conflict resolution

Become a Coliving Expert in Conflict Management

When you live closely with other people it is natural that conflicts sometimes occur, just as in every workplace or in all other settings that include groups of people. Learning to live together and find your own routines can take some time and patience.

Frequent causes of conflict include different expectations or needs, poor communication, personality differences or conflicts of interest. You might have different opinions about behaviors, methods, goals, or values about what is important in your housing situation. Although conflicts cannot be avoided, they can be managed, and conflict management is actually a skill that can be practiced. Oppositely, conflicts can be positive with a good conflict management. Overcoming obstacles together can contribute to greater understanding of each other and growing stronger bonds as roomies.

Sometimes, acceptance of each other’s differences is sufficient – other times you may need to actively set aside time to talk things through in a constructive way in order to resolve issues or change a pattern of behavior within the group.

What is a Conflict?

One definition is a “crucial discussion” where (1) the stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.

  1. All conflict management research confirms that setting a safe environment is a critical element in successful management of conflict. In a safe environment, all participants believe they will be respected and treated fairly.
  2. Try to Avoid generalizations like “never/always”, judgmental or blaming statements.
  3. Try to use the “I-Message“. Explain what specific behavior is problematic and how it affects you – “I feel frustrated because …” or “I am concerned with …”.
  4. Remember to ask the other person what they think about the situation and give the opportunity for the other to come up with their own suggestions for a solution.
  5. “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” –Ambrose Bierce. Usually, it is best to address difficult questions when you are calm. If you are hungry, tired, stressed – try to wait with having a discussion until these emotions have passed.

You have probably heard about the expression Active Listening but exactly how do you do it

  1. ENCOURAGING. To listen actively is not the same as being passively quiet while waiting for the other person to stop talking. Show your roomie that you are interested in listening by encouraging them to continue speaking. You do that with an open and friendly body language, eye-contact, nods, humming or saying yes. A more direct encouragement can be saying “tell me more about that”, “this seems important”, “please develop that” or “continue that reasoning”.
  2. ASKING your roomies open-ended questions about their experiences. Sometimes others may not have perceived a problem as you experience it. Open questions often start with “how”, “what” or “describe” and are questions that can not be answered with a yes or no but encourage other people to talk. What do you think works less well in our apartment? Describe what you want to improve in our apartment? How do you suggest we solve ____ in the best way?


    Avoid “why” questions – in their nature they easily can be critical, complaining, or assumptive.

    Compare: Why do you always leave the dishes?
    With: “I get a bit stressed about the dishes when I am about to cook, how do we solve that better as a group in the everyday living?”.

  3. MIRRORING can be important to make your roomie feel understood and is important to avoid misunderstandings and make sure that you have the same view about the conflict situation. To mirror is to retell what the counterpart just said but with your own words:

    “You are saying that…, So, you mean that… You are telling me that…”.

    You can mirror facts, statements, and other people’s feelings. Example of mirroring: Statement: “I have had a bad night” Mirroring: “I can tell that you are feeling very tired today”.

  4. SUMMARIZING. If a roomie has brought up an issue in the apartment you can make a summarization to make sure that you both have the same view of the issue before making a mutual decision about how to handle it.

If you have a larger, recurring problem it can be helpful to sit down with the group or with a person and try to do some active problem solving.

  1. Define the Problem
    It is important to define the problem clearly so that everyone has the same picture. Here you can let everyone in the group express what one thinks is problematic.


    Problem area: Kitchen boot

    Encircle the problem: In the morning there is often leftovers from dinner on tables and kitchen counters, which for some residents feels difficult in the morning when you are in a hurry and need to eat breakfast but have limited time to clean.

    Define the problem: Food leftovers remain after dinners and evening meals.

  2. Brainstorm Solutions
    Brainstorm together! Here you can bring up all sorts of concrete proposals for solutions to the problem. In this way, you create a flow of ideas where all ideas and thoughts on solutions can be written down. The clearer behaviors you describe, the easier it will be to implement the change.

    ▪️  A schedule of who is responsible for the cleaning for each day
    ▪️  Introduce apartment rules that everyone must clean the kitchen counters after cooking
    ▪️  Reward to the whole group, pizza on Friday if the group together keeps the kitchen clean
    ▪️  Collect “cleaning dots” – whoever gets the most dots gets a present or cake from the group each month.

  3. Evaluate the Proposals
    Which suggestions on the list work best for the perceived problem? Rank your suggestions.

  4. Decide which solution for the problem is the best. Make a plan and implement it!

    Decide which solution to try out. It is important that the group jointly comes up with a solution to try.


    A cleaning schedule is set up on the fridge and followed by the roomies. Pizza night on Friday.

  5. Evaluate

    After some time, you can reflect on how well the solution worked. What behavioral changes have worked well? What has worked less well? Do you need to try more solutions or come up with new suggestions for this problem?


    After resolving a conflict, celebrate that you have overcome that hurdle and reward yourself and the group! You have managed to create new norms and positive behavioral changes in your coliving apartment. Well done! 😊