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How to Talk to Housemates About Chores

(Graphic by Graham Key / The Index) (Graphic by Graham Key / The Index)

I am having trouble getting along with my housemates and it is stressing me out. Do you have advice as to how I can productively communicate with them about household chores without feeling like I am nagging them?”

Stressed on Stuart Ave

Dear Stressed:

It is very challenging to be productive and focus when your space reminds you of an episode of the show “Hoarders.” Yet, finding a balance for chores among busy schedules and stressful times can be equally challenging.

If you and your roommate are opposites in terms of cleanliness, it’s bound to be challenge – but fear not! There is hope.  Here are some tips for negotiating expectations and finding ways to meet in the middle.

First, find a time to have a conversation, preferably when tensions are not running high.  Ask your roommate if it’s a good time to talk, and if it is, then tell them how you feel.

One of the best ways to do this is by using “I-statements.”   For example: “I appreciate your demanding schedule and I know you have a lot to do.  I feel overwhelmed when our kitchen is in disarray which makes it hard to relax after a hard day, or concentrate on my homework.  I value our friendship and hope we can figure out a different way together.”

Utilizing an “I” rather than “you” when negotiating keeps the conversation out of the defensive fog which creates impasse.  Sandwiching your request between positive statements lets your roommate know you care and understand their perspective as well.

One word you may want to avoid is the “B-word” – “But.”  For example, “I’m sorry you’re really stressed right now, but I need you to do these dishes.”  The word “but” implies an exception and therefore negates that which comes before it— and your roommate might take that to mean that you’re not really sorry at all.

Instead, use the word “and” which implies inclusion, as in, “I’m sorry you’re really stressed right now, and the dishes need to get done.  Can we work something out?”

Great question—and happy negotiating!

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How to Talk to Housemates About Chores