You may be hoping for roses, chocolates, a sweet serenade, a fancy dinner or a love letter from your crush or partner this Valentine’s Day (I know I am!), but don’t forget about the other important people in your life with whom to share your appreciation and love — your roommates! These are the people who greet you after a tough day, who remind you to clean the toilet and with whom you have signed a legally-binding, joint and several lease.
I know some of you may not be BFFs with your roommates and that the above sentences may make you wince. You may simply coexist under the same roof, share utilities, cross paths and greet each other only when you are in the kitchen at the same time. Or maybe you once actually liked your roommate, but conflict after conflict has built, without successful communication, and now things seem unbearable. Wouldn’t it be great if a lovey-dovey “holiday” could help smooth things over, open communication back up again and rekindle the roommate-ship? Cheesy as it sounds, it’s possible!
Community Housing Office’s main “business” is students coming in to discuss conflicts they are having with their roommate(s). We get it — living with people can be stressful, especially combined with school, jobs, family and a social life. Unfortunately, a lot of students don’t know how to communicate with each other when things get messy. This is where CHO can help. Every day we meet with students to talk about their roommate conflicts. We talk about the conflict itself, why and where the conflict arose, what the student would like to see changed and strategies for communication. Sometimes just venting, brainstorming or being heard by a neutral person is the most helpful. We help students decide how they would like to resolve the conflict, discuss how to communicate their needs better, organize a house meeting, mediate with us or find a new place to live.
“Open communication” may feel like an overused phrase, but it is one of the most successful ways of being proactive and preventing conflicts with your roommates. Sure, everyone will get into a spat here and there when they live together, but openly talking about what is going on as it happens will relieve any of those pent-up feelings that make us feel miserable, helpless and lead us to blow up and say things we don’t really mean.
Curious about your conflict style? We find that students get into conflict with one another more often when their conflict styles do not mesh and they do not understand each other’s styles. According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, there are five different styles resulting from various levels of assertiveness and cooperation. It is important to note that each style can be useful in different situations. There is no one “best style” that fits all situations, although some certainly sound “nicer” than others.
A competitive conflict style means that a person is confrontational, aggressive and must win at all costs, regardless of the needs of the other person. Often this person uses their position of authority to control a situation.
A collaborative conflict style can also be called a “problem solving” style. This style of conflict is used when both partners have a high level of respect for each other. They will consider and acknowledge the needs of the other person and work together to find a solution.
A person with a compromising conflict style will try to at least partially satisfy everyone’s needs. In order to gain something for themselves, this person will give up something else.
An accommodating conflict style means that a person puts the needs of others above their own. They utilize a high level of cooperation and a low level of assertiveness.
Lastly is the avoidance conflict style, which means that a person is non-confrontational and prefers to pass over the issue or ignore the person with whom he/she is in conflict.
If you’re living with new people next year, start talking now! In our office we have a great list of questions to ask potential and future roommates to get people communicating now about troublesome situations that might come up later (sleep/wake times, music volume, guests, parties and cleanliness, to name a few topics). One great thing to talk about is how you deal with conflict.
Come up with some house rules and get them in writing on our Roommate Agreement form. Pull out your signed copy of the form when your roommate “forgets” the rules you came up with for your household.
Roommate relationships often get overlooked, so this Valentine’s Day let them know how much you appreciate them for putting up with you!