Tips for successful communal living

If someone you live with does something that you find irritating or upsetting:

  • Take some deep breaths and go somewhere quiet to reflect.
  • Try to think about some of your own habits that other people might find difficult or strange.
  • Try to come up with as many different reasons (not personally insulting) as you can which might explain their behaviour.
  • If you continue to feel upset, choose a time when you and the person who you want to speak to have time and space. Offer to make them a cuppa. Start by asking how they find living with a different bunch of people.

    Make sure you listen properly but don't let it turn into a session where you start attacking someone else! Explain that you are finding living with a different bunch of people really quite challenging. Explain that you understand that everyone comes from different backgrounds and you respect that but despite this you'd like to explain how one of the things this person does makes you feel and why.

    Be clear that it’s a specific thing that that person does that you find difficult and not the person themselves. You may find that airing how you feel about the situation is enough to make you feel better about it, but make sure you check that the other person is ok and that your intention is not to upset them.
  • If you want to take it further, ask them if there is something that you do that they find difficult to come to terms with and offer to try to change it if you feel that is possible. Ask whether they would be happy to try to change what they do, explaining why this would help you out. Offer them support to change the behaviour if appropriate.
  • If possible, don’t just stop the conversation there. Think of something more neutral to talk about like how both your courses are going so that the previous topic becomes part of a longer interaction rather than 'a talk about a problem'.

Things to avoid

  • Talking about one member of the flat negatively with the others, behind their back. This is a form of bullying. Instead try to deal with any issues that you have openly and one to one and allow others to deal with their issues and speak for themselves.

    If you feel the need to talk to someone about it, it’s better to speak to someone who isn’t involved in the situation. Try to pick someone as neutral as possible. A protective Dad, Mum, sister or brother is likely to agree with everything you say and can make the problem seem even worse.
  • Leaving notes (unless they’re lovely ones of course – like 'good evening, I've made you some dinner and it's in the oven'.) You may write a note with one tone of voice in your head, and the person who sees it is likely to read a very different tone into it.

    Always deal with things face to face if you can. It gives the best opportunity for both parties to hear each other out and start to understand where the other person is coming from.
  • Attacking the person personally. As soon as a person feels personally attacked, they are likely to put up defences and are less likely to want to negotiate an agreeable solution to both parties.

    The things that upset other people are often things that the person either doesn't know they do at all; does not have a strong opinion about; has never considered the impact of that behaviour on others; simply assumes it's the way everyone does it.

    If someone can bring this behaviour to their attention in a sensitive way, the person is likely to be happy to try to change that behaviour (though keep in mind that long-held habits are difficult to change overnight).

    However if someone feels that you are attacking their very being, they will be less likely to hear what you’re saying and will be more inclined to disagree with you for the sake of it.
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