Dealing with roommates
How to resolve three common space-sharing problems.
Tue Apr 24 2012
Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
Lack of respect for common areas
Whether you live with a Craigslist-sourced stranger who blares thrash metal in the living room at 2am or a high-school pal who’s suddenly stopped doing the dishes, you’ve got a grade-A roommate beef. To avoid noise issues, Sheila Sproule, president of the Association for Conflict Resolution—Greater New York Chapter (acrgny.org), recommends discussing ground rules ahead of time—ideally over drinks to keep things casual. Conflict-resolution expert Brad Heckman, who runs the New York Peace Institute (nypeace.org), adds: “Just be clear about what works for you, and ask about their preferences.”
Neglecting to pay rent or utilities
Both Sproule and Heckman emphasize that conversation is key. Sproule offers a few pointers, depending on whose name is on the official documents: If it’s both of you, you’re collectively liable for the missing funds, so remind the other person that the landlord could sue the two of you. If your roommate is flying solo, but you’re nervous about the repercussions, a calmly conveyed reminder might be all that’s necessary. If it’s just you, then you’re in a bind. Sproule reiterates that a direct conversation should be the first step—“maybe they’re not getting paid regularly at work, or they’re in a temporary tough spot”—but if it’s a reoccurring problem, you may need to involve your landlord. Lest things get ugly, Heckman chimes in with a couple of strategies to diffuse the situation: “Listen without interrupting, even if what you’re hearing is absolute baloney. Repeat what the person has just said, so he or she knows you’ve understood their point of view. And go easy on the venting.”
Playing the passive-aggressive card
This sort of under-the-radar hostility is funny only when it shows up on Post-it notes via Tumblr. In real life, it can lead to a lot of unnecessary angst. Heckman’s tip: “Give specific, constructive commentary on how you see the situation, and pay attention to your body language, so that you’re not unintentionally sending signals that you’re closed off to his or her grievances.” Sproule adds, “Be direct and cite specific examples of behavior.” The more explicit you are, the less wiggle room you leave for the other person to dodge the issue.