Is there a conversation etiquette for telling the person in the cubicle next to me that she has bad body odor? My coworker has stinky personal hygiene. A couple of the other women in our set of cubicles and I tried giving her sweet-smelling toiletries but she doesn’t get the hint. In the winter the problem gets worse, because her sweaters, tops and jackets smell really gross. When she takes off her boots to change into her shoes, the ugly scent stinks up our space. How can we tell her with sensitivity?
–Anonymous, Chicago, IL
In private, gently chat up your coworker, saying that she might not be aware but you’ve noticed that her body has an alienating body odor. It is more than likely that she doesn’t realize she smells badly. Then add that you wondered if it was a health issue? Or was she taking a medication that causes it? Perhaps, it’s simpler: She needs to try a new dry cleaner.
It isn’t necessary to bring in other opinions, because it will only embarrass her further and she’ll hate you even more. Confide in her that you’ve found you simply have to shower and put on deodorant every day, as well as fresh clothing. Be happily enthusiastic when telling her you’ve discovered a really great new spray deodorant (Dove, Weleda, or Aesop) that makes you smell amazingly fresh and actually works. You may see her face drop but you’re confiding in her.
It might be hard to believe, but many people with bad body odor aren’t able to detect the smell emanating from their armpits, feet and/or scalp. Or that the problem can be solved by treating the bacteria that produces the odor.
Thyroid disease and carcinoid syndrome can cause excessive sweating, and so can medicines such as antidepressants. Washing the armpits, private parts, and feet daily can reduce the number of bacteria that act upon the them. Some of us have more sweat and oil producing glands than others, and, in fact, it is a fairly common problem. Shaving your armpits reduces the bacterial breeding ground. Washing clothing thoroughly is essential. Never wear yesterday’s clothes because they already smell of yesterday’s perspiration. Forget about wearing boots without clean socks or tights.
Aside from suggesting botox or keyhole surgery to kill the nerves in the armpits, recommending one of the new nonaerosol deodorant sprays is the nicest thing you can do. Even if you have to convince her that Weleda deodorant spray, Dove dry spray antiperspirant, and Aesop deodorant comply with federal regulations. And that the water and alcohol in the spray evaporate instantly leaving only the scented essential oils on the skin.
Her odor could be caused be an undiagnosed medical condition or a side effect of a medication. She won’t change her hygiene routine until she understands that she has a problem, unless she already knows and doesn’t care because she is focused on a far greater worry that could possibly make her depressed. You should definitely share your concerns with a member of the company’s Human Resources team in the hope that they will intervene.
Prepare yourself for the fact that telling her may irreparably ruin your relationship. But you won’t know until you try. I always carry sugarless breath mints in my bag and once before going into a party I offered a friend with bad breath a mint as I was taking one myself, and she’s been using them ever since. Confiding in your coworker about your own awareness of your hygiene could make her more sympathetic toward you, as well as help her to help herself.
Be honest, all you really want to do is clear the air.
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