Managing conflict is hard. Navigating conflict within our living environment is even harder. Healthy conflict coping skills require the art of listening, accepting accountability, and mastering the dance of compromise. Our students do not always have these skill sets which can result in disastrous roommate blunders. If you find your student is voicing frustrations regarding their living situation here are a few tips to help them navigate the terrain.
1. There are 3 sides to every story. Yours, mine, and the truth.
During my tenure in Residential Life almost every time a parent called about a roommate conflict it began with “They are the worst roommate EVER!” The reality is that rarely is a conflict one sided. While you may believe you are getting an accurate description of events there are probably things your student is leaving out. Trust me that there is always more to the story. Help your student by asking reflective questions. When did this first occur and how often does it happen? How did you tell them you didn’t like it? How did they respond? Try to stay away from questions that illicit yes or no responses. Encourage accountability for their actions in the situation.
2. There is help available.
It is absolutely normal and o.k. if your student needs assistance to mediate the conflict. Encourage them early to reach out to their Resident Assistant (RA) for tips on how to navigate the situation. Typically, most residence halls also have professional full time staff who have significant experience in conflict resolution. Residential hall staff are there to help but can only be of assistance if they are aware of the issue. If your student is off campus the Counseling Center can often be utilized to help your student strategize solutions.
Remember, healthy conflict resolution is a learned skill. Having an uninvolved third party allows for an unbiased view point and can help reach a more balanced compromise.
3. Timing is important.
In the majority of conflicts I mediated the problem arose from something small that was never dealt with appropriately. The earlier your student tries to resolve the problem either on their own or with assistance the easier it is to come to a resolution that everyone can agree. Often a student will hold on to the problem until outside pressure creates a powder keg. Major conflicts spike around mid-terms and skyrocket right before finals. Encouraging them early to resolve it can save them a lot of additional stress. Conflict rarely disappears on its own.
4. Say no to social media and yes to face to face.
Posting passive aggressive tweets about their roommate has never solved the conflict. Help your student by encouraging them to address it face to face. Students are more comfortable texting and are often terrified about in person confrontation. Role playing is a great way to work through the awkward word blunders and process their own nerves. It may feel silly at first but it has always been one of my most useful tools.
5. Put it on paper.
During a mediation I would often have students write down their top three frustrations they are having with their roommate and three ways (or actions) that would show that the problem was resolved. This really helps narrow down the problem to actionable items and keeps them focused. Often times they would be amazed that there solutions were often quite similar and that they are both hoping for the same outcome.