Living with roommates during the pandemic

COVID-19 has drastically affected people’s everyday lives, including living arrangements and the problems that are likely to arise because of it. 

The pandemic has caused more people, especially students, to move back home with their families. 

Roommates have had to navigate these unprecedented circumstances while following COVID-19 protocols and the majority of post-secondary education is taking place virtually, altering people’s daily routines. 

With more time spent at home during a high period of stress for many, conflict, at least in some form, is fairly common and can be expected, especially when living with other people. 

Keira Rafalski, the early resolution support coordinator at Wilfrid Laurier University, is available for Laurier students who are struggling or are in need of advice regarding conflict resolution strategies. 

Her work centres on the interpersonal relationship with roommates.

“What I do when a student comes to me and says, ‘I’m having a problem with my roommates’ or ‘I’ve been trying to have these tough conversations with people and they’re just not listening to me,’ [is] a lot of different things … I meet with them and have a chat to figure out what’s going on, [to] really understand their experience, the impact and what resolution would look like for them,” Rafalski said. 

“We need to know what they want out of this. And then what I do, if they want to enter into that mediation process, I reach out to the other people involved. So if it’s a living situation, I reach out to the other Laurier students and let them know that this person has spoken with and is interested in resolving the conflict.” 

“I meet with each of them individually, and then we all come together. Sometimes it’s just two students and myself, sometimes I’ve had up to four students who all live together… and they really build the conversation, I just guide it in a really positive way. It’s a place for them to have a safe talk,” she said. 

An important part of this process is staying on track and using it as a space to have a productive conversation that leads to a helpful outcome. 

“It’s not a place just to vent. People will get things off their chest, but it’s about saying ‘okay, now what are we going to do with that?’ We’re really resolution focused … even if they have different resolutions, we talk about and co-create what they can do to resolve and what they can do going forward,” Rafalski said. 

Students are often surprised at how beneficial and unchallenging the mediation process can be and there are other tools available for people who are trying to work through different kinds of problems. For those who are experiencing issues with t heir significant others, family members, non-Laurier roommates or just don’t feel comfortable including them in the same conversation, personal coaching can be very useful. 

“It teaches people how to have their own conversations. The second support that I offer to students is a one-on-one conflict coaching,” Rafalski said. 

“There’s no limit of the sessions. We do all sorts of things. Usually I meet with them and just find out what’s going on, what they’re hoping to achieve [and] what they’ve done todate that hasn’t worked.”

Often, the most common problems Rafalski sees are rooted in house rules and a lack of healthy communication and setting personal boundaries. 

“It’s because they can’t just sit down together and talk about it, and then it grows. That’s when they start to feel isolated and excluded,” Rafalski said. 

While Rafalski is not meeting with people in person due to COVID-19 restrictions, she is still available for phone calls or video chats through Microsoft Teams or Zoom. “There’s so much value in seeing the person when you’re going through those conversations. I do really encourage people to show up face-to-face,” Rafalski said.

It’s crucial for students to know what resources are available to them on campus, especially during a pandemic when basic parts of people’s routines are made more challenging and stressful. 

“What I really think is important that students know, is that this office does exist. I will never turn anybody away. I chat with everybody because I find that sometimes people don’t know how to tell me what they need until we actually have a conversation,” Rafalski said. 

Rafalski also provided The Cord with additional conflict resolution strategies below.

How to have a difficult conversation:

  1. Start by thinking about what the issue really is. You and your roommates might be arguing a lot, but what is at the core of the issue?
  2. Have the conversation in person. Email or text can be misunderstood easily.
  3. Start by using the facts. What could be seen and heard is a fact. By starting with the facts it allows the other person’s defensiveness to go down.
  4. Next, explain your story. How did you feel or how were you impacted are important to share so the other person knows why this is important to you.
  5. Then ask for their input. A significant part of a successful difficult conversation is giving the space for all involved to contribute to a shared understanding of the situation.
  6. Finally, agree on what you will each do next.What will you each do to help this situation? Consider if anything else needs to change to prevent further conflicts from happening.

Tips for resolving conflict:

  1. Stop, take a breath and get grounded. Put into perspective this is something you can work through.
  2. Be mindful of your non-verbal communication and behaviours that could be unknowingly exacerbating the conflict.
  3. Consider there is more than just your perspective in the matter. Be empathetic to other people involved and open to hearing from them about how they have been impacted. Really hear what they are saying and ask questions to better understand.
  4. Take responsibility for your part.
  5. Be open to engaging in dialogue about resolution. Present your ideas and ask for others’ ideas. Try to find a resolution that feels good to everyone involved. Be prepared that each of you may have to give up something to get a successful resolution.

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