How to have a difficult conversation with your roommate

It’s bound to happen. Your roommate agreement specifies that dishes are to be done after use, but your roommate left dishes in the sink—again. Or they’ve been loud after hours one too many times. Or they were passive aggressive about something, and now you’re convinced they hate you. 

Living with roommates can sometimes feel like an obstacle course of potential hurt feelings, but with the right attitude and game plan, difficult conversations with your roommate can actually improve your relationship. Added benefit: It’s great practice for future conflict resolution throughout your life.

male and female roommate on couch in a potential argument

Table of contents

Step-by-step guide to having difficult conversations with your roommateStep one: Expect and accept conflictStep two: Think about your role—and be prepared to compromiseStep three: Find a timing sweet spotStep four: Stick to tried-and-true methods for conflict resolution

Step-by-step guide to having difficult conversations with your roommate

Step one: Expect and accept conflict

Stumbling into a misunderstanding doesn’t mean you’ve made some sort of mistake; it means you and your roommate are both human. Conflict is part of life. If you accept it, you’ll know that finding yourself within it doesn’t mean you or your roommate are bad people. Then, you’ll be able to navigate roommate situations with grace and a growth mindset.

Step two: Think about your role—and be prepared to compromise

Once you’ve accepted that conflict will happen, you’ll also have to accept the chance that you had a hand in creating it, even if it was accidental or inadvertent. Being open to feedback might sting in the moment, but it will help you understand the other person better and work toward a mutual understanding over time.

Step three: Find a timing sweet spot

Bringing things up right away, when you’re still irked, can exacerbate a conflict. But waiting too long and letting a small thing stew isn’t great, either. After the trigger, wait until you’re cooled off enough to stay calm and articulate yourself clearly. 

Then, think about a good time to talk to your roommate: maybe when you’re both relaxing in the apartment rather than running around trying to get out the door. And try to have the conversation face-to-face if you can, so nothing gets misinterpreted through text or over the phone. 

If your roommate is hard to pin down, ask when a good time to talk to them might be. A non-threatening way to do this is to say or write something like: “Hey, I was thinking we could have a roommate check-in. What’s a good time for you this week?”

Step four: Stick to tried-and-true methods for conflict resolution

It’s important to speak from the heart when you’re addressing a conflict. Although being honest doesn't always feel comfortable, authenticity can create a bridge between two people. But it’s also important to tread lightly when people’s feelings are involved. That’s why turning to an existing framework for handling conflict can be so helpful in navigating a tough conversation. 

  • Start on a positive note: Again, while directness is good, easing into the conversation by showing that you care about your roommate and your relationship can pave the way for a more productive conversation. For example: “I’m sharing this with you because I really enjoy living with you, and I want it to continue to be a positive environment for us both.”

  • Use “I” statements: Always start with how you feel versus what they did. For example: “When you make noise after our agreed-upon quiet hours, I feel stressed and angry because I am afraid I won’t get enough sleep,” rather than “You’re so noisy all the time.”

  • Try the LARA method: If you can feel tensions mounting, consider this guide to non-violent communication developed by Bonnie Tinker for a nonprofit project supporting LGBTQ families. LARA stands for:

  • Listen: Try to legitimately hear and understand where the other person is coming from. Don’t move on until you genuinely understand. If you don’t understand, ask questions.

  • Affirm: Use an “I” statement to tell the other person that you identify with something they’ve said. 

  • Respond: Directly address the conflict and the points the other person brought up. Becoming defensive or diverting the conversation toward other pain points will make the other person feel like you haven’t heard what they said. This might mean you commit to finding a solution, apologize for your part, or simply reiterate that you hear what they’ve said and agree that it must be addressed in some way. 

  • Add: Build upon what the other person has said by adding your own perspective, something they may not know, or a new idea. This could mean you explain something going on in your life that lends insight into why this conflict occurred, or maybe you’ve faced something similar before that can help you resolve it.

After the conversation, try to accept the outcome, even if you feel uncomfortable that the conversation happened, or it wasn’t fully resolved. Sometimes, it just takes some time for things to settle.

 If your conversation didn’t tie up neatly with a handshake or a hug, follow up in a day or so by saying something like: “I just wanted to check in about our conversation the other day and give you a chance to share with me if you have something else to talk about.” This, of course, also opens the door for you to share as well.

Once you practice using these frameworks for difficult conversations with your roommate (or anyone in your life!),  handling conflict will become less intimidating over time. Try to look at those inevitable points of tension as totally natural, survivable opportunities to learn something about yourself and others.

A strong foundation and compatibility make resolving conflicts with roommates easier. Bungalow helps match you with roommates who share your living preferences and interests. 

Bungalow offers private rooms in shared homes in ten cities nationwide—and the best roommates to share them with. Find your next home on Bungalow.

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