How to Tell Someone They Have Body Odor

Mature businessman talking with colleage in airport.
Two people having a private conversation at work. (Image: Eyecandy Images/Eyecandy Images/Getty Images)

Like most people, you may find it difficult to approach an individual with offensive body odor. Whether you care about hurting the individual's feelings or are simply uncomfortable with broaching the subject, body odor is a sensitive subject for many people and should be addressed delicately. The goal is not to embarrass the individual, but to highlight the issue and offer suggestions that will eliminate inappropriate personal hygiene.

Step 1

Address the individual face-to-face, over the phone or by email. If the individual is likely to be embarrassed, sometimes it is better to talk to him through a medium rather than in-person. While talking face-to-face provides an opportunity to immediately console the individual, it may make him uncomfortable because he may become aware of his smell and its impact on you. If communicating through email, you can do some follow-up discussion and consoling in-person.

Step 2

Discuss the situation in private. If you choose to address the issue with an individual in-person, talk to the individual in a quiet location away from other people. If possible, try to find a location where there are no windows for others to watch the exchange -- such as friends or colleagues. Create a safe place where you can address the problem openly.

Step 3

Avoid making assumptions about her personal hygiene. It could be that the individual is having financial issues, or is overburdened by other obligations and has resorted to cutting out showers to save time. The individual could also suffer from a medical condition that makes the odor worse and may not know how to address it.

Step 4

Be direct. You want to be kind, but you also want to state your concerns as clearly as possible to prevent on-going discussions about this matter. Don't skirt around making clear, direct comments. Find the most appropriate, considerate way to state your point while retaining clarity.

Step 5

Offer help. More times than not the individual will not need it -- although you shouldn't count on that reaction when you offer assistance -- but the knowledge that someone is there for him and willing to help will help him feel supported as he struggles with correcting his odor issues.

Tip

Offer positive feedback before discussing the issue of body odor. This could help cushion the blow and show that you care about how you deliver sensitive information.

Warning

Be mindful of -- but don't make reference to -- body odor as it relates to culture. In a professional setting, this may come off as offensive and encourage someone to take legal action.

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