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A photo of a shared kitchen with one person standing and slicing a loaf of bread and 2 people sitting at the kitchen table talking.

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You may be moving into a shared house for the first time and wonder how this will feel. Compromise will be a watchword – living with others means adapting.

Expectations are that it will be fun and it promises the freedom to finally live as you’d like. Though that’s all true, the reality of a shared kitchen and bathroom, the different hours people keep, and the way people socialise, can all be challenging experiences.

When difficulties come up with your housemates, they usually centre on things such as: a falling out, noise levels becoming unacceptable, disturbed sleep patterns, relationship break-up, standards of cleaning, etc. A sensible way to approach any of these difficulties is to agree a mutually convenient time to sit down and discuss the issues, perhaps setting a time limit so that the talk has a defined end. One person could summarise what’s been agreed so that the outcome’s clear. Things to bear in mind:

  • Stick to the issue at hand.
  • Avoid absolutes, eg ‘You never…..’/ ‘You always….’.
  • Try not to interrupt or launch into a monologue.
  • Recognise that you may not be able to solve everything in one go.
  • If it’s difficult to have your say, one technique involves a wooden spoon. The person holding the spoon has the floor, while the others listen. It’s passed on to the next person and each member takes a turn to voice their opinion.

Communicating is key

Good communication is at the heart of good relationships and becomes particularly important once everyone’s settled into their new home. Previously ignored differences begin to create tension as time goes on. To manage these situations consider the following:

Facts: Present the facts as you see them, without making judgements. For instance: ‘The bathroom still needs cleaning.’ This calm statement of fact presents a topic for discussion, and opens the way to possible cooperation, rather than: ‘You’re so lazy, you haven’t done the bathroom again!’ This fires the speaker up to get angry and is likely to provoke a strong defensive or aggressive reaction from the listener, who feels attacked.

Feelings: ‘I feel’ + an emotion: This is one of the ways of communicating that can lead to discussion rather than causing an argument. Effective assertive communication acknowledges your honest personal feelings. It lets the other person know how their behaviour has affected you. ‘When I want to cook and find the sink full of dirty dishes, I feel angry.’

If the other person does become defensive or aggressive, it’s important to say that you’re not judging or blaming, but that you do need to tell them how you feel. As well as it being healthy for you to let out your true feelings, you’re opening the door to real communication.

Fair requests: Having got the facts and feelings out without blaming or judging, you now need to take responsibility and say what it is that you want. Be specific, not vague and critical. For maximum effectiveness, combine facts, feelings and fair requests. See example:

Fact: ‘We all agreed that everyone does their own washing up in the kitchen. But you left yours for so long, I had to do it for you because it was getting in people’s way.

Feelings: ‘I feel annoyed.’

Fair request: ‘We’d like you to do your washing up more regularly and not leave your dirty dishes out’

If your housemate doesn’t like your proposal, then negotiate. Encourage the other person to come up with an alternative – remember you’re trying to find something you can both live with. You need to go into negotiation aware that in the end you might not get your own way so be prepared to compromise.

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This article is from the free online course:

Live Smart: Your Essential Guide to Living at University

University of Reading