Dear Conflict Coach,
My roommate and I looked at our roommate agreement again, just to see how it was working for us. I thought everything was going great, but my roommate came back with a bunch of stuff they wanted to change. I want our roommate relationship to work, so I feel like I should just give them what they want. Some of it’s okay with me (we are both getting earplugs and eye masks to deal with different sleep schedules), but some of it I’m less sure about , like no guests on school nights. How do I decide which battles to pick?
– Don’t Know Which Rights to Fight For
Dear Don’t Know Which Rights to Fight For,
First, praise to you and your roommate for pro-actively checking in on how things are going. Given the big adaptation that is college, this is a great strategy to be sure that what you hoped would work, actually does.
Second, you may be feeling a little hurt that your roommate has multiple issues they wanted to discuss. At the same time, I’m glad that they trust you, and value the relationship enough to be real with you. A little conflict is normal in these situations, and it sounds like you and your roommate are engaging in that conflict to have a more improved and honest relationship.
As far as which “battles to pick,” I’m going to reframe that as “issues on which to advocate.” My experience is that using the language of “war” to talk about normal levels of difference can make the conflict seem worse than it is. And, I have a strategy to make it even easier for you.
STEP 1: Think about how you typically approach a conflict like this.
Most of us have a typical way we approach conflict, and one theory names five different approaches or styles of conflict.
You may think you know which is your typical one, and I’ll gently advise you to be cautious that you might think you have one just because it’s the one you want to have. If you’re not sure, you can ask a few trusted friends or family how they would describe your approach. You can also take an online conflict styles assessment like this one.
That your instinct is to give your roommate what they want suggests to me you might typically choose accommodating, but conflict styles are complicated and I don’t want to assume.
STEP 2: Use this chart to think about how you should approach a given conflict.
If the conflict is one where you don’t feel a strong need to be assertive and where your roommate really hopes you’ll cooperate, then this model suggests that you should be accommodating and do what they want. The earplugs and eye masks seem like they might be in this category for you.
If the conflict is one where you feel strongly and weeknight guests sound like this then you should probably be competing, especially if it’s not important to your roommate or collaborating if your roommate also feels strongly about the topic.
The good news is that whatever you or your roommate’s typical approach to conflict is, you can adapt to the specific conflict, which should help you both have good outcomes on your way towards being roommates who respect each other.
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