Roommate Communication Tips


Living at home, you might have had your own room or you might have shared a room with a sibling. If you are attending a residential college this may be the first time you are sharing a room with a stranger (or even possibly more than one). People from different families and backgrounds might have very different expectations about how to manage their living space and people’s personalities can make living together a challenge at times. Some people like a neat tidy space while others are fine with a mess. Some might prefer to stay up late and some get to bed earlier. At the same time, many people have become lifelong friends with college roommates.

Once at school, here are some tips for keeping the lines of communication open with your roommate(s):

Be prepared. Before you move into your new space, review the dorms rules on issues like visitation and drinking. Also look into any policies about items you can or cannot bring in the dorm, like microwaves or furniture, before you start shopping.

Be clear. Discuss clear ground rules for drinking, smoking, bringing friends over, sleepovers, sharing food and clothing, music and TV. It’s important you and your roommate understand (and respect) each other’s expectations.

Be curious. It might take some time for you and your roommate to get to know each other personally. You can speed this process along by sharing information up front about yourself that would be helpful for your roommate to know (examples: you always like to go to bed early, you have a weekly video chat with your high school friends, when you’re studying you put on your headphones and don’t like to be interrupted) and you can encourage them to do the same.

Be honest. Try to be honest about what you do and do not feel comfortable with. Talking behind your roommate’s back can often make the situation worse. If something that is happening is bothering you, try to look for a way to tactfully bring it up.

Be flexible. Try to recognize that different people do lots of things in different ways. Even though your family or you may like a certain kind of music or art, it is fine for your roommate to enjoy different shows, art or music. Think of this as an opportunity to learn. You should consider whether what your roommate is doing is intruding on your way of doing things. The big challenge and goal of sharing living space is being able to “do your own thing” while at the same time being able to respect your roommate’s interests and needs. If you are respectful to your roommate’s concerns and attitudes there’s a good chance this will be returned.

Be communal. If you are living in a suite with several students, it is a good idea to have weekly suite meetings to discuss any problems coming up and try to develop a plan to resolve them. This is also a chance to plan some activities or projects together.

Be solution oriented. If a conflict develops in the room and you can’t work it out with your roommate easily, try discussing it with a friend outside the situation. Sometimes getting another person’s perspective can help you see the situation from another perspective and can also help to find a path to fixing the problem. If your friend can’t help, discuss the situation with your RA. RA’s are hired because they have lived in housing for a while and should have received some training in managing some basic roommate conflicts. If your RA can’t help, there are people in the housing office that might be able to help. When all else fails, sometimes a change of room might be the best option and can usually be arranged when a serious roommate conflict develops.

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