How do you tell your colleague he smell

The hardest communication is to tell your colleague that you stinted. I mean BO, which stands for Body Odor. But how to tell him? Frankly speaking, I have been tolerating his terrible smell, and a few colleagues are also suffering, but I have to tell him, even though it is an awkward conversation. What I do is use a hybrid of initiating and supportive communication styles.

It was a couple of months ago. A new colleague joined the company on the first day. His name is KK. Before he was onboarded, we only met online via zoom call during the interview. He seems to be a nice person who always carries a smile. And he looks approachable with many cool hobbies, such as playing basketball.

Until we met in person for the first time, and I realised something smells wrong. I organised a welcoming lunch and was happy to see him. As soon as he arrived, we realised there was a really bad smell. It smelled like rotten fish. At first, I thought maybe it was because of the air conditioning, so we just started eating our team lunch.

Later on, the smell seems to get stronger and stronger. Another colleague, Cherry, is sitting next to me. She sent me a secret WhatsApp message, I looked at it, and she texted me “hey Victor, can you smell it as well? LOL”. I read the message, then I looked at her, she looked back at me, and we started laughing.

Then KK was at the same table, he got curious and asked us “What is so funny? Can you share the joke with me as well?” Then Cherry said to him, “No. Nothing. Nothing happened.” And the conversation ended awkwardly. Everyone else started laughing at him and isolating him, but KK is the only one who did not understand why. I know I need to do something.

What would you do in this kind of situation? There are four types of communication styles: direct, initiating, supportive and analytical. If you are like my friend who gives direct feedback. You may say straight to his face, “hey KK, you have a really bad body smell. Can you shower more regularly?” It may be the most effective and result-oriented approach. And it works because we know his style, but KK may get offended.

For me, I would avoid conflicts and not dare to say something like this. I would worry about how he feels. And he may even report to HR. If you use an analytical communication style, go around the bush, KK may not feel offended, but he may not get your message either. Maybe he thinks we enjoy his KK perfume. He may not take any action and not solve the problem as a result.

Instead, here is what I do. I use initiating and supportive communication. First, I find a good time in our calendar to have a good one to one conversation. We need to build a safe space, such that KK can feel comfortable expressing himself personally.

Second, no matter your communication style, it is important to frame the right way to show sincerity. I have the best intention in mind and am trying to help him. I need to make it clear, “KK, I am trying to rectify the situation, and this is not an acquisition”.

Third, I tell him the problem in a friendly manner and asked questions to listen to his opinions. “KK, is this something you are aware of? Is there medical reasoning that affects body odour? Is there anything that we could help to support your personal hygiene?”. Let him express his concerns and take the time to make decisions.

Overall, KK was not feeling offended. A few days later, he said to me “Thank you for your constructive feedback and I consulted the doctor.” And my colleagues are happy because we don’t need to suffer the terrible smell anymore. I demonstrate the initiating and supporting communication style. In life, we need to use different styles in different situations. Remember, we cannot change people if they are not willing to change. This is the power of communication style, when I chose the right style, I could help people and make a change happened.

By Victor Leung

Experience in software development, consulting services and technical product management. Understanding of business and technology with an MBA in Finance and a Master degree in Computer Science. AWS Certified Solution Architect with experience in building products from scratch and serving as a charismatic leader.

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