Office of Student Conflict Resolution

Every RA knows or quickly learns that this job is unpredictable. Each day brings a new adventure, duty situation, or conflict that we imagine could have never possibly happened anywhere else on this planet, ever. While we must learn to adapt and roll with the punches, there is some advice that is pretty standard when dealing with any kind of conflict. Here you will find some pieces of knowledge that returning RAs & Hall Directors swear by when confronting conflict on their floors and in their buildings. 

  1. Don’t be a victim of believing the first person who comes to talk to you about a roommate conflict. It’s really important to take what this person is saying seriously, but it’s just as important to give the other roommate just as much time to share their own perspective and experience. Listen to both sides before passing any kind of judgment on a situation or taking action.
  2. Never take one person’s side over the other. If one of your friends is involved with the conflict, it may be best, and completely acceptable to ask a fellow staff member to step in for you.
  3. Listen carefully to the details of what each person is saying. Sometimes very important information gets overlooked unintentionally. Also, pay attention to what is not being said as much as to what is being said. Silence can say just as much, if not more, than someone yelling or screaming their version of a story.
  4. Make sure to talk to each person involved individually before bringing them together to mediate. This allows for each person to feel as though their voice has been heard without someone else interrupting. This also gives you the chance to ask follow up questions and get all of the details you need before going into mediation.
  5. Remember that issues that may seem trivial to you can escalate quickly in the residence hall setting. It is important not to ignore a conflict that you don’t view as a big deal, as it may likely be a very big deal to the residents. Take the time to address any and all conflicts that are brought to your attention to avoid larger problems down the road.
  6. Keeping #5 in mind, also encourage independence for your residents, for both their sake and yours. Many times residents will come to us and complain about something their roommate does (eg. typing on the computer too loud). When we ask, “Have you talked to your roommate about that?” the answer is usually no.  At this point, it is fair to ask them to communicate their frustration to their roommate, yet also important to teach them how to do it respectfully, as this is a challenge for many.  Role-playing the scenario with the frustrated resident may help them feel more confident going into the conversation.
  7. Stay confident.  Some residents might test you and say that you don’t know what they’re going through. It’s true – you might not understand exactly how they feel.  But, you do know how to mediate the situation. Stick to what you know, and don’t get caught up in what you don’t.  Remember that OSCR can be a very helpful resource to you as you address the situation!
  8. If the situation gets violent in any way, it’s time to call Housing Security. This is something you are not trained to handle, nor are expected to.  And you won’t be of much help if you get punched in the face, right?
  9. You are human, and are going to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, take a step back and apologize, and move on.  (Learn from it though!) The best kinds of leaders are those that admit when they are wrong.
  10. Lean on your team. Getting a second opinion from a fellow co-worker or supervisor about a conflict will give you perspective and assure that you are considering all angles of a situation. It will feel good to talk through it, and prevent you from questioning your actions and decisions in the conflict.
  11. At the end of the day, follow protocol. Sometimes it seems easier to deal with things yourself or not hold your residents accountable for their actions, but you will be more respected by residents, co-workers, and your supervisor if you maintain a reputation for abiding by the policies that have been implemented. Know the policy, and if you don’t know…ask.
  12. Above all else, be yourself and trust your instincts. Every RA is going to handle conflict a little bit differently. It is expected that you find your own style so that you can mediate in a way that is natural for you—not from a script. By staying true to yourself, your residents will be naturally drawn towards you as an authoritative figure, as well as a friend.

Author: Amy Ring

Amy Ring is a Residence Director at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. She is also a graduate student at Kent State University in the Higher Education Administration program.  Amy interned with the Office of Student Conflict Resolution in the Summer of 2012.

She gives special thanks to the following people who contributed valuable advice to this article: Marisa Carafelli, Melanie Coleman, Ligia Garcia, Cat Geletka, Megan Gonzalez, Miles Jones, Ana Reynolds, McKenzie Roth, and Mick Steiner.