questionswould you tell someone if they smelled bad?


I work in a call center (in America), and because everyone is sitting right next to six other people, it's impossible to avoid these conversations whenever a person smells. Generally a supervisor pulls them aside, and approaches the subject as awkwardly but politely as possible. I haven't yet had to do it, but I would if it came up. Though frankly, I've historically had more problems with people Lysol bombing a region I was sitting in than with people who just smell bad.

In social situations, I would probably not bring it up at all. I'm not overly sensitive to smells, so I can usually ignore all but the worst.


Saying something to a supervisor is probably a good idea. There's virtually no way to say something without embarrassing him or hurting his feelings but I feel that coming from an authority figure is somehow better.

If that's not an option, just say it as nice as you can. Maybe use the compliment sandwich.


I actually had an employee that stunk to high heaven. I had to get HR involved and the legal department just to find a proper way to tell him that he stunk and he had to adhere to the company policy regarding personal hygiene and personal presentation. It took me 2 months of waiting for them to come up with a plan on how to address the issue. Once I told him about the issue, he said "I can't smell a thing, what are you talking about" I told him we had customer complaints and associate concerns. It got to the point where a secret shopper noted on a shop that the customer smelled. after another 90 days of smelling and documentation he actually gave his notice. I ran into him about a year ago, working at McDonalds, he smelled even worse!


If possible, put a bottle of deodorant (in a sack) on his desk or work station. Best to do this w/o anyone seeing you. :-)


I teach middle school. I do it all the time...


While us Floridians are more tolerant of stinky people, I know EXACTLY what you are talking about....

Let's face some facts: Down here in FL EVERYONE sweats. That's what happens when it's 96 outside with 75% humidity. If you work outside, there is no deodorant in the world that is going to save you.

The ones we have a problem with are the DIRTY stinky people. I know it sounds gross, but sweaty people who have good personal hygiene smell a whole lot different than someone who hasn't showered in a week. I am not kidding when I say you can smell them from 40' away - and it usually happens in a Grocery store or a restaurant!


Each morning in huddle I get sandwhiched between people with really, really foul breath. Like, even when I'm not facing them or even standing across the quad (4 cube 'bullpen'). I've noticed it is 4 or 5 different people on my team of 20 or so.

I wish I could say something but many of the folks I work with are 20+ years older than me and I think it is clear many of them do not brush their teeth regularly. I don't mean to imply that middle aged folks don't brush their teeth - but that's what it seems! I feel like I am in the minority. In my quad we even have a communal gum basket. Chew some gum people!!!

What can I do - send out a public service announcement on oral hygiene? Ugh - ick!


@meh3884: Put little travel size bottles of mouthwash in the communal gum basket? Not all people chew gum - esp. sugar infused. Of course, not all people use mouth wash either. ...But the 'hint' is direct w/mouthwash.


I worked with a man who claimed he didn't need deodorant because he didn't smell. I was trapped with him on a hot summer day in a car with no ac. He raised his arm, and I nearly passed out. Needless to say I never went anywhere with him again. Some people just don't smell themselves. I also lived oversees for a bit. You can't even find deodorant over there. It's bizarre.


I would put the smelly guy with the loud mouth guy (everyone has them). Eventually the loud mouth will go off on Mr. Smelly.


yes, but fortunately i can't smell @gatzby from here.

no1 no1

@gmwhit: I actually did that once before. Another time, I left a bunch of Tic Tacs on someone else's desk.


slightly different point of view: i was on the recieving end once. i had a coworker pull me to the side and tell me that i smelled. i hadn't realized so i took that as a clue to go hunt a different kind of deodorant. i did thank the person because no one else had the nerve to tell me. and next time i worked with her i could tell she was skitish until i explained "thanks for the heads up. i went and found a new deodorant, let me know if it isn't working well please."


In HR it was occasionally my unpleasant task to deliver this news to an employee. It's never easy. Even in a foreign country I would think that you could approach the HR office with this problem. There might be cultural issues that they could best deal with.

On a related note, I had to deal with employees who had medical problems that caused body odors. Double urgh! Try to imagine, if you can, what THOSE medical excuses looked like! And imagine how to deal with co-workers who couldn't tolerate the odor without revealing the confidential info.

If nothing else works, see about getting an inexpensive air purifier for your desk.


Unfortunately, I was a supervisor that had to have the awkward conversation with one of the guys that used to work for me. (Things got better after the conversation.) He no longer reports to me, so it stopped being my problem, though I believe the situation has greatly improved.

Another of the guys who works for me also has a bit of an odor issue (not as bad as the one above), though he has a private office (used to be a large closet, actually) and rarely works with others, so I haven't gotten any complaints.


I have to deliver this news to people somewhat regularly -- it's an occupational hazard in Human Resources. It's never much fun, but most people take it with good grace, and are thankful for the heads-up, since they don't intend to offend others.

The best approach is to do it privately, respectfully, and as matter-of-factly as possible. Treat it as a normal business discussion, and frame it as "this could happen to anyone, and often does." This gives you the best chance of keeping a small deal from becoming a big deal.

Good luck!


This comes up a lot at PAX. It's not that attendees (or Enforcers, for that matter) are that bad, there's just so much going on and a constant flow of humanity in such a small space. I think the best answer is to politely hint someone should freshen up, or at least go take a break. Another method I saw: offering to do their laundry.

My joke was, "Hey, if you smelled really bad, would you want someone to tell you, or just walk away? Walk away? See you later!"


NPR's news quiz Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me has already solved your problem. Check out the Listener Limerick Challenge from 2 weeks ago:


A friend or coworker? I would figure out a way to tell them. A stranger? No way. That's really rolling the dice there.


I used to work for a heart catheter manufacturer in a "clean room" environment. They have facilities in a few countries and offered an exchange program that let people live/work in another country for a year or two. A group of people that came from a cool, damp climate transferred to Southern California. Their cultural habit was to shower every few days, and skip the deodorant. HR actually had to come up with a special training module for these transfers (and all following them) on hygiene in the states, and specifically hot weather states. This training covered daily showers, deodorant, dental hygiene, and laundry.
I feel for the person who had to teach that class. But it worked!


@rayray8822: Awesome - an anonymous "Deodorgram" for under $10 shipped. I'm bookmarking this!


....i always face this situation in elevator...just hold breath....


@claire05: Yeah I've found passing out makes the smell go away, too.