Like nearly everything in life, there is a right way and wrong way to discuss most topics, but, some subjects are far more personal and considered “taboo” and often avoided, and, one of those topics is personal hygiene. Few people haven’t had the experience of oversleeping for something really important and had to forego a morning shower to make the appointment on time. In most cases, you might not be your freshest, but, chances are you aren’t publicly offensive smelling. (A dash of perfume or cologne can usually mask the problem until you had the chance to properly groom later in the day.) However, what if it isn’t a once in every ten years situation? What if you have an acquaintance or co-worker that really has a “stink” problem? Is it proper to let the person know they smell offensive?
Yes, but, before you go racing over to tell the person, make sure you’re not going to make a fool out of yourself by getting the facts first. Did you know certain types of medications can actually cause body odor? Did you know that lack of daily personal hygiene is usually tied to mental illness? And did you know some people have a perspiration problem that often requires medical attention? So before you point your finger in ridicule and try to make the offending person feel awful, take a minute to find out if there is an under-lying physical or mental condition that might be the main or contributing factor to the offensive body odor. Next, tact is absolutely necessary in this case, and, if you are the type that is known for just blurting something out, it is best to allow a close friend or close family member to address the person than you telling them directly. If you want to do it yourself or you’ve been elected to approach the person bring the subject up — do it privately. Don’t do it at Thanksgiving when the entire family is in ear shot or at the office party for birthdays in the month!
It’s also very tough to bring the subject up so ease into it. Once you muster the courage you can say something like “Jim, I know you’re probably well aware of the problem, but, people in the office are talking about you, and, it’s about your personal odor.” At that point, most people will be horrified and offer a reasonable explanation like their plumbing is being fixed or they have a bad tooth that is scheduled to be pulled tomorrow and offer an apology.
If the person acts disinterested or like you’re talking with a foreign tongue it is best to tell a supervisor or human resources if it is a work place problem in a confidential manner. If it is a family problem then an intervention may be necessary or a visit to a doctor may be in order at that point to expose the root of the problem.
The most important thing to remember is that you are dealing with another human being who has very real feelings and emotions. Tactfulness is everything in this situation, and, just think about how you’d feel if you were on the receiving end of this information bomb you’re about to detonate in front of your co-worker, friend or family member. Be kind and understanding, it will go a long way in helping getting the situation resolved.