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I'm seated next to a colleague who, apparently, likes to skip shower for some 3-4 days and has a very strong body odor.
How can I tell him to wash more often without being rude? I don't want to take it straight to the HR and if possible I'd like to keep friendly relationship with him, since he's actually has a positive attitude and I think he's good at his job. But the strong smell is killing me.

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In my opinion, similar to this recent question, the first issue you must address is whether it is appropriate for you to approach your colleague about this issue if you do not have supervisory responsibilities. One thing to be aware of though is that some medical conditions can cause body odour and that it is possible that this person has a medical condition which may be classified as a disability and which may give them protection as a matter of law and/or an organizational policy.. If the person perceived your approach as harassment, you could end up in trouble. This is one reason why I would advise against any kind of direct or indirect approach without consulting HR first. It may be possible for you to get HR advice without identifying the person in question.

I've had to talk people about their body odour, in my capacity as a manager, and I can guarantee you any such conversation will be embarrassing for both parties and it may alter the dynamics of a relationship. For this reason I would not assume that circumventing HR will allow you to preserve your current relationship with this person.

  • Just to address a point: there's no disability, he washes like once a week and the next day there's no smell :) – Creative Magic Apr 5 '18 at 2:51
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    @CreativeMagic Yes it is probably unlikely that this is caused by a disability, but sometimes caution is your friend. If I had to address the situation as a manager I would check with the person if it was related to a medical condition rather than making assumptions. – John Davis Apr 5 '18 at 2:58
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    You mentioned "If the person perceived your approach as harassment, you could end up in trouble". Do you have any personal experience with someone perceiving a particular approach as harassment landing you or another in trouble? Backing up our answers whenever possible is always a positive. – Jesse Apr 6 '18 at 6:41
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How about this:

When you sit near to me I notice this smell, I am not sure what it is. Did you maybe eat something with lots of garlic or something similar?

That should clearly inform your neighbor that there is some smell and you tell him that you think it's from him - without telling him "wash!".

He should get the message and think about where the smell comes from. And hopefully he reacts to this hint.

I think that is better than involving someone else. Why escalate a problem if you can solve it? At least you can try this approach.

Edit: I like to add a general comment: I think some people really don't know that they have a very intensive smell. I.e. people who use all the time the same deodorant or perfume use after a while more and more because they don't smell it anymore. But other people notice that they smell like they used a whole bottle of that stuff. I guess at least a few of these people would appreciate if someone tell them because obviously they don't notice their "smell" themselves.

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    Our site recommends backing up our answers with personal experiences or references whenever possible. Adding this to any of your "I think" statements would be a great benefit. – Jesse Apr 6 '18 at 6:44
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The sad part is... any form of persuading him to shower more often is going to hurt his feelings... even if you say something like

Hey I found this brand of body soap that is pretty nice and I have an extra bottle. Do you want to try it?

or

This cologne I'm using is pretty refreshing. Want to try?

There are 2 ways to go about it though.

1. Establish an even closer friendship with him first

As we know, best friends or even good friends are more open to each other's criticisms. The 'judging' factor in the friendship and the obligation to constantly 'censor' out certain topics will slowly diminish as the friendship becomes better and closer. When that happens, you can then try to break it to him that he should shower more, NOT because you can't tolerate the smell, but rather that you want him to be more hygienic / healthy, depending on which may be more relevant.

For example, after getting to know him better you know that he falls sick rather easily, or has rashes on his skin that results in him constantly scratching himself, you can take one of those opportunities to tell him in a very subtle way. For example,

Hey, are you okay? You seem to get sick quite a lot. Maybe take nice, warm showers in the morning? They really help with fighting the illnesses.

OR

Do you get a skin rash like this often? If you do maybe you can have a warm shower at night and then apply some aloe vera gel onto your skin. It really helped me with the rash outbreak that I had a couple of months back.

The trick here is to:

  1. Encourage him to shower because of reasons other than his body odor.
  2. (If possible) Try to approach him in a way that makes him feel that you do not know or look past the fact that he skips showers for 3-4 days.

Although this approach takes a while to accomplish (I mean, you can't possibly be BFFs overnight, right?), it is the best way to approach him without him feeling hurt (at all).

2. Solve your problem without him

Alright this approach does not answer your question directly, but it does solve your problem. Instead of asking him to shower, you can do something about it yourself. Buy some peppermint oil / essential oils and bring it to the office. If you can't / don't really want to 'freshen up' the smell of the work environment using the dehumidifier + essential oils method, you can just apply the oil directly to your nose. Helps you stay healthy and get rid of the body odor your colleague is forcefully making you smell.

Other complementing strategies include wearing a cologne to the office (if you aren't already doing so), and maybe brew a cup of coffee and put it beside you, et cetera.

Conclusion

There's no way of making sure he doesn't feel hurt if you directly approach him so instead, deploy option 1 or 2 and maybe you will have a new best friend in the future? Good luck :)

Side note: You can also use a combination of step 1 and 2 together to "relieve the smell of the odor" as you are befriending him and getting to the stage where you can talk about anything under the sun... as said earlier when you reach that stage it would be relatively easier to find opportunities to raise the issue up to him.

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    Sorry, but I disagree with your answer. 1) I'm not his friend, we don't really talk (our work is not connected). 2) Why should I try to jump hoops, buying aroma diffusers etc. Have you experienced the smell of unwashed body? You'll need a lot of aroma oil to cancel that smell! :) Sorry, but your answer is just not dealing with reality of the situation. – Creative Magic Apr 5 '18 at 4:46
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    Backing up your answer with some personal experiences or references, linking to OP's scenario wherever possible would really help explain where you are coming from and why this is a great solution – Jesse Apr 6 '18 at 6:47

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