How to deal with non-violent conflict

Living with a bunch of other people is never going to be hassle-free. Later in this guide, there is a section on moving out which explains the legal issues when a share house breaks up. However, it’s best to do what you can to avoid problems before the house falls apart.

Even in the best share houses, relationship problems can arise. Use common sense – don’t steal your housemate’s milk or play loud music at 3 am. It’s also not a good idea to have numerous friends stay over without checking it with your housemates first. If you’re in a bad mood, try not to take it out on the others – go for a walk instead.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, arguments will occur. These might be between two housemates who have different politics; or between one housemate who wants to buy a dog and the rest of the household who don’t want a dog around. Share house problems can quickly become a full-scale conflict and it’s hard to keep your temper when you see each other every day over the breakfast table.

If problems develop in the household, you and your housemates should think about going to a community justice centre for free help. These organisations provide mediation services to assist people in dispute. If you and your housemates agree to participate in a mediation, you will be able to discuss the problem in the presence of a mediator, who will help you come to a resolution (see Contact Points).

This section will not apply if the conflict becomes violent. Domestic violence can occur between housemates and it is not just limited to physical violence – it can also include verbal abuse and threats of violence. See Domestic Violence for more information about what to do in these situations.

Tips for dealing with non- violent conflict

  1. If you’re in conflict with a housemate, and there is no threat of physical violence, deal with them face-to-face if possible. This is always better than sending letters and messages, banging on walls, throwing things, or talking to other housemates about them.
  2. Plan to talk to your housemate at an appropriate time and allow enough time to do it. Don’t start when they are about to go to work, or you’ve had a terrible day or just before you have to cook dinner. It only adds to the frustration. Find a place where you can both sit comfortably and quietly for a while.
  3. Think beforehand about what you want to say. It’s important to state clearly what the problem is and how you feel about it.
  4. Don’t blame your housemate for everything or begin with your opinion of what should be done. Avoid judgemental or accusing statements, e.g. ‘You’re a demanding/lazy person…’. This will only make it harder for them to take on what you’re saying.
  5. Don’t interpret their behaviour. That is, don’t say ‘You’re not doing the washing-up just to piss me off’. Instead say ‘When you don’t do the washing-up, I get angry because it means I have to do it all’.
  6. Give your housemate a chance to tell their side of the story and what they think has been happening to cause the trouble. Be prepared to relax, listen and take everything in. It may be revealed, for instance, that the reason they won’t do the washing-up is because they’ve cleaned the bathroom every week since you moved in and are pissed off about that!
  7.  Let your housemate know that you hear what they’re saying, even if you don’t agree with what they say. Tell them you’re glad you’re talking about the problem.
  8. When you’ve reached this point, try working on the dispute together. Work out what you both have to do to resolve the problem.
  9.  Get the whole problem out in the open. Don’t leave out the part that seems ‘less important’ or is the hardest to talk about. These are the things that will ruin any solution you come up with.
  10. Agree to check with each other at a specific time in the future to see how things are going and don’t forget to do it.
  11. If you find it is too difficult to talk to your housemate or find that each time you try, you end up shouting or getting upset, call one of the community justice centres to try to arrange a mediation session (see Contact Points). However, both of you will have to be willing to participate in order for mediation to work.