Developing and maintaining healthy roommate relationships


1. I 've never shared a room with anyone before. What can I expect from my new roommate?

Living with a roommate is obviously different from living with your family, where you knew each other so well you didn't have to think twice about it. Then, suddenly, you come to college and are expected to share a hundred square feet of space with a total stranger, who may have a totally different background, lifestyle, and personal habits. It can sound a little intimidating, but in the back of your mind you know the experience will endow you with great things like "interpersonal skills" that will help you out long after you've turned in your key to Residential Living.

You and your roommate can be very different and still have a successful roommate relationship. It is important that your expectations are realistic or you may be disappointed. Don't expect your roommate to be just like you or your friends from home. It's normal to encounter some problems. After all, it's unrealistic to expect 2 strangers who share a small space to get along all the time. Basically, getting along with a roommate involves 3 Cs: courtesy, communication, and compromise.

2. What can I do to prepare for living with a roommate?

In order to avoid difficulties with your roommate, you have to be a good roommate yourself. Think about what you need in your personal space and what you hope to get out of the roommate relationship so you can express yourself clearly. Ask yourself what you're like to live with. How do you feel about things like sharing your belongings, playing music, privacy, or neatness? Take some time to really think about these questions. You might not consider yourself a neat freak until it's somebody else's clothes on the floor. Or you might think you don't mind loud music, until Kesha is blasting from your roommate's speakers.

Now that you know what you expect from the relationship, find out what your roommate's expectations are too. When you first meet, get to know each other a little bit and talk honestly about your needs. Set some basic ground rules for what goes on in the room that you can both be comfortable with. For example, maybe you'll decide that you'll use headphones for music when you're both in the room.

When something your roommate does bothers you, talk about it, instead of letting little annoyances fester into larger hostilities. Don't expect your roommate to read your mind. Maybe your roommate grew up with 3 sisters and never thought twice about asking to borrow clothes, but for you it's a big deal, even though you never said so explicitly. Assumptions like these are the root of many misunderstandings. Remember that most people do not intentionally wish to be inconsiderate of others and what might irritate you may be totally acceptable to another (and vice versa).

3. How do I prevent conflict with my new roommate?

It's that word again: Communication. Talking about things up front and in person can save you a lot of frustration and disappointment later on. Pick a time to sit down and discuss your views on cleaning, sharing, and your individual sleeping, socializing, and study habits.  Your Roommate/Suitemate Agreement given to you by your RA, is a great way to establish expectations for all of these things.  Your agreement can always be revisited later, if someone feels the need to alter, or set new expectations.

  • Cleaning

One of the biggest areas of roommate conflict is cleaning. You may be the kind of person who doesn't notice a mess until the flies are buzzing and you can't find your desk beneath the junk, but your roommate may be just the opposite. It's helpful to sit down together when you first move in and work out a schedule for what chores need to be done and how often - things like vacuuming and taking out the trash. Find a standard of "clean" you can both agree on.  There are many different cleaning supplies available at the LLC and Village desks that you can check out and use like brooms, mops, and cleaning solutions.

  • Sharing

Another big area of roommate conflict is sharing. Set boundaries at the beginning about what things you're going to share and what you will not. While you might be fine if your roommate rummages through your closet for a broom, your roommate might see that as a huge invasion of personal space. And even if your roommate says it's fine to use their printer when you ask, they might not be okay with your using it when they are out of the room. Talk about all the potential issues, like who pays for paper and toner. And when it doubt, always ask permission. Don't just borrow the CD or eat the cookies if you haven't talked about it ahead of time.

