Finding a Roommate: Identifying compatibility

No doubt by now preparations for the upcoming school year are taking place. Making sure you have everything you'll need while you away at school, getting travel plans set, paperwork, preparing yourself for a new environment, and finding a place to live. Have you begun to consider with whom you are going to live? Many conflicts arise as a result of living with someone. Last year, in the Office for Student Conflict Resolution, 30% of all our cases were related to a roommate conflict. Yet living with a roommate can also provide a wonderful experience. Here are some tips so you can pick the best roommate for you:

  • Know your own needs and find someone who is going to best fit your lifestyle.
  • Sit down and talk to your roommate at the beginning of the year to establish some ground rules. These might include rules about guests, quiet hours, cleaning schedules, times to eat together, paying bills, how to resolve problems, etc.
  • Schedule times to talk to your roommate about the rules you've established. Do changes need to be made? How is everything going?
  • Open up the communication between you and your roommate. Most often it's not a huge conflict that separates roommates, but they stop talking about all the little things that come up. Make sure you understand what your roommate really mean.

Look around, there are plenty of apartments and plenty of roommates available, finding the best place for you is the most important. A good roommate can help create an environment that is comfortable, safe, enjoyable, and a place where you can focus on your work.


Handling Conflicts as They Arise: Skills and tips for resolving conflict

Conflict is natural; it will arise even amongst the closest of friends. The trick is in being able to resolve it effectively. Some conflicts are small and simply avoiding them will solve them. Some conflicts can be solved by accommodating the other person on issues that aren't important to you. In some cases, a compromise can be reached to arrive at a quick solution. Some conflicts cannot be resolved without discussing the situation. Whatever the situation, here are some helpful tips on resolving conflict as it comes up:

Try turning complaints into requests. For example, "You never clean up" could be changed to "Could you please clean the dishes when you're done?"

Check your assumptions. We all make assumptions about people, such as what motivates them, what they want, why they did something, etc. Talk to the person. Check your assumptions and air them openly. You might find that your assumptions were not correct, and that you arrived at an incorrect conclusion.

Communicate openly with your roommate. Create a respectful and honest environment to air problems as they come up. Repeat what people have said to you, in your own words, to make sure you understand them well. "It sounds to me like you are saying...". While we all have different ways of communicating, talk to your roommates about your preferences for talking (quiet tone, like to yell, minimal eye contact while listening, etc.)

Use "I" statements to convey how you feel. "I" statements prevent blaming or accusing the other person. For example, "You're untrustworthy and I can't count on you to do anything." changes to "I don't feel like I can trust you when you don't follow through on something"

Identify cultural differences and how they impact the situation. Many of your values, assumptions, communication patterns, and ideas about conflict were shaped by the culture in which you were raised. These basic foundations of our personality are often so ingrained that it is difficult to be aware of them, let alone analyze them in a cogent way. Take time to reflect on how your culture is reflected in your behavior. If your roommate comes from a different cultural background, understand that conflict may arise based on some very deep-rooted values and assumptions. You might have to work a little harder to arrive at a satisfactory solution to a problem.

Schedule plenty of time to discuss important issues. In this way, neither person has to rush through the discussion.


Addressing Differences: Cultural, language abilities, expectations

Whether it's with a roommate, classmate, professor, or someone else, international students are often faced with the challenge of dealing with cultural differences. Conflicts can be intra-cultural (between people of the same cultural background) or intercultural (between people of different cultural backgrounds) . Culture can be generally characterized as a set of shared interpretations about beliefs, values, and norms, which affect the behaviors of a relatively large group of people1. Here are some tips on resolving conflicts that stem from cultural differences:

Identify cultural values that are creating conflict. Ideas about privacy, importance of tradition, family values, achievement, and many other different cultural values can affect a conflict situation. The first step is identifying the role cultural beliefs are affecting the conflict.

Different views and meanings about communication can lead to conflict. Try to identify communication patterns and non-verbal clues. Ask questions when you are unsure of what the person means.

Edward Hall's High- and Low- Context Cultural patterns1

High-context communication: Meaning is either implied by the physical setting or presumed to be part of the individual's internalized beliefs, values, and norms. Very little is provided in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. For example, two people in a long-term relationship might be able to interpret even the slightest gesture or the briefest comment - the message does not need to be stated directly.

Low-context communication: Majority of information is vested in the explicit code. Consider this to be like interacting with a computer, every statement must be very precise for the computer to understand.

Communication is symbolic: meaning is derived from the perception, thought, or feeling that a person experiences. People may not interpret these messages the same way, so when involved in cross-cultural communication the likelihood is high that people will interpret the meaning of messages differently.

Be respectful of someone else's views. Just as no one can change your values and beliefs, you cannot change another persons values or beliefs so the only choice is to work through the differences.

1- Lustig, Myron and Koester, Jolene. Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures. 1999.