Now, how can I put this delicately?
No, I am not referring to your abilities at your job, though I can understand why you took it that way. When your manager tells you that you stink, it’s natural to think it’s a comment on your performance at work, not the lack of performance of your deodorant at work.
(As if you’d ever consider soiling your natural, flavorful aroma with a crass commercial product such as deodorant. A splash of Old Spice, maybe. A spritz of Donald Trump for madame, of course. But deodorant? Never.)
If you think it’s uncomfortable for you to be told that your pits are toxic, or your breath so acrid it could blister paint, consider how difficult this kind of frank conversation is for your boss.
Managers hate confrontation. They prefer to gather in a secret cabal up on Mahogany Row, scheming your career destruction — the communication of which they delegate to their lackeys in HR. To actually come face-to-face with a person, or a problem, or a person with a problem is always the last resort of the uber-powerful executive.
If you are wondering how I know so much about office odor management, the answer is EBB Executive Briefings.
Since someone as far down the org. chart as you is unlikely to be on the emailing list of this elite organization, allow me to explain that the mission of EBB Executive Briefings is to “help time-pressed executives and managers hone and polish critical business skills in under an hour.” As a person who, like yourself, enjoys honing and polishing, I quickly clicked to learn more about a “solution-packed, 21-page report, ‘Handling Difficult Conversations with Employees.'” (If there’s anything I like better than honing and polishing, it’s packing solutions. How about you?)
This particular EBB offering definitely confirmed my analysis of the depth of uncertainty and terror that suffuses the executive mind when forced to talk to with a lowly employee. What other reason could there be for shelling out 99 snakeroots for a 21-page report that promises to “eliminate the fear of confronting employees” and provide “keys to delivering hard-hitting messages, without being the ‘bad guy?'”
Frankly, I thought bosses loved to be the “bad guy,” especially when it comes to collecting keys — like the key to the washroom, which you have to hand over when security marches you out of the building.
Unfortunately, EBB is not the kind of company that plays its cards face-up, and while $99 is nothing to people like me and thee — mostly because we don’t have $99 — I turned to the Internet to provide less costly advice. To my surprise, the subject of telling smelly coworkers that they stink resulted in quite a few Google responses — over five million to be exact.
My fave is from Bridget Webber, a contributor to Helium.com, who recommends the invention of an imaginary “friend” who has terrible body odor. This “‘made-up’ person from your past” becomes the subject of a vivid tale of shock and horror, and when you explain how this other person is a stinker, you hope the real and really smelly co-worker will understand you are actually talking about them.
Webber cautions you to only have this make-believe conversation about your fantasy friend “when office gossips and thick-skinned individuals are out of the room.” Not easy to do at your workplace but better, I suggest, than the standard technique of replacing the ham in the offender’s lunch with odor-eaters and hoping your toxic co-worker realizes the switch before they finish their sandwich.
Webber does remind us to be sensitive to the fact that there are medical conditions that can turbo-charge glandular behavior. I’d like to add that there is also the possibility that your co-worker is slathering themselves in tapenade before coming to work simply because they want to be left alone.
Personally, I think the most sensitive way to get your message across is to slip on a hazmat suit, step up to your co-worker’s work station and spray the stinky employee from head to toe with Glade. The new Lavender and Juniper Berry fragrance is lovely, and so corporate! Alternately, I also found a high-tech solution. You can go to AllTooFlat.com and send your co-worker an anonymous “stink-o-gram” by email.
The stink-o-gram language is very supportive and non-judgmental, and I’m sure it will defuse your local stink bomb. But just in case, keep that can of Glade handy.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.