5 tips for flatmate confrontation (when being reasonable first doesn't work)

By Oliver Gudgeon | Monday 3rd December, 2018

Flatmate confrontation is a really tricky business to be in. It requires next-level diplomacy to solve issues with people there's no hiding from.

A little over a year ago, I moved into a new flatshare. I didn't know the people and, naturally, I wanted to get along with them. But within the first few weeks I discovered one of my flatmates had a habit I couldn't be around. It was more than just a minor annoyance.

Back then, I was a real people pleaser. I'd always stayed clear of creating my own conflicts, often at my own expense. I would do everything I could to work around others. I'd wear earplugs for flatmates who fell in the door drunks at 3am every other night if it meant not having to ask them to fall in the door quietly. I just didn't like bad vibes.

This time was different. After telling a friend about this particular flatmate's habit, she told me I wasn't standing up for myself. I knew she was right: for other issues, I would compromise my comfort or self-respect and live with the consequences of not having stoof up for myself. For this one, I'd have to compromise my health: he was letting his cigarette smoke come into my room from his - and I have asthma (smoking inside also brached the agreement with the landlord).

I knew full well that I needed my flatmate to stop and I'd have to say something. And while I did try to sort it out in the right way (consulting the flatmate in a friendly way, explaining the problem the habit caused, showing consideration and offering a solution - come on, that's the right way surely), you could say it didn't exactly work. He responded: 'Your health is not my concern.

So, what do you do in situations where you confront someone and they become standoffish? While there are no hard and fast rules, there are certain steps you should take if you want to do the right thing - and certain ones you shouldn't.

Here's what I recommend doing next.

De-escalate tension

Obviously, an aggressive response to a polite request is not just infuriating, it's insulting. But believe me, the best thing to do in this situation is to either say nothing or to totally take a step back. It's easy to lash out, but the last thing you want is to turn your living arrangement into a toxic garden. If you fight fire with fire, you'll only enter yourself into a spiral you'll have to face daily. Whereas you'll never regret taking the high road by not losing your sh*t.

Recalibrate the argument

The next time you have to speak to the flatmate, show some understanding even if it feels wrong. You're all paying rent to live in that flat and you're all humans with lives and emotions etc. Remember the point of confrontation is not to create conflict; it's to solve problems. It's important to think a little bit about why that flatmate is drawn to the action you don't like. They're not doing it because they're an arsehole. They might find peace from a busy life in an activity which to you only causes anger. Or the activity might have deep psychological attachment like reminding them of a lost loved one. You never know. It's important to keep in mind that there may be reasons they will take your intervention very personally. Show them you understand them and they'll be more likely to see that you just want a solution.

Be firm, stand your ground

Staying true to your guns is not about being militant; it's about self value. Your red lines are important. If you let people cross them, you'll turn your well-being into a nice, sunny beach for the cumbersome deck chairs of others. While enforcing your red lines involves not being a super friendly socialite and while the intruder won't see it the way you see it, standing your ground demands respect. Sure enough, if your argument is valid then any reasonable outside perspective should and will favour you.

Don't be passive aggressive

Don't make a bad situation worse. Being passive aggressive may feel great, but it will only make you more stressed, show that you don't have control, and maybe even affect the other people you live with, Instead, consult friends for sanity, I started talking to a friend of mine and discovered he had exactly the same problem, but his approach was one of experimental damage. To reiterate, my point here is do not be passive aggressive. Do consult friends and think up possible scenarios that you will never actually carry out - it feels really good to be able to laugh about your problems.

Know when to escalate

Tried everything and doesn't work? Probably time to make some organisational changes. Trust me, staying is not worth the stress. Keep damage limitations in mind. If you can swap rooms, swap rooms. If you see an opportunity to move somewhere else and it doesn't cause some costly rent overlap, move. Or if you're not jointly bound by contract, tell the landlord.