  • Sleeping, Socializing, and Study habits

Even if you're a night owl and your roommate is an early riser, conflict doesn't have to result - but compromise will. Take some time to figure out your individual sleeping, socializing, and study habits, and work out basic rules you can both agree on. And that doesn't mean telling your roommate if they don't like your significant other sleeping over that they can sleep elsewhere. It means finding something that meets both your needs. Overnight guest can be a tricky thing for some, because ultimately your roommate and suitemates must be comfortable with the idea.  We want for everyone’s safety and comfort level to be respected.  Keep in mind, guests cannot stay more than 3 consecutive days.  Some key questions to ask are:

  1. What time do you usually go to sleep and get up in the morning?
  2. Can you sleep with music playing? The lights on? The windows open?
  3. Can you study with the TV on? Music playing? People talking?
  4. How late is too late for guests in the room? Telephone calls?
  5. How do you feel about overnight guests?

4. How do I resolve conflict with my roommate?

If your roommate isn't doing their part -- like they leave their smelly takeout remains in the trash but has never taken the trash out, don't fume silently around them while complaining to everyone else about what a slob they are. Talk to them. Don't wait until things build up and then explode at your unsuspecting roommate when they toss a milk carton into the overflowing trash can. This sort of "dumping" is unfair and ineffective.

  1. Talk about whatever it is that bothers you as soon after it occurs as possible. First, find an appropriate time to talk with your roommate -- don't wait until they are rushing out the door for a class, and never confront them in front of others.
  2. Before you approach your roommate, ask yourself: "What is my objective in this situation? If roles were reversed, how would I want someone to approach me?" Assume that your roommate doesn't mean to cause harm or that they're out to make your life miserable.
  3. Be sure to assert yourself. Try not to sound meek and apologetic, because then they may dismiss your concerns. But try not to sound blaming and angry either, as if they're horrible person; that will make them defensive. In both your choice of words and tone of voice, strive to come across as one friendly, reasonable adult talking to another friendly, reasonable adult. You have something important you want to say, and you assume they'll listen.
  4. While stating your case, make sure also to listen to your roommate and respect their point of view. Maybe they have had a huge test this week and totally forgot about the trash. Or maybe you've been doing some pretty irritating things yourself that have been driving them crazy. By listening non-defensively as well as talking assertively, you create a climate for resolving conflicts. Be sure to stick to things your roommate can change - the actions, not the person.
  5. And lastly, come up with a solution you're both comfortable with. Work at seeing the other person's perspective. If you're both trying to do so openly and honestly, you'll reach a fair compromise.

5. Should I try to develop a close friendship with my roommate?

A lot of people assume that their first roommate will become a friend for life. While many roommates do become good friends, it’s not absolutely necessary in order to make good roommates. Living together involves a lot of in person communication and compromise about boundaries and expectations, but it doesn’t mean that you have to agree on everything.  Often, roommates with very different views on life can help to broaden each other’s perspective, given their minds are open and willing to learn. What people may not realize is that talking and sharing ideas and negotiating conflicts don't require friendship. What this means is that the best roommates aren't always your best friends. It's just a fact that sometimes you don't want to spend more time outside your room with the person you spend some 10 hours a day within 10 feet of. After all, you weren't placed together on a friendship potential scale. But even if you don't walk away from the experience with a new best friend, living with and building mutual respect for someone who is different from you is valuable.

6. I 've tried everything to get along with my roommate, but it's still not working out. Now what?

Perhaps a third party can help. Have you asked your RA to help you with the situation? With an objective third party like an RA, you and your roommate may be able to speak honestly, hear each other out, and reach appropriate and acceptable agreements. After the mediation continue to keep your RA informed about how things with your roommate have been going. If the situation with your roommate does not improve, let your RA know and they can help to explore more options, like meeting with your building coordinator. 


Living with someone for possibly the first time ever can be a difficult and scary thing for most students.  Then, you add all the unknowns about living with someone from a different country and culture.  It can be overwhelming, but here are some resources that you can use to help build an effective roommate relationship across cultural barriers.

