Living with a roommate can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your college career. Whether you find a new hobby, learn a new skill, or become good friends, living with a roommate can be fun! However, living with someone also has its challenges. Conflict is a normal part of roommate relationships and it is important for these conflicts to be addressed by everyone living in the room/apartment.
The Office of Residential Life & Housing Services is here to assist you with any conflict you experience with your roommates/suitemates. Below is a guide for students living in the NYU residence halls. This guide provides useful information that you can utilize in working through a conflict with your roommate. Try to utilize some of these skills in speaking with your roommate and if you need assistance in navigating your roommate relationship further, contact your RA or Residence Hall Director.
For more tips and advice on how to successfully live with a roommate please check out our Roommate Connections Handbook.
It is normal for you to be excited and anxious about living with a new roommate. Before arriving at your residence hall, you should consider reaching out to your roommate(s). Think about your own personal needs so that you can express them accurately and openly when talking. Two questions to start:
- What would make an enjoyable and secure living environment in the residence halls?
- How can you describe your lifestyle to a complete stranger?
This will give you an opportunity to get to know each other and begin to plan for your living experience. Remember, it can be difficult to get to know someone over the phone or just by looking at their social media profile, so be cautious about making quick judgments about your new roommate(s) before meeting her/him/them in person.
Additional topics that you and your roommate may want to consider discussing:
- items you will bring (TV, microwave, speakers, etc.),
- what are your own personal needs,
- if you want to decorate, etc.
**Be sure to visit the What to Bring page for a listing of prohibited items such as air conditioners, halogen lamps, candles, etc.
Please keep in mind that everyone has different beliefs, values, experiences, communication styles, and expectations. With that being said, you and your roommate may become the best of friends, or you may only see each other when you’re in your room. No matter how close you are, you have to work together to establish and maintain a positive living environment. Having the right attitude can make living with a roommate a little easier for everyone living in the room. The most important elements of living with a roommate include:
- Respecting your roommates
- Being considerate of your roommates’ thoughts and concerns
- Being willing to communicate and compromise
- Having an open mind regarding your roommates’ choices
The biggest conflicts often arise when expectations are not addressed from the beginning. Don’t put off talking to each other about your expectations, needs, quirks, and pet peeves. Speaking openly about what you expect from each other and your personal habits is a vital step that many people skip especially if you are living with a friend or someone you already know. Your RA will provide you with a Resident Living Agreement form. This form will assist you in having these conversations with your roommates/suitemates. Your RA can also assist you and your roommates/suitemates in filling out the agreement. In addition, when conflict does arise, it will be a tool you can use to begin the conversation.
Cleaning the room or apartment is an area where roommates tend to disagree. To assist you in discussing your cleaning needs in your living space, we created two cleaning schedules that you can download and fill out. These schedules will help you determine who should clean when and what needs to be cleaned. Download our sample cleaning schedule (PDF: 50 KB) or our sample excel cleaning schedule (XLS: 32 KB)
The Roommates Bill of Rights
As you create your list of guidelines, keep in mind that you have rights in your shared living space and that your roommates have rights as well. Below is a listing of those rights:
- To read and study in one’s room
- To sleep with as little disturbance as possible
- To have respectful interaction with roommate(s)
- To live in a maintained clean environment
- To have access to one’s room at all times
- To have personal privacy
- To have guests who respect the rights of other residents
- To speak openly about ideas, options, and grievances
- To be free from physical and emotional harm
- To be treated in a considerate and thoughtful manner
- To expect cooperation within reason
- To expect enforcement of residence hall and university policies
At some point, you and your roommate may disagree and conflict may arise. Conflict is a completely natural occurrence. You may have different needs than those that you acknowledged at the beginning of the year, or you may feel that some of your rights as a roommate are being violated. When such instances occur it is important to revisit the your Resident Living Agreement. Whatever the cause, conflict happens so it is important to learn how to manage it constructively. The biggest conflicts are often rooted in annoying habits that have been intolerable (remember those pet peeves?) or are the result of poor communication. This is why discussing your expectations early on is so vital. However, when a conflict does arise it is important to discuss the problem as soon as it occurs. It is much easier to manage conflicts before they escalate.
Remember: A conflict is not a contest – there is no winner or no loser. The goal of managing a conflict should be to reach a compromise and create a solution in which both people’s requests/needs are satisfied on some level.
Tips for De-Escalating a Conflict
Conflict can make us feel uncomfortable and perhaps, angry. If you feel like your emotions will prevent you from working through a conflict in a calm manner, it may be best to wait until you are feeling calmer. Here are ways to identify if you may need to wait to address a conflict:
- Speak more slowly and more softly.
- Remind yourself that you can solve the problem.
- Affirm and acknowledge the position of others.
- Be respectful.
- Apologize if you’re wrong. Accept an apology.
- Try not to involve other people.
- Don’t fight in front of other people.
- Choose an appropriate time and place to talk.
- Take a break if you need one.
Be Aware of Body Language
Body language plays a role in conflict resolution. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Make and maintain eye contact.
- Uncross your arms and legs.
- Sit down.
- Listen to your voice. Is it relaxed? In control?
- Unclench your fists.
- Take a long, slow breath. And another one.
- Use “I Statements” to express yourself. An “I Statement” is a way of telling the other person about your needs and feelings without putting the other person on the defensive. When people are put on the defensive, they often don’t hear what’s being said because they’re too busy coming up with a defense or a returning insult.
- Level with each other. “I feel X when you do Y because of Z, and in the future I’d like it if A, B, or C.” Example -- “I feel frustrated when you have guests over late at night while I’m trying to sleep. In the future, I would like to discuss when guests can visit in advance.”
- Avoid words that blame (Never, Don't, Always, Should, Unless, Shouldn't, Can't, Better not, Won't, Why)
- Include words that create a partnership to help de-escalate the situation.(Maybe, I think, What if, We, I feel, Sometimes, It seems like, I wonder)
Be A Good Listener
We all like to be heard; it makes us feel respected and validated. Listening also helps us to understand the nature of the conflict and gives us an opportunity to appreciate the other person’s point of view.
- Stop talking.
- Everything else depends on this.
- You can’t listen if you’re talking.
- Remove distractions.
- Don’t doodle, shuffle papers, or answer the phone.
- Close the door.
- Empathize with the other person. See the other side.
- Be patient. Don’t interrupt. Don’t walk away.
- Ask questions. It shows you care.
- Focus on what the person is saying, not on what you’re going to say next.
- Pay attention.
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