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Three tips for effective communication with your roommates

By WardenJessica 10 Mar 2023

As social beings, our everyday life is embedded in layers of social relationships. Since the beginning of the academic year, I have heard many students sharing their concerns about communicating concerns or discussing conflicting views with their roommates/ flatmates/neighbours. If you share similar thoughts, you are not alone. Communication is an art (Warnecke, 2014). It can be straightforward in practice (you just say things out loud). However, at the same time, it involves different considerations, which make the process more complex.  

First, from a personal level, it is a manifestation and expression of a human’s original and creative thoughts, emotions, and purposes. Second, it takes more than two parties to make communication work, showing that communication is dynamic, interactive and non-static. It is probably because of the latter that some of you were struggling with communicating with your roommates, as you can never predict what the outcome would be or how your roommate would respond or react. In the following paragraphs, I would like to share three tips for effectively communicating with your roommates, touching upon expectations, mindset and attitude.  

1. DO NOT assume the worst! 

Sometimes, we choose not to express ourselves because of fear – being fearful of conflicts, of being hated and/or rejected by the message receiver. However, these fearful and worrying thoughts are usually imaginations in our head. According to research, 85% of your worrying thoughts did not happen eventually (Borkovec, Hazlett-Stevens & Diaz, 1999). And for the rest of the 15%, participants reported that there could be solutions that make the situation better. Also, everyone is special and unique. Though your roommate may not agree with you entirely, it does not necessarily mean that they will hate you! Give them a chance to understand your concern, meanwhile give yourself a chance to express yourself. You all deserve to be understood, respected and heard. 

2. Adopt an explorative mindset and communicate non-judgmentally  

Usually, when we start being fearful of communication, it is related to the level of sensitivity of the content, which may bring about conflicts and uneasiness in social relationships. However, as mentioned, DON’T assume the worst, and explore what the communication experience would be! To start with, try to share your thoughts without judgment. Then, invite the other person to contribute by asking inviting, open questions. Lastly, acknowledge their potential concerns regarding the topic of discussion.  

For instance, you might find your lifestyle such as studying and resting routine not compatible with your roommate’s, and that has impacted your sleep quality. To communicate your concerns, you could probably start by sharing your thoughts in a non-judgmental way. “I think, according to last week’s experience, it seems our study schedule is not very similar. There were a couple of days when you were still studying, I was about to rest. I wasn’t sleeping very well in those nights.”

Following that, ask open questions to explore what your roommate would think.

  • What do you think?
  • Any thoughts about our schedules or anything you want to share?

Meanwhile, don’t forget to acknowledge the feeling of your listener, remind them you are not there to initiate a fight.

“I know you have lots of obligations and therefore, you have to be late back in the hall sometimes.”

Pause there and give the person some space to respond to you.  

3. Listen attentively and take the time to allow changes  

You can’t control what or how the other person would respond. However, listen attentively, show your respect and try to understand them without caveat. Remember, communication is not only about content; it is an art, which also consists of emotion, attitude and intention (Warnecke, 2014). Though the content for communication may not be something exciting, the other person could definitely feel your attitude.

According to a UCLA study (Wiener & Mehrabian, 1968), in reception:

  • 55% of the messages were perceived via expression
  • 38% via the tone of voice
  • with less than 7 % relies on word

This aligns with a popular phrase by Maya Angelou (n.d.), “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Moreover, after the conversation has taken place, changes may not happen immediately. Take the time, as we are all human beings who need time and space to digest, understand, and make changes.  

In summary, communication is not merely about words and phrases, but also about mindset, attitude and emotional expressions. Try to practice the above and incorporate them in your everyday life, you may find unexpected yet wonderful outcomes in your communication process.

Dr Jessica Kong 

Warden, Passfield Hall