Q. Could you please tell me the polite way to tell a colleague that he smells really bad? I’m not sure if it’s body odor, stale cologne or incorrectly washed clothes. I work with this very nice man, who looks well groomed, but he stinks! It is not just after lunch when he might have exercised or taken a walk; the problem is also there in the morning. Other people have also noticed. I’m not sure if I should discuss this with his manager and let her deal with it or confront him directly.
A. The answer to this often-asked question really depends on your relationship to the offender. It is never easy, but it is likely this person truly doesn’t know he has a problem and even if he is initially embarrassed, he will ultimately be grateful for your helping him. Make sure that you speak to him privately. You can say, “Ted, I don’t think you realize this, but I’ve noticed that you have the same problem I do with perspiring– I didn’t know what to do until I found Brand X deodorant, but it’s made a difference for me and it might work for you, too.” You will make Ted feel better to think that you two share a problem rather than to think that he is going around offending the entire office on his own.
If you do not have a close relationship with “Ted,” then you may certainly politely bring the subject up with his supervisor so that he or she may tactfully discuss the situation with him privately.