One of the things that college parents and their students both worry about is getting along with a college roommate. Most students have never shared a room before, and small college residence hall rooms put students in close contact. Parents and students alike realize that a good roommate relationship can be a wonderful experience, but a difficult situation can make everyone miserable. Everyone hopes for the perfect match, a new best friend, and a happily-ever-after living arrangement.
Most colleges work hard at making good roommate matches. They ask students for information about themselves and then assign roommates that have a good chance of being compatible based on lifestyle and interests. However, no matching system is perfect, and even if students are perfectly matched, conflicts are inevitable. Even if students are well prepared for the experience of living with a roommate, conflicts are inevitable. There are things that your student can do to try to minimize conflict and to deal with conflict when it arises. One thing that you and your student may not have considered, however, is that there may actually be some benefits to those inevitable situations when your student is confronted with roommate issues. We’d like to suggest four benefits or skills which your student may gain from dealing with roommate conflicts.
Many roommate issues arise because of lack of communication. Many problems can be addressed with improved communication. Your student will learn the importance of good communication to avoid issues and the benefits of communication to resolve problems.
Good communication skills may not happen automatically, and your student and her roommate may need help and guidance from residence hall staff or others, but she can learn how to talk about potential problems and how to communicate productively to discuss issues. She may learn how to listen more carefully, think critically, create a positive communication climate, and state her needs clearly and objectively. She will learn skills that will carry over to many other situations.
Your student may need to pause to consider carefully what her values are and what she considers important. She may need to think about her expectations and whether they are realistic. She may need to think about those areas in which she is willing to compromise and those that may be non-negotiable. Much of the growth that we hope for in our college age students is in the area of personal values, and living with another person in close proximity will give your student many opportunities to think about what she considers most important in life and what she is willing to let go.
When issues do arise, your student will learn how to negotiate a solution. Of course, some students are better than others at this skill, and some students have much to learn. With help from other students, residence assistants, and residence directors, your student may improve his skill in negotiation.
Your student may discover that negotiation is inevitable. Your student may discover that good negotiations keep everyone at least somewhat satisfied. Your student may learn not to offer ultimatums and not to be inflexible — and he will learn how to respond when someone else is inflexible. He may learn how to plan a conversation, approach a problem, look for multiple solutions, and close the negotiation. He’ll have an opportunity to practice his skills and improve.
Living together requires compromise. Whether it has to do with noise in the room, cleanliness, visitors, borrowing of personal belongings, or the myriad of other potential issues, students will need to learn to compromise on things in order to live together. Your student will have an opportunity to decide what matters most to him and practice compromising on those things that he is willing to let go. He’ll learn to find the middle ground, look for alternatives, and practice flexibility.
Although we often see conflict as a negative thing, and we certainly don’t want our college students to experience too much conflict — especially in their living arrangements — seeing a certain amount of conflict as a healthy thing is important. Talk to your student about potential roommate difficulties so that her expectations are realistic. Help her understand that there will be awkward or even uncomfortable times, but that she and her roommate will probably be able to work through them — and even have a stronger relationship because of the skills they will learn in the process. Help your student feel positive about her experiences and feel good about the skills she is learning.