  • First, know that you and your roommate are in similar circumstances.  They have to overcome the same cultural barriers that you do, just from the other side of things.  They here to learn at Washburn, and are paying to utilize on campus facilities just like you are.
  • Having an international roommate doesn’t mean that it’s automatically going to be more difficult or stressful than living with anyone else.  Communication and living together can be challenging for any roommate pairing, it’s the desire to develop a good roommate relationship that usually determines success.
  • Avoid stereotyping.  If you create an image of what you think your roommate will look like and how they will act, it makes it more difficult to allow them to create their own first impressions.  Allow your roommate to tell you about who they are and what they are like, instead of going off of other’s experiences, or what you may think.
  • Try not to assume every issue is a result of cultural barriers.  It can be easy to chalk everything up to cultural differences, but that could lead you to think that it is something that is out of your control to change.  If you have an issue, address it, but leave room for them to explain what things may look like at home for them.  Example, if you feel like you and your roommate have different standards of cleanliness, it may be an individual issue instead of a cultural one.  Communicate your expectations with them and maybe ask what kind of cleaning schedule they have at home; understanding the other side of the issue is helpful.
  • Be prepared to compromise.  Compromise is a natural thing that needs to happen in any good roommate relationship.  Don’t expect that as an American your roommate needs to meet your standards and expectations.  This is a recipe for disaster in any roommate relationship.
  • The skills you learn and use to build a relationship with your roommate are important skills that can be transferred to most situations and work environments.  Communication and compromise will be something that you will use for the rest of your life!

We in the Office of Residential Living understand that living in a different culture than your own can be challenging.  Here are some things about American culture that will hopefully provide some information to you and help you to adjust better and more smoothly to life at Washburn.  Even though this information may be helpful, it is also important to understand that it is a generalization of American culture, and you are likely to experience Americans that are very different than what you may read about American culture.

  • If you need help, or want to know something, don’t be afraid to ask.  Americans will be willing to help you if you ask for it, but if you don’t ask, they will assume that you understand, and /or everything is ok.
  • Americans are typically open and direct.  They will often speak up and make their opinions heard.  You will see this in the classroom and in personal relationships.  It is not uncommon in American culture for people to challenge each other’s views and opinions and still be friends.  You may also hear the phrase, “We can agree to disagree,” acknowledging that they may have different opinions and that is ok.
  • If someone offers you something like food or drink, it is ok to accept upon the first offer if you would like it.  This is contrary to some cultures where it is considered polite to refuse two or three times before saying yes.  It is also ok to politely refuse something that is offered to you if you do not want it.
  • If you do not understand what is being said to you, it is not considered impolite to ask someone to repeat themselves, or phrase something differently.  This is similar to the idea that if you need something, ask, because Americans won’t always offer again or ask if there is something you need.
  • Homesickness and culture shock are real things that students experience.  If you are feeling like you miss home a lot and are having trouble adjusting to Washburn there are many different people who can help you: Your Resident Assistant, International Programs, or Counseling Services.
  • Know that your Resident Assistant (RA) is there to help.  They are a student living in your hall that has been trained to help residents with any of their needs.  RAs can help with everything from located resources on campus to helping mediate conflict between roommates.  If you have an issue with your living situation, your RA is the first person you should talk to about it to get help and advice!


At some point, you and your roommate may disagree and conflict may arise.  Conflict is a completely natural occurrence. You may have different needs than those that you acknowledged at the beginning of the year, or you may feel that some of your rights as a roommate are being violated. When such instances occur it is important to revisit your Roommate/Suitemate Agreement you created at the beginning of the academic year.  These agreements are not final and can be revisited as expectations and needs change and evolve, but are a good place to start when dealing with a conflict.

Whatever the cause, conflict happens so it is important to learn how to manage it constructively.  Conflicts are often rooted in poor communication, so it is important to ask yourself if you have clearly communicated your expectation(s) in regards to a certain situation to your roommate.  If the honest answer is "No," then this would be the first step in resolving the conflict.  This is why discussing your expectations early on is so vital.

