How to tactfully tell someone that his or her breath is less than fresh
SUMMARY: Telling someone they have bad breath can be challenging, but it's important to let them know in a kind way.
Posted: October 10, 2012
If you experience bad breath, there are many things you can do to combat the problem. For example, you can use specialty breath fresheners, alcohol-free mouthwash and make oral care probiotics part of your regular dental health routine. However, one thing you can't always control is the bad breath of those around you. If you work in an office setting, you've probably encountered the problem of unwanted smells before. Whether it's a co-worker's lunch, perfume or halitosis, you're bound to find unpleasant breath-related scents in the workplace sooner or later.
While oftentimes you can just ignore this problem and hope that it eventually goes away, sometimes a smell can be persistent and distracting to the point of preventing you from completing your work. When this happens, you need to come up with a kind and effective way to tell the individual who's responsible for the smell that something needs to be done. Here are some tips on how to do just that.
Be serious and direct
Psychologist Eve Ash wrote an article for Smart Company on how to deal with these stinky situations. According to the experts, you don't want to tiptoe around the problem by making subtle jokes or leaving alcohol-free mouthwash lying around. This runs the risk of shaming or embarrassing the person, especially since chances are he or she may already be aware of the problem. Instead, talk to him or her directly.
Think of how you would want to want to be told if people were finding your scent offensive and approach the situation that way. Also, the sooner you deal with the problem, the better, since the longer you wait, the more likely it is that you'll find yourself lashing out.
"Sometimes people leave it so long - weeks or months, and by the time they tell the person, it comes out in a nasty way (directly or anonymously) - because they feel they have been tortured for too long. It can be beneficial to mention that you are a little uncomfortable about bringing the issue up, but you'd prefer to be direct and deal with it quickly and kindly to avoid having anyone talk behind their back," Ash wrote
Choose your words wisely
Now that you know how to approach the situation, it's important to use the right phrases when talking to a person who is emitting bad breath. Speak Strong offers some suggestions for what phrasing may be more appropriate than others.
First, see if you can speak to the person in private. Next, address the issue as having work-related implications. For example, explain that you have noticed that he or she seems to emit a strong odor that may be keeping others from concentrating or preventing him or her from effectively interacting with clients.
Also, use phrases that let the person know what you are doing benefits him or her. For example, say things like "I'm telling you because it is important for you to know" and "I know if it were me, I would want to know."
Remember that you never want to use works like "stinky" or "smelly" - stick with "strong odor." Also, don't bring any cultural