Resolving issues

housing companions sitting at table having a discussion

Conflicts, fights, and arguments, you have likely experienced many throughout your lifetime. They often leave you feeling broken and rarely resolve the true problem. Ideally, we would all address small problems as they arise, preventing them from escalating. However, it is probabilistic that even the best of us will encounter at least a few conflicts with our housing companions. 

Most often, conflicts arise because of differing values, perspectives, and opinions. It is very unlikely you will always share the same thoughts and opinions of others. In fact, life would be rather boring if that was the case. This module aims to help you maintain a harmonious home culture despite the inevitable conflicts that could occur.

Conflicts are simply not enjoyable. Most people will try to ignore and hold onto problems instead of facing them directly. Instead, adopting a proactive approach to address small issues as they come up is much more manageable. These small corrections are quick and easy to work through instead of allowing these problems to build and escalate, often leading to passive-aggressive behaviour, resentment, or outbursts of anger.

1. Don’t ignore the problem!

It is best to address an issue as soon as you notice it before any resentment starts to build. Simply be honest and upfront about what the issue is and how it makes you feel. Try not to blow it out of proportion, and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Let them know that it’s not a major problem, but it does bother you. This will provide them with an opportunity to fix the problem without feeling like you’re too upset with them.

If your housing companion approaches you regarding something you’re doing that bothers them, avoid becoming defensive. Instead, respond by thanking them for bringing it to your attention. If you were aware of it, then you would not have done it in the first place. When you remain calm, cool, and collected, everybody feels more comfortable expressing how they feel. Resolving conflict together can be very rewarding and create an even closer personal connection!

2. Elements of the conversation

Regardless of the severity, if something bothers you or violates your house rules, you need to talk about it. Here are seven key points to follow for effectively communicating problems.

Key point 1: Be direct

Get right to the point and avoid muddling the conversation with small talk. The other person likely already knows what is coming.

Key point 2: Be specific

Provide full clarity of why you are having the conversation and provide concrete examples. Explain why this is important for you.

Key point 3: The change

Explain what needs to change and what a positive outcome looks like. This provides them with something clear and tangible to work towards.

Key point 4: Guidance

Just telling someone, they need to do something often results in little change or action. Guide them towards developing a realistic plan to change their actions and behaviour. By having them develop their action plan, they will be much more likely to take action.

Key point 5: Managing emotions

Do your best to keep the conversation concise and rational. If you are a very caring person, you will likely allow for more compromises than you want.

Key point 6: Practice empathy

Put yourself in the other person’s perspective. Chances are other factors and stressors in their life that contribute to their behaviour, such as work or school stress, family, or financial issues. Remind them that you are trying to help them become a better person.

Key point 7: Allow them to process

Most people need to talk to process. Allow them to ask questions related to the subject, try to reiterate the important parts.

3. Putting it together

Initiate the conversation when you are in the right mindset and the other person is calmed down. Start by saying their name and stating the reason. Avoid threatening as it will worsen the situation.

Example: “Kate, I would like to talk to you about some things related to our shared spaces. Can we talk now?”

Get to the point you want to discuss. Avoid using harsh words such as “you always” or “you never”; instead use, “I statements.”

Example: “I feel upset with the way our kitchen is maintained. I don’t like having dirty dishes piled up in the sink as it makes me feel overwhelmed and unmotivated to cook in the kitchen.”

Propose a change to the household etiquette so that the situation does not occur again.

Example: “I want to enforce a rule that neither of us can leave dirty dishes in the sink. Failure to do so will result in a penalty, such as having to buy the other dinner for every offence.”

Agree upon a solution that you can both live with. Be prepared to make some small compromises. Let them provide their ideas of how you can accomplish this change. Let them propose a solution to place accountability on them. If you are not happy with their solution, provide an alternative that you would be happy with.

Example: “How do you feel we can best support each other and hold ourselves accountable to ensure dirty dishes are never left in the sink?”

Actively listen to what they have to say and remain emotionally empathetic towards the other person. Use your body language to communicate to them that you are listening, keep eye contact, and nod.

Note: You may uncover some underlying emotions or problems. Provide space for them to talk and practice their communication skills (with LUV), as discussed in chapter 6.

Stay on top of issues

Stay on top of maintaining good behaviour in the home by setting an example for your housing companions. If you notice that things begin to slip, address these small issues before they can grow to become a serious problem. If your existing house rules are not working, sit down with your housing companions and discuss establishing new rules that will better align with everyone’s needs.

Self reflection