When a conflict does arise it is important to discuss the problem as soon as it occurs. It is much easier to manage conflicts before they escalate.  A conflict is not a contest – there is no winner or no loser. The goal of managing a conflict should be to reach a compromise and create a solution in which both people’s requests/needs are satisfied on some level.

Your RA is always available to help you navigate conflict with your roommate or suitemates, but it is important to take steps to address the situation individually.  Your RA is there to serve as a resource for you in helping to resolve conflict, but they are not responsible for resolving conflict for you.  It is the expectation that you will put in the necessary effort to resolve any conflict between you and your roommate or suitemates.

Tips for Managing Conflict

Conflict can make us feel uncomfortable and even angry.  If you feel like your emotions may prevent you from addressing the situation in a calm and effective manner, then it would probably be best to take some time until you are feeling less emotionally charged.  Sometimes it helps to take the night, other times you may want to take 24 hours, but don't take too long, because it is important to address conflict before it becomes any bigger.  Here are some tips on managing and addressing conflict with your roommate/suitemates:

  • Breathe!
  • Remind yourself that you can solve the problem
  • Affirm and acknowledge the position of others
  • Be respectful
  • Apologize if you're wrong and accept apologies given to you
  • Try not to involve other people
  • Choose an appropriate time and place to talk
  • Don't confront your roommate/suitemate in front of other people
  • Take a break if you need one

Body language can make a difference in conflict resolution.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Use appropriate eye contact.  Maintain good eye contact, while not staring your roommate down.
  • Uncross your arms and legs
  • Have the discussion while you are both seated
  • Listen to your voice.  Is it relaxed? In control?
  • Unclench your fists
  • Try to avoid broad or abrupt gestures

Approaching the Situation

When approaching a situation with your roommate it is important to:

  • Use "I Statements" to express yourself.  An “I Statement” is a way of telling the other person about your needs and feelings without putting the other person on the defensive. Example, "I feel frustrated when you have friends over late at night while I'm trying to sleep.  In the future, I would really appreciate it if we could discuss having guests visit in advance." 
  • Avoid words that are absolute, or can be perceived as blaming: Never, don't, always, should, unless, shouldn't, can't, better not, won't, etc.
  • Include words that create partnership: Maybe, I think, what if, we, I feel, sometimes, it seems like, I wonder, etc.
  • Propose a solution to the conflict, or ask if your roommate has one in mind.  It doesn't mean that it is the ultimate solution for the situation, but it is always helpful to address conflict with a resolution in mind.  This way you both can work towards a solution that meets both of your needs.
  • Be prepared to compromise.  This is the key to resolving conflict.  It may seem difficult for some, but acknowledging and approaching the conflict is the easy part.  Coming to a resolution is where the work comes in.  Finding a compromise and working through it together is a valuable skill that will help you throughout your life.

10 Ways to Be a Good Listener

Good listening is the cornerstone of managing a conflict. We all like to be heard; it makes us feel respected and validated. Listening also helps us to understand the nature of the conflict and gives us an opportunity to appreciate the other person’s point of view.

  • Stop talking.  Give your roommate the space to talk.
  • Put the talker at ease
  • Remove distractions.  Don't doodle, shuffle papers, or answer the phone.  Close the door.
  • Empathize with them and try to see the other side
  • Be patient, don't interrupt, and don't walk away
  • Control your temper
  • Go easy on argument and criticism
  • Ask questions.  It shows you care.
  • Focus on what the person is saying, not on what you're going to say next.
  • Pay attention


 1.  Be open to compromise

  • Don’t go into your roommate relationship expecting things to go your way all the time.  Being a good roommate means being considerate of your roommate’s needs as well as your own, and finding a middle ground.

2.  Communicate your thoughts and feelings

  • Don’t expect your roommate to read your mind.  If something is bothering you communicate that to them sooner rather than later, so that you can work to resolve things while they are small, instead of waiting until they’re big.  Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if something is truly irritating, or if it’s because you stayed up all night typing a paper and might be a little extra sensitive.  Use the 24 hour rule.  If you are still upset about it 24 hours later, then you should talk to your roommate about it.

