Beneficial Roommate Tactics
In the Beginning...
Leaving home for college is a big event, and moving into a Residence Hall and meeting a new roommate (or even rooming with an old friend) can be one of the most stressful and challenging (but fantastically rewarding) aspects of the college experience.
The information below is intended to help you make the most of your new living environment. It will suggest strategies for success and identify some common pitfalls.
What About Me?
Being aware of your own quirks, habits, and expectations will help you better understand where your roommate is coming from, and will help you communicate your needs, desires, and fears to your new roommate. Keep in mind that no two people are exactly alike; your roommate's needs and desires are not likely to be exactly the same as yours. The following tools can help you succeed in the brave new world of roommate relations:
Flexibility, Respect, Sensitivity, Honesty, Communication, Respect for Difference
Negotiation and Compromise
Living in a confined space with another human being requires flexibility and cooperation. In order to be successful as a roommate, it is highly recommended that you get used to the idea of compromise. Many decisions (for example, the issue of when and how to clean the room) will require the consent and participation of both residents.
Details, Details, Details
Believe it or not, it is often the seemingly obvious things that end up being sources of contention between roommates. Talking about these issues on the front end can often end up preventing hurt feelings and nasty confrontations down the road.
Guests: Are overnight guests acceptable? What happens if one roommate's guests infringe on the other's study time? Are both roommates' boundaries respected?
Cleanliness: How clean should the room be? Who is responsible for what chores and how often should they be done? What if one of us is a neat freak and the other is a slob?
Scheudle: What if I am an early riser and my roomate is a night owl?
Sharing Possessions: What things in the room are to be shared and what is considered private?
Although some roommate conflicts are truly irresolvable, the vast majority are the result of miscommunication or an outright lack of communication. With healthy communication most conflicts can be resolved long before the relationship becomes irreconcilable. The ability to communicate effectively is the most important and powerful tool that you can develop in your quest to create the perfect living environment. Here are some strategies to help you and your roommate foster healthy dialogue:
Talk to your roommate directly: If you talk about your roommate behind his or her back, it will undermine the trust in your relationship and make it difficult to resolve your issues.
Be direct, but respectful: Be clear about what it is that you want. If your roommate is unaware of your issues, he or she will be unable to do anything to help resolve the issue.
Use "I" Statements: The word "I" significantly changes the tone of a statement. It allows you to take ownership of the statement and can help to mitigate some of your roommate's natural defensiveness. Note the difference between "I had a difficult time studying last night when all of your friends were over and I am afraid I failed my test as a result" and "You and your loud friends made me miss my test. I hope you're happy!"
Create a Win-Win Situation: In every conflict, there is an incentive for both parties to resolve the dilemma. Recognize your roommate's needs and desires and work so that both you and your roommate can be accommodated.
Respect Differences: Pacific University has an incredible amount of diversity in its student population. In communicating with your roommate, recognize that your values, lifestyles, expectations, and communication styles might be extremely different from one another. It is crucial that you and your roommate take the time to get to know one another as individuals and establish common ground; it is invariably easier to resolve a problem with a friend than with a stranger.
Steps to Success
First of all, remember that a third person perspective can make all of the difference in the world when it comes to conflict resolution. Consider consulting your Resident Assistant (RA), your Area Coordinator, or the counseling center to discuss the problem and identify strategies for a positive solution.
Healthy communication is key: Believe it or not, it is quite likely that your roommate is just as exasperated with you as you are with him/her. Part of being an effective communicator is knowing how to listen and accept constructive feedback. If your roommate criticizes you, it is a natural response to criticize them right back. Instead, it might be a good idea to simply accept the criticism and give yourself a few days to digest your roommate's comment. This time of reflection will help give you the ability to understand your roommate's perspective and will allow you to frame your response to the feedback in a lucid and persuasive manner.
Put those composition skills to use: In short, write things down! Many people are able to communicate more clearly and honestly in writing than in conversation. If you and your roommate are having a difficult time, writing could be an alternative to a knock-down, drag-out fight. Try sitting down with your roommate and writing letters to each other. A day or so later, after you have had time to think about it, you and your roommate can get together to talk about the letters.
Adapt: It is crucial to realize that no roommate arrangement will ever be absolutely ideal. The ability to compromise is a key skill in any community living environment. Remember, for any solution to be effective, both you and your roommate must be happy, so compromise will usually be necessary. Be realistic in your expectations. It is probably not fair to demand that your roommate never have guests in the room, likewise, it would not be fair for your roommate to insist that twenty of his/her closest friends be allowed to come over every night for pizza and dancing.
All we need is just a little patience: Living with another person is hard work. You may think that you and your roommate have solved every problem, just to have a new conflict flare up after a few weeks. Try not to lose hope. Anything as immensely complex and beautiful as a human relationship is bound to involve a tremendous amount of effort. Ultimately, that effort will pay off in the form of a challenging, satisfying, and enriching roommate experience.
You're Not Alone
Pacific University has a very talented and caring Housing and Residence Life Staff, all of whom have undergone training in mediation and conflict resolution. Moreover, nearly all of them have lived in a residence hall with a roommate at some point in their lives, so they are well equipped to offer an empathetic ear and informal advice. There is an RA on every floor of all three traditional Residence Halls on campus. They are there to help, so use them!
Residence Life Staff: contact information available here
Pacific University Counseling Center: 503-352-2191