You stink: how to confront a friend or colleague about an odour problem

Civility expert Jessica LoRusso.
Civility expert Jessica LoRusso.

How do you tell someone they stink?

If there’s a friend, family member or co-worker in your life who carries an off-putting smell with them, trying to figure out how to let them know about the problem can be a tricky situation.

Civility expert Jessica LoRusso told 680 CJOB the solution is a simple one: put yourself in the other person’s (stinky) shoes.

“If you want to talk about civility … civility is responsibility, civility is restraint, and civility is respect,” LoRusso said.

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“Just think about how that person would feel. Wouldn’t you feel horrible if someone didn’t discreetly tell you you had something on your shoe, or something on your face?

“They’ll thank you for it.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done, and it’s certainly a different situation when you’re talking about a close friend versus an acquaintance or co-worker with the offensive smell.

READ MORE: Family kicked off American Airlines flight after body odour complaints

“Research shows we can’t smell ourselves, but we can smell other people,” said LoRusso.

“You’re a friend. You don’t want to be in that position, but you can have a quiet conversation … and then they’ll ask questions because you have that kind of relationship.

“Showing someone a mint or a Listerine strip or hinting at something … they really might not get that hint because of a lack of social intelligence, so you really have to say it quietly, privately to a friend.

“Wouldn’t you like to know you’re walking around smelling a bit ripe?”

LoRusso said a stinky colleague at the workplace requires a bit more finesse to avoid offense – usually beginning with examining the company’s policies for this kind of a situation.

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READ MORE: What does your body odour say about your health?

“Protocol would be that you’re talking to HR, and if you don’t have an HR department, you’re talking to the owner, or the boss … the person in charge about the issue.

“They’re going to review their policies. As the boss of all these people, you want to have a nice, professional conversation.”

In either case, she said, the person could have a medical condition at the root of the bad smell, so a polite, discreet conversation is always preferable to just shouting out, “you stink!”

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