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Nine ways to solve your flatmate problems

Have a problem with your flatmates, but don’t know how to deal with it? Check out these tips for resolving conflict.

Conflict is a natural part of life. Everyone has different needs and wants: for example, you need the kitchen to be fit for human habitation, and your flatmate wants to go to the pub instead of doing their washing up.

Conflict is normal, but if you deal with it badly it can escalate until nobody in your flat will talk to anyone else and you have to communicate entirely through sarcastic notes on the fridge. Deal with it well, however, and you can solve your problems and 

1: Calm down

Feeling angry? Take a step back from the situation for a moment. Yelling at your flatmate doesn’t help. In fact, it will make them defensive, and you’ll probably end up in a shouting match. If you argue while you’re angry, your emotions can override your thinking, and you might make the situation worse. Calm down first, then you can start to think about the conflict clearly.

This means missing out on the satisfaction of a good shout, so reward yourself by feeling quietly smug about how well you handled things.

2: Remember your relationship matters

This might be a good friendship that you want to keep, or you may just want to live in peace. Whatever the relationship means to you, be honest and tell your flatmate that you want to keep the relationship healthy. Framing the conversation like this will make your flatmate more likely to listen.

3: Keep focused

Keep the conversation focused on one issue. If your flatmate brings up something else, like: “Well, you watch TV late at night!”, either address it calmly first (“OK, let’s talk about that first”) or set it aside for later (“Can we work together on that later?”). Be extra careful not to bring up unrelated issues yourself - it can be very tempting.

4: Talk facts

Talk about facts that anyone can observe. Don’t attack the other person’s personality: just state what’s going on. Don’t say “Why don’t you ever wash the dishes?” This will make the other person defensive, and the conversation will break down. Say something like “We agreed to keep the kitchen clean, but I’ve noticed that the dishes are piling up.”

5: Talk feelings, and talk “I”

Use “I” statements to tell your flatmate how you feel. Say something like “I think that we should be responsible for our own mess, and I’m annoyed when I have to clean up your stuff.” This isn’t about making the other person guilty; you’re letting them know why the issue is important to you.

6: Find out how your flatmate feels

Conflict resolution must involve both people. Once your flatmate has listened to you, you should then find out how they feel. You could ask something like “How do you feel about what I said?” It is important to find out how they feel so that you can resolve the conflict for both of you.

7: Listen and acknowledge

Discussions like this are pointless if you don’t listen. Pay attention, and then restate what they’ve said. If they say that they’ve got a big test coming up and have been stressing about it, summarise by saying “So you’ve been putting off dishes because you’re stressed out?” This lets them know you’re listening and ensures that you understand them.

If you miss this step, you've got no chance of solving the problem: you can't suggest a solution unless you understand your flatmate's situation.

8: Take responsibility

If you are responsible for some part of a conflict, acknowledge it. If your flatmate is yelling at you because you stay up late watching TV, respect their feelings and take responsibility for your part in the conflict. 

9: Don't try to win - find a solution

A blazing row is a lot like a wall-punching competition: even if you win, you end up worse off. Instead of trying to win, focus on trying to solve the problem in a way that makes everyone happy.

A solution might be obvious once you have found out all the facts. If your flatmate is struggling to balance their time, you might offer to do the washing up together to make it faster (and more enjoyable). Or, if the problem is your late night TV watching, you could agree to watch TV earlier, keep the volume lower, buy your flatmate earplugs, or something else that you can agree on.

This won't always be easy - you might have to swallow your pride and make a few sacrifices. But in the long run, it's a lot less painful than letting the conflict fester.

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