3.  Forget about Post-It notes

  • Sometimes confrontation can be a scary thing and it is tempting to just leave a note for a roommate instead of talking to them in person.  Leaving post-its, texting, Facebook messages, and Twitter are all bad ideas when it comes to relaying messages to your roommate when you all are living together.  It is really easy for your roommate to misinterpret tone in a written message, and it’s just not the kind of communication that fosters positive roommate relationships.

4.  Don’t assume ill will

  • We operate off of the assumption that nobody wants to be considered a nuisance or irritating.  If you assume that everything your roommate does is to spite you, then it will probably lead you to be accusatory in your approach to resolve conflict, which isn’t effective.  Instead, assume that your roommate did not intend to upset you, and focus on the behavior and how it affected you, as opposed to the person.

5.  Two wrongs don’t make a right

  • Just because your roommate did it first, doesn’t make it ok to continue the cycle.  If you haven’t taken steps to resolve the conflict, then you are participating in the problem just as much as your roommate may be.  Retaliation never leads to resolution of conflict.

6.  Remember to treat others how you want to be treated

  • Treat others as you would want to be treated.  It sounds simple, but in the heat of the moment we know that this can be more difficult than it sounds.  If you wouldn’t want to be the recipient of a not-so-nice note, or a mean tweet, then chances are neither would your roommate.

7.  This is most likely you and your roommate’s first time living with someone else other than family

  • Most of our residents have never lived with anyone else before, and if they have, it wasn’t necessarily in such close quarters.  Give each other some credit in that you are building skills that only come with experience.  Stick with it and follow steps like this and you will come out on the other side with many useful skills.

Facebook and other social media can be a great tool for you and your roommate to get to know each other and communicate before you arrive at Washburn, but it can also be easy to make a judgment about whether they would make a good roommate or not based solely on their profile.  Here are some tips in utilizing Facebook as a good tool and maintaining a positive image on social media.

  • First, when you look at your profile on whichever social media you use, does it reflect the image that you want people to have of you?  This is an important question to ask yourself when thinking about your social media presence.  If this is the first impression your future roommate will have of you, will it be a good one?
  • When looking at your roommate's profile, don't let this be the only means by which you define your future roommate relationship.  It can be a reference, but use things as a talking point, instead of deciding that you won't make good roommates.  Most times, people that share different views can build an excellent roommate relationship that enriches both of them with insight on each other's different perspectives.
  • If you find something that you are curious about, ask!  Use this as an opportunity to get to know each other, if you see something that you find interesting, or different from you, ask them if they would feel comfortable sharing about it.  Remember that everyone has different boundaries and may not always want to share, but it never hurts to ask.
  • Overall, just keep an open mind.  Nobody is completely summed up by their profile, yourself included.  So, give your roommate the benefit of the doubt and give it a chance to meet them in person before you make your judgments.
  • Remember that many international students may not have access to Facebook, and you may have to seek out other means to contact them.

Experiencing the cultures of the world in our community at Washburn enriches us all in many ways. As we encounter some cultural differences in our relations on campus, we have the chance to learn, reflect, practice and grow.  Here are some steps that you can take to help improve your intercultural communication skills.

  • The first days in a new environment are confusing for all students. Please be flexible, tolerant and patient to understand the additional needs of international students. When facing a communication barrier, speak slower, not louder. Allow pauses and write things down. International students may not understand immediately and will be able to refer to it later if it is in writing.

  • Pointing something out on a map can help with communication. Use handouts, visual aids, and gestures.

  • Paraphrase or check for understanding. Repeat and recap as needed.

  • Smile. Ask about them: their name, where they are from and their travel experiences to arrive here.

  • Use simple language. Avoid idioms, jargon, and slang.

  • Try to display empathy in your tone of voice.

  • Listen actively.


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