02/15/2012 12:52 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2012

How to Break the News to Someone that He/She Smells

It is perhaps the most dreaded conversation managers face. Their brains race and their mouths freeze because they have to tell someone with whom they work that he or she is emitting an odor that is creating a problem. Usually, it starts when complaints come in from other coworkers, or a boss is concerned about client relations. Or sometimes, it can be raising issues around something as simple as image concerns for the company.

It does seem daunting. I mean, how do you just come out and drop that kind of information on somebody? It really isn't that bad actually, not if you change the way you think about it in the first place. And to do that you need to break it down into unencumbered terms.

Deconstruct: First consider how you would feel if you were unknowingly walking around offending the olfactory senses of those around you. Wouldn't you want to know? Wouldn't you want an opportunity to correct it? Well, the only way that can happen is if someone makes you aware of it. This alone turns the conversation from a perceived negative into a positive. You are helping someone.

Demystify: Remove the psychological "eww factor" and embarrassment that you may associate with odor. The sooner you think of it as normal, natural and human, the easier it will be to simply talk about in conversational terms with the offender. If you're not embarrassed and can make it "okay" by the way you address it, the person will suffer far less humiliation as a result. Not that they won't be uncomfortable. They will, but they'll get over it and later appreciate your effort as a good deed.

Deliver: This is where the humane part comes in. Be gentle, be sensitive and offer the information in the spirit in which it is intended -- short and sweet, not critical and not as a put down. You don't want the other person to feel like it is a big deal, which starts with you not making a bigger deal of it than it is. Something as concise as, "I know you are not aware of this, but thought you would appreciate knowing that I am picking up an odor from you that we need to discuss." From there you can talk about why it's important that it be resolved in business terms, and take a problem solving approach toward fixing it.

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