.
The resident should also share why the behavior is bothering him or her and what compromises could alleviate the problem, Steinberg said.
“To me, to say, ‘Don’t do this anymore,’ is not a compromise,” he said. “An all-or-nothing situation rarely works.”
Chris Stroup, a first-year resident assistant in East Halls, said the best way for a student to deal with a problem with his or her roommate is to be open about it. Otherwise, it boils up to an explosive point, Stroup (junior-petroleum and natural gas engineering) said.
“The earlier they can talk about it, the better,” he said. “Then they don’t have to live with it. That causes tension that’s unnecessary.”
Stroup said if the conflict is one that roommates can’t resolve together, their best action is to go to a RA. That’s what they’re there for, he said.
In rooms with more than two residents, like supplemental dorms, dealing with conflict can be trickier. A resident can try to play peacemaker, but it may be wise to talk to the RA, Stroup said. That’s especially true if getting involved will cause the resident to pick sides between his or her roommates, he said.
Stroup said RAs could analyze the situation and make the best recommendations for the group.
“We’re there to be a mediator and not take sides,” he said.