Communication and Compromise

Healthy Lines of Communication 
In a residence hall setting, folks tend to get into one another's business from time to time. It's part of the culture, unfortunately. This makes it even more crucial that you and your roommate establish healthy lines of communication. Learning to talk directly with your roommate, especially if she isn't a close friend, can be tough. How do you approach certain topics? How do you stand up for yourself without putting your roommate down? It is possible and we're going to show you how.

  • Use "I" statements. Sitting down with your roommate and saying, "I felt upset when I didn't get the message that my mother called" is very different from saying, "You upset me when you didn't give me my mother's message." Taking ownership of your feelings removes the blaming tone from your statement and puts your roommate less on the defensive. When she is not defensive, she will listen better!
  • Maintain eye contact. Looking directly at your roommate while you explain your perspective does a great deal to strengthen your message. Eye contact communicates connectedness, assertiveness, and confidence in your message.
  • Keep it between you two. Don't rely on other friends to tell your roommate what she is doing that upsets you. Receiving blame from an outside source is sure to put your roommate on the defensive, and rightly so. Problems should be kept between the two of you unless you need professional assistance (i.e. your RA, a counselor, etc.) to work things out.
  • Avoid gossip. The rumor mill runs rampant in residence halls so, make sure you're not fueling it by talking behind your roommate's back. Steer clear of those who wish to gossip and go directly to the source.

The Art of Compromise
Ah, yes, roommates probably invented the need to compromise! No longer is it just "your room" as you may have been used to back home. Sharing a space requires flexibility and equal consideration. So, talk about some of these things before a situation requiring compromise arises:

  • I'll assert myself in situations where…
  • I feel taken advantage of when…
  • What compromise means to me is…

Sad but true, the majority of roommate conflicts occur when communication breaks down. So be proactive and strive to make your communication style healthy and effective. We offer the following tips:

  • Agree to disagree: A difference in opinion can be fine, as long as you choose to respect one another's perspectives. Don't pass judgment. There are always at least two sides to an issue.
  • Talking it through: Inevitably, you'll be displeased with something your roommate does and vice versa. Commit to working it out verbally. And don't give in to temptation to talk behind one another's backs. This will backfire, causing more problems than it's worth.
  • Leaving messages: You will come to rely on each other for communication with "the outside world" too. So, agree on what to do with phone messages, verbal "stop-bys" and door board messages now. Less will get lost in the shuffle this way.

Anger Management
Face it—there are times when you and your roommate will get on each other's last nerve. Holding it in or blowing up are definitely not the answers. That's why learning to manage your anger is so important. Consider the following suggestions when conflict arises between you and your roommate:

  • Don't argue in the heat of the moment. You're bound to say things you'll regret. Let yourself cool off to get your thoughts together and you'll wind up being much more rational and productive.
  • Use "I" statements to relay how you are feeling about the situation at hand.
  • Enlist the help of a mediator. If you and your roommate can't resolve an issue peacefully, ask your RA or a peer mediator for assistance.
  • If a physical altercation is threatened, walk away.

Passions and Peeves
Finding out what is important to one another helps roommates better understand each other. What does your roommate have a real passion for? And what are some of her pet peeves? Try discussing some of the topics below in a quest to discover more about who your roommate really is:

  • A few things that really annoy me are…
  • Some of the things I feel passionately about are…
  • When I am angry, I show it by…
  • I tend to …when jokes or derogatory comments are made about other people.
  • I feel…about having overnight guests.
  • A few touchy subjects with me include…
  • Smoking is…
  • I feel that alcohol and other drugs are…
  • When I'm stressed or feeling lots of pressure, I'll show it by…
  • I feel…about discussing…

Differences 
Differences are one of the key ways we learn from other people. Chances are, your world is going to open up as you get to know more about what makes your roommate different from you. Make yourself open to this valuable type of learning! How much do you know about your roommate's background? And how much does she know about you? Since we are all products of our roots, to truly understand where each of us is coming from, it is important to share information with one another:

  • My cultural background is…
  • My faith life involves…
  • My lifestyle choices include (i.e. choice to abstain from alcohol use, vegetarianism, etc.)
  • Things I've experienced due to my cultural/lifestyle/spiritual background include…

College life can be tough at times. Your roommate may experience difficulty and the natural human tendency is to jump in and help. However, it is important to recognize your limitations when it comes to helping. You want to make sure you are doing what is best for your roommate and yourself!