Roommate Communication: Beyond Basics

When we are in a conflict with another, it is an emotionally charged situation. Very few of us are lucky enough to have someone to teach us how to communicate our needs effectively in a way that is easy for others to hear. Yet, conflict is an inevitable feature in most of our relationships. By learning to communicate clearly, we can express our needs and feelings in a way that helps resolve the situation instead of making it worse. When you are in conflict with your roommate, think of it as an opportunity to practice effective communication. Here are some helpful tools to assist you with the gift of clear expression.

Observations vs. Evaluations

We are always going to have a predisposition of seeing things from our particular worldview and have our own way of organizing our experiences or making meaning of our external environment. It’s sort of like the quote that says, “We tend to see the world as we are, not as it is.”

Observations are observable facts whereas evaluations are how you feel about those facts. Words such as always, never, ever, and whenever are sometimes used to express an evaluation of a situation. For example: “You never listen to me.” Carefully distinguishing the observable facts and how you feel about those facts will help you more clearly communicate your feelings and needs.

Getting the Message Across

To make your messages more clear, use "I" language instead of "you" language. "I" language can help in the following ways:

  • Takes blame out of the statement and will help prevent the receiver from becoming defensive.
  • Allows the sender to express their feelings and thoughts.
  • Allows the sender to get to the root of the problem for them.
  • Are more thoughtful statements and helps sender to weigh their re-marks more cautiously.
When You'd Say:
Try This Instead:
"I can't..." "I can..."
"You are wrong..." "My understanding is..."
"I don't..." "I do..."
"You have to..." "It would help if you..."
"You don't understand..." "Let me clarify..."
"I don't know..." "I'll find out..."
"I have no idea..." "I know who can help..."
"I never..." "Today..."

Beware of Demands

Have you ever felt like you would be blamed or punished if you did not do what was being asked of you? If so, then you know how it feels to have someone demand something from you. Demands also tend to come with criticisms and judgment. You can steer clear of making this mistake yourself by empathizing when your request is turned down. When demanding language is used, people will either submit or rebel. Either way, the chance of working together to meet everyone’s needs is diminished.

People Shut Down When They Hear Things Like:
Find Out What They Need by Asking:
"You should know better." "Can you tell me about..."
"The house is supposed to be clean at all times." "What do you think about..."
"I deserve to have my friends over any time I want." "What is your opinion on..."
"I have the right to do..." "What do you know about..."

Identify Your Needs

Making requests in clear, positive, concrete action language expresses the desired outcome. The clearer you communicate about what you want back, the more likely it is that you’ll be successful. Be careful though, that you are making a request and not a demand. Here are some ways to begin:

  • "Would you be willing..."
  • "Would you consider…"
  • "I would appreciate it if you..."
Words that are interpretations of others: Words that express feelings when we're upset: Words that express feelings when we're content:
abandoned aggravated alive
attacked angry amused
betrayed annoyed appreciative
cheated concerned carefree
ignored confused comfortable
manipulated disappointed encouraged
misunderstood discouraged ecstatic
neglected frustrated glad
pressured hesitant inspired
put down hurt interested
rejected irritated pleased
taken for granted puzzled relieved
unappreciated resentful thrilled
unsupported sad trusting
used scared wonderful

Putting it All Together

To make your needs, feelings, and requests more clear, try using this formula:

I feel

  • specific feeling


  • specific behavior--don't use "you." Focus on the specific behavior.


  • the effect of the behavior or why it makes you feel that way

Instead of:

"You never ask for my opinion and I'm really sick of it."


"I feel hurt when I'm not asked for my opinion because I believe I have a lot of good ideas and I want to contribute to this group."

Living In Community
Commuter Life
Last Updated:
March 21, 2017
Report a problem on this page
Biola University
13800 Biola Ave. La Mirada, CA 90639
© Biola University, Inc. All Rights Reserved.