How to tell someone they smell …

I was delivering a workshop titled, How to Say Anything to Anyone recently in a big pharmaceutical company and I thought the focus of the conversation was going to be work related and feedback focused. I thought we would be talking about performance reviews and how to discuss with your boss how to work together.

Whilst this did comprise some of the conversations, the topic that seemed to galvanise people the most was how to tell a colleague they had an ‘odour problem’.

So, here is my advice, from that experience in 8 simple steps:

  1. Introduce the conversation – give the person control of time and place to have the conversation

“Hi, when would be a good time for us to talk about something I think will be helpful?”

“Do you have 2 minutes to talk through something…?”

  • State your motive – knowing you have a positive intent is really important for all feedback

“I am keen on us having the best working relationship possible and honesty is really important to me …”

“I want to bring something up with you which should really help you with this project …”

  • Describe the behaviour – Get to the point fast. People would rather be told the smell in 1 minute rather than it taking 10! This is the same for all feedback.

“I’ve noticed, on occasions, I can smell an odour when you are near….”

  • State the impact

“And it could make others view you negatively”

“It could affect how you’re seen in this team and that would be a shame”

  • Ask for their take/view/perception – Both people talk, be prepared to see upset or anger or confusion. It is all perfectly normal and you will be ok.

“Are you aware of this?”

“What is your perception of this situation?

“Would you agree?”

  • Offer a suggestion or a request – This helps the person be future and solution focused

“I have a suggestion which may help …”

  • Build agreement
  • Say thank you – this is really important and whilst you may want to get out of there as quickly as possible, thank the other for what might have been awkward for you and for them.

This may seem like a lot to remember however we practiced a whole series of conversations over the course of an afternoon and made huge progress in people’s confidence. The top tips are:

Practise, practise, practise – Difficult conversations are difficult, by their very nature and, as with anything else which is difficult, it is important to prepare.

Get to the point – it is all too common for people to dance around the delicate issues.

Check your motive – if you are trying to score points or get one up on the other person you are not the right one for the job. Building better relationships is the key motive here.

With practise this technique can work for all conversations you might find challenging, not just for people with personal hygiene issues. So, get out there and learn to say anything to anyone – it’s liberating and will improve your relationships when done right.