How to Approach Conflict with Your Housemates

By Orla Randles (@orla_randles)

A guide for students

For students, May marks the start of the dreaded exam season, which is usually accompanied by long days (or even nights) in the library, essays, tight deadlines and ultimately, stress. All of these factors combined can drastically increase the likelihood of conflict between you and your housemates. The techniques used by mediators can provide you with a toolkit of approaches to either prevent disagreements escalating into full-blown arguments, or to resolve the situation once a conflict has arisen.

There may be a small number of people who find it easy to carry on with everyday life during conflict, but if we’re honest, most of us would rather have as little on our plates as possible – especially during exam period. We’ve put together a cheat sheet to help you navigate your interactions with others, so that you can hopefully live together amicably and have more time to concentrate on your studies.

Ground Rules

You can’t force someone to talk to you.

It’s not a good idea to try and force someone into a conversation if they really don’t want to talk. They may feel vulnerable or unsure of what they want to say, so giving them time to think may be necessary. There’s no harm in suggesting a time and place to sit down and go over things, but if they really don’t want to, don’t force it. They may even appreciate your willingness to be flexible and be more open to compromise later down the line.

Only address conflict in a one-to-one conversation.

To get the most out of the conversation, everyone must feel safe and equally represented. Don’t arrange a time to discuss things and then invite your two other housemates along – having a ‘three against one’ format will make your housemate more defensive and less likely to listen to your concerns. It is also best to choose a neutral location like the kitchen or the living room, rather than somebody’s bedroom.

Avoid addressing the dispute if either of the participants is intoxicated.

Mediation involves helping everyone to take a step back and consider the conflict from a more objective stance. If one or more people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the discussion isn’t likely to get very far. Ever said something you didn’t mean after a few too many? Exactly. Take the time to talk things over when you are both sober, and ideally avoid being hungover! (We know you can’t promise anything.)


Sheldon roommate agreement

You’ve agreed a time to have a chat and you’re really keen to get things sorted. Follow these tips to get the most out of the conversation:

Allow everyone to acknowledge their feelings and be honest.

This is your opportunity to express your feelings, don’t waste it by not fully addressing the issues because you feel embarrassed or you think your housemate might be dismissive. Honesty is vital to allow you both to come to a real solution, so don’t be afraid to say how you feel – it’s okay to let someone know that you’re feeling really upset about something. Also, allowing each person enough time to voice their opinion will ensure that everybody knows where they stand.

Address your needs, not just what you want to happen.

As humans, deep down we all have the same basic needs and when it comes to where we live, most of us just want to feel safe, comfortable and welcome in our own home. Don’t be afraid to let your housemate know this rather than saying things that could be destructive to open communication. Instead of saying, “It’s really selfish of you to play loud music all night, don’t you know other people live here? I wish you didn’t live with us”, try saying, “I’m feeling really stressed at the moment because of exams and I need to get a good night’s sleep after I’ve been at the library all day. If there’s loud music playing all night, I can’t get to sleep and it affects my work the next day.” See? Much easier to digest.

Avoid using language that might cause communication to break down.

It goes without saying that it’s always a good idea to avoid swearing and using aggressive language when explaining how you feel. Building on that, it is also good to avoid assigning blame to any particular person early on in the discussion – playing the ‘blame game’ is likely to make people shut down and be less open to the feelings of others. What’s more, stick to speaking in the first person and try to phrase things constructively. Phrases such as “Everyone in the house hates it when you..” and “It’s not just me who feels..” are likely to make the person you are speaking to feel outnumbered and vulnerable.

Don’t just focus on the negatives.
I hate the way you drive my car, I hate it when you stare

It might be the last thing you feel like doing, but if you can incorporate some of your housemate’s positive characteristics into the conversation, it will go a long way towards strengthening cooperation between you both. Avoid becoming Julia Stiles from that infamous scene in ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ – presenting someone with a list of their faults is not going to work here. What common ground is there between you, do you have shared interests or is there one part of their personality that really shines? Honesty can also apply here. If you’re asking someone to try and understand things from your perspective, offer them the same courtesy. Really listen to what they are saying – you’ll be amazed how people can soften when they feel that their point of view is being heard.

Be willing to compromise.

To ensure that the dispute is well and truly resolved, the solution to the problem has to work for everyone, and that will involve compromise. Forget about the one time this person did this, or that person said that – having a ‘tit-for-tat’ mentality will only hinder the process of finding a solution that fits.

Accept that sometimes things aren’t always so clear cut.

In an ideal world, a dispute would arise, the parties involved would arrange a time to air their concerns and a viable solution would be reached. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes, disputes can take a long time and many attempts to overcome. Sometimes, disputes are never fully resolved. It is important to see each step forward as constructive, no matter how seemingly insignificant the change is. You might not get your housemate to agree with your point of view and completely change their behaviour, but you might get a house of people who are constantly at war to be civil to each other on a daily basis – and for that, you should at least give yourself a pat on the back.

For more tips on mediation and conflict resolution, follow MESH on Twitter (@MESHCCS) and Facebook (MESH CCS Mediation Sheffield). Links to our social media pages can also be found on the homepage of our website.