Q: How do I talk with my roommate about keeping our room/bathroom clean? (Asking for a friend)
Ah, yes. The messy roommate who either does not have a problem with living in her version of organized chaos, or says he will clean it up “soon” but “soon” only comes after finals week. This is a great example of a situation that starts out as a small irritation but grows into a large point of tension between friends (or ex-friends) living in close proximity. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind as you confront your roommate:
1. Plan what you want to share. People tend to “snap” and then spew a host of thoughts on the person, overwhelming them. To avoid this and the mess (verbal, but possibly physical as well) that follows, plan what you will say beforehand. Think about what you want to change (specifics) and how you want them to change (goals). Vague statements about wishing the room was “cleaner” won’t clearly convey your point, and might lead to conflict because your roommate feels judged as a person. Instead, think ahead so that you can share how you want a more organized room so you can find things more easily. Then you can talk about what that would look like.
2. I-statements. These create space for you to share and be heard. You’ll be speaking only for yourself, without blaming your roommate. This avoids knee-jerk reactions of defensiveness. And you won’t back your roommate into a corner with demands. An I-statement would look like, “I would like the room to be better organized and things to be put back where we agree they belong so I don’t have to search for them.”
I-statements give your roommate a chance to hear your perspective without feeling attacked, and can help “keep your tongue from evil” (Psalm 34:13). We can often be our worst when sharing our wants or needs with others. Make the point of the conversation to build understanding, rather than force agreement. This means that your roommate also gets an opportunity to share the opposing perspective.
3. Invite them to be a part of the solution. Following the opportunity I-statements create, invite your roommate to help you solve the tension you are experiencing, which is more appealing than attacking statements that make him or her defensive. Once you’ve shared your ideas, review them together to find a solution. When you include other people, they are more likely to change than if they feel forced to comply with your demands. Identify a solution you can both feel good about, and then do it. But don’t forget to check back later to see if it’s working. Good luck and I hope your “friend’s” room is cleaner the next time you visit