Getting Along with Others

Campus team posed outdoors


By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain some of the benefits of collaboration and social interactions with a variety of people in the college environment.
  • List personal characteristics and skills that contribute to our ability to get along with others.
  • Improve our communication skills.
  • Describe how to successfully resolve a conflict with another person.


Most college students will be required to work in groups in various classes, and many workplace tasks are accomplished through committee work.  Although not without challenges, collaborating with others is a necessary life skill that has many benefits.

Some of the Benefits of Collaboration

  1. Provides more perspectives
  2. Lightens the load
  3. Produces better product
  4. Decreases loneliness and isolation
  5. Practices your interpersonal skills
  6. Builds tolerance
  7. Can be fun

A Few of the Challenges of Collaboration

  1. Tasks not completed on time
  2. Ineffective communication
  3. Personality conflicts among team members
  4. Domineering group members
  5. Conflicting schedules
  6. Members not contributing equally to the group
  7. Inability to focus on a task because of too much socializing


As humans beings are social creatures.  It’s in our nature to gravitate towards others, so we continually interact with other students and instructors. Our interaction with others form a state of interdependence, and we can learn a great deal from these interactions.

Because interacting with others is so important in college and career, it serves us well to continuously improve the skills that help us form good relationships and make the most of our experiences. Consider how these two college students are different:

John often arrives just as class is beginning and leaves immediately afterward. He makes little effort to talk with other students in the classroom, and after class he goes off to study alone or to his part-time job, where he spends most of his time at a computer screen. He is diligent in his studies and generally does well. After two months, he has not gotten to know his roommate very well, and he generally eats alone with a book in his hand. He stops by to see his instructors in their offices only if he missed a class due to illness, and on weekends and holidays he often hangs out at his parents’ house or sees old friends.
Kim likes to get to class early and sits near others so they can talk about the reading for class or compare notes about assignments. She enjoys running into other students she knows from her classes and usually stops to chat. Although she is an older working student who lives alone off campus, she often dines in a campus café and asks students she meets in her classes to join her. A few weeks into the term, she spent a weekend with a student from another country and learned much about a culture about which she had previously known little. If she feels she doesn’t understand an important lecture topic very well, she gets to her instructor’s office a few minutes ahead of office hours to avoid missing out by having to wait in line. After two months, she formed a study group with a couple other students to prepare for midterms.

These students are very different. Which do you think is more fully enjoying the college experience? Which do you think is more likely to do well academically? Why?

Recognize the Value of Social Interaction

cafe full of peopleBuilding good relationships is important for happiness and a successful college experience. College offers the opportunity to meet many people you would likely not meet otherwise. By making the most of this opportunity, you will gain a number of benefits:

  • Understanding of diverse other people and how they think and feel
  • A heightened sense of your own identity
  • Emotional comfort from friendships
  • Intellectual and emotional growth

College often offers an opportunity for new relationships and interactions with people who will challenge your thinking and help you become your best self.

Communication Skills

Communication is a means of connecting between people for the purpose of exchanging information, expressing feelings, or sharing ideas, and the two-way communication process is at the core of almost all social interactions. Communication with others can profoundly affect our lives, especially what we think and feel and what and how we learn.

Oral communication involves not only speech and listening, of course, but also nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and many other body language signals that affect the messages sent and received. Many experts believe that most people pay more attention to how people say something than to what they are actually saying. When the nonverbal message is inconsistent with the verbal message, miscommunication may occur.

Remember that communication is a two-way process. involving both speaking and listening, so it’s imprtant to continually develop both skills. Here are some guidelines for how to actively listen:

  • Talk less to listen more. Most people naturally like to share their thoughts and feelings, and some people almost seem unable to stop talking long enough to ever listen to another person. It’s important to listen actively. Focus on what the other person is saying, and avoid thinking about what you will say next.
  • Ask questions and provide feedback. Show your interest in other people by asking them about things they are saying. Show your understand by saying things such as, “So you’re saying . . .” or asking a question that demonstrates you’ve been following what they’re saying and want to know more.
  • Watch and respond to the other person’s body language. You’ll learn much more about their feelings for what they’re saying than if you listen only to their words.
  • Show the other person that you’re really listening and that you care. Make eye contact and respond appropriately with nods and brief comments such as, “That’s interesting!” or “I know what you mean” or “Really?” Be friendly, smile when appropriate, and encourage the person to keep speaking.

As you learn to improve your listening skills, think also about what you are saying yourself and how you are saying it. Here are additional guidelines for effective speaking:

  • Be honest, but don’t be critical. Strongly disagreeing may only put the other person on the defensive. You can disagree, but be respectful. Consider saying, “I don’t know, I think that maybe it’s . . . ” or “My understanding is . . .” instead of “That’s wrong!” or something similar.
  • Look for common ground. Make sure your side of a conversation relates to what the other person is saying and focus on what you have in common.
  • Avoid sarcasm or making jokes unless you know the person well. Sarcasm and humor can be easily misunderstood.
  • Know your audience. We do not speak to our parents or instructors the exact same way we speak to our closest friends or someone we just met. Adjust your language and tone appropriately.
  • Remember that assertive communication is better than passive or aggressive communication.
    • Assertive in this context means to be honest and direct in stating your ideas and thoughts; you are confident and clear and willing to discuss your ideas while still respecting the thoughts and ideas of others.
    • Passive communicators are reluctant to speak up, seems to agree with everything others say, hesitates to say anything that others might disagree with.
    • Aggressive communication is often highly critical of the thoughts and ideas of others and may be sarcastic, emotional, and even insulting.
  • Choose your conversations wisely. Recognize that you don’t have to engage in all conversations. Make it your goal to form relationships and engage in interactions that help you learn and grow as a person.

Roommate Issues

You might live on campus in a residence hall or share an apartment with new roommates. This may be the first time you have had to share a room, suite, or apartment with others who are not family members, and this situation may lead to conflicts and strong feelings that can affect your academic success.

Two women in dorm roomAs in other interactions, the keys to forming a good relationship with a roommate are communication and attitude. From the beginning, you should talk about everyone’s expectations of the other(s) and what matters most to you about where you live. Don’t wait until problems happen before talking. It’s often good to begin with the key practical issues: quiet hours for study, time for lights out, neatness and cleaning up, and shared and private possessions.

Show respect for their ideas and possessions, respect their privacy, and try to listen more than you talk. Even if your roommate does not become a close friend, you can have a harmonious, successful relationship that makes your residence a good home for both of you. Follow these guidelines to help ensure you get along well:

  • Anticipate problems before they happen. Think about things that you consider essential in your living environment and talk with a new roommate about these essentials.
  • Deal with any problem promptly. Don’t wait until a behavior is well established before speaking up. It may be as simple as a roommate using your coffee cup or borrowing your toothpaste without asking, but if you say nothing, the habit may expand to other things.
  • Be patient, flexible, and willing to compromise. It may take a while for each of you to get used to each other and establish a communication pattern of openness.
  • Be warm, use humor, and be sensitive. Telling someone that they’re doing something bothersome can be very difficult for many people. Look for the best way to communicate what you feel.
  • Get out more. Sometimes it helps to spend more time elsewhere on campus, studying in the library or another quiet place. You just might need a certain amount of time alone.

But What If You Really Have a Roommate Problem?

In some situations and with some people who will not compromise and do not respect you and your needs, a roommate can be a serious problem. In some circumstances, you may able to move to a different room. Room changes usually are not granted simply because you don’t get along, but certain circumstances may justify a change. The following are some examples:

  • Your roommate smokes in the room.
  • Your roommate uses illegal drugs, drinks alcohol underage, or conducts other illegal activities in the room.
  • Your roommate repeatedly refuses to limit activities at any hour to allow you to sleep.
  • Your roommate does anything that threatens your physical well-being or safety.
  • Your roommate denies you your rights to practice your religion or other basic rights.

If you have a problem like this, first talk with your resident advisor (RA) or other residence hall authority. They will explain the process for a room change, if warranted, or other ways for managing the problem.

Key Takeaways

  • A rich, diverse social life is an important dimension of the college experience that contributes also to academic success.
  • Getting along with others involves communication skills and a willingness to interact with different people in a number of different ways.
  • Effective listening skills are as important as expressing yourself well verbally and nonverbally.
  • Because social interactions frequently involve conflicting values, behaviors, or ideas, it’s important to respect others, stay open minded, be open to compromise, and understand how to resolve conflicts.


1. Where do you see yourself contributing to or hindering the success of a group?



2. List three or four guidelines for interacting successfully with others.



3. You are talking after class with another student with whom you’d like to be friends, but you’re distracted by a test you have to study for. If you’re not careful, what nonverbal communication signals might you accidentally send that could make the other person feel you are not friendly? Describe two or three nonverbal signals that could give the wrong impression.



4. What are the best things to say when you’re actively engaged in listening to another?



5. What can you do if you have roommate issues?