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Kerry Patterson
Kerry Patterson

6 Ways to (Tactfully) Bring Up Personal Hygiene Issues

...because you shouldn't have to suffer in silence.

Source: racorn/Shutterstock

If you work next to someone who has a personal hygiene problem that is hard to ignore, you may be suffering in silence when you really don’t have to. But people typically feel uncertain about bringing up issues related to personal hygiene, for some obvious reasons.

One, it’s more of a convenience issue. Two, the other person might be hurt, humiliated, or offended. We often look at the balance between cost and benefit and choose to continue to suffer. In fact, the fear of humiliating another person can be so great that some people will never attempt to bring up such a problem.

Here, then, are 6 tips for raising and discussing this potentially embarrassing topic:

1. Keep the scope of the problem small and the tone relaxed.

Don't mention that everyone but the person with the problem knows about it. This is an important data point for why you should say something, but it would be far too insulting to actually say aloud.

2. Be very careful in your use of terms.

While every word carries a bit of a stigma, words like "stink" or "offend" certainly won't work. Similarly, don't go for joking or cute language such as "hygiene impaired." This isn't a laughing matter.

3. Share your good intentions.

The last thing you want to do is make someone feel like you are attacking or blaming them. You want them to feel safe discussing the issue, so begin by making it clear that you have their best interest in mind. For example, "I wonder if I could talk about something that would help me out a bit. It's not a huge deal, but it's worth mentioning."

4. Limit the scope of the problem.

Once again, don't say it's been going on forever, is causing you huge grief, or that everyone else has talked about it. Since it's the first time you've brought it up, treat it as something that has only recently become an issue.

5. Keep the discussion private.

This means not only during the conversation, but also after. This will help the other person feel safe talking to you and remedying the problem.

6. If it's feasible, try to give the other person an out.

For example, "I get the feeling that maybe you've been exercising before work recently. In any case, we work so close together that I'm wondering if we can talk about a change that's affecting our working environment." At this point, you've delicately placed the problem in the open, and the sooner you finish the discussion, the better. This is all about helping the other person save face.

Finally, perhaps the most important thing to remember as you approach such a highly sensitive topic is that you care about the other person and want to help him or her address the issue without feeling humiliated. Keeping this in mind will go a long way toward setting the tone and helping an awkward discussion go quickly and smoothly.

About the Author
Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is a behavior change expert, four-time New York Times best-selling author, and co-founder of VitalSmarts.

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