- Millions of Americans in shared living situations across the country are facing the same dilemma: How can you convince a roommate to take COVID-19 social distancing and hygiene measures seriously?
- Experts advise having an open and empathic discussion with your roommate.
- During the conversation, stay calm and don’t assume attitude of superiority.
- Though having such a conversation may be uncomfortable, experts say it is a critical one that is comparable to not letting friends drink and drive because it is too risky and irresponsible.
When residents were asked to start practicing social distancing measures in Boston, B.G. immediately complied.
“I have high-risk folks in my family and one of my best friends is on immunosuppressants, which helps me understand the importance of protecting the most vulnerable members of our community,” B.G. told Healthline.
Her roommate, on the other hand, didn’t take the escalation of COVID-19 as seriously, fitting in a night out with someone she was casually dating.
B.G. felt angry, irritated, and exposed — her safety put at risk by someone she shares living space with.
Millions of Americans living in group houses across the country — many young professionals in metropolitan areas — are facing the same dilemma: How can you convince a roommate to take COVID-19 social distancing and hygiene measures seriously?
Experts shared five effective ways to approach a conversation with a roommate if you’re concerned about their social distancing behavior.
Your roommate will immediately pick up on your energy, whether it’s calm or angry, according to Alexa Fischer, a communications expert and founder of 1000 Watt Presence.
“Direct the energy of the conversation by staying calm,” Fischer urged those about to have this difficult conversation.
“These are nerve-wracking times, and grounded and calm energy creates a safe environment for [your roommate] to be heard,” she said.
If you are angry, nervous, or upset, you risk pushing your roommate away before a productive conversation can begin.
“If you want to be heard, then make sure your energy is calm and grounded before you begin speaking,” Fischer said.
Work with your own energy by calming your nervous system before the conversation by meditating, listening to great music, or taking a shower.
Venus Nicolino, PhD, a clinical psychologist, stresses that coming from a place of understanding is important.
By empathizing, you can make your case for social distancing based on your roommate’s reason for resisting the measures — whether it’s giving up their social life or routine.
Many people in group houses are young and having exciting, formative experiences.
“They’re at a point in their lives where these moments, these days, these years are so meaningful,” Nicolino emphasized, so start the conversation with the attitude of, “I get it.”
You can then say: “But their meaning will be lost if you, me, and an entire community gets infected. Is that a risk you’re willing to take with your life, with my life, with our parents’ lives, friends, etc.? I want you to know that I would never take that risk because you matter to me. How can we help each other stay safe during this weird time?” Nicolino offered as a script.
Take away any potential judgment and control from the conversation by sharing your feelings and the actions you are committed to taking.
“Nobody wants to be told what to do,” Fischer pointed out. “Instead of beginning the conversation with a confrontational tone, express what you are committed to doing to keep everyone in the household safe.”
For example, you can express that your intention is to stay inside as much as possible, wipe down the kitchen area with alcohol after use, and wash your hands immediately when entering your apartment to keep the other person safe.
“By focusing the conversation around your actions and the responsible steps that you are taking, you empower the other person to do the same,” Fischer explained.
“Create a win-win scenario to get everyone on board with the household plan. We are truly in this together.”
If your roommate continues to ignore
“Even if you live in an apartment, create boundaries the best you can,” Fischer said. Maintain your well-being with requests to cook in the kitchen alone, not share products, and having someone ask permission to enter your room.
“Let your health start with you. Blaming the other person isn’t helping anything,” Fischer pointed out.
No, said Nicolino. She compares it to not letting friends drink and drive because it is too risky and irresponsible.
“Same for COVID-19. Your roommate could come home germ-free but the risk to you, to them, and to others is just too great,” Nicolino said.
And B.G., back in Boston? While the conversation was awkward and upset her roommate, B.G.’s glad she said something to her roommate about following social distancing guidelines.
“I hate making people feel bad, so I had a confrontation hangover for a few days after I chastised my roommate,” B.G. shared. “While we ultimately can’t control what other people do, our words can have tremendous influence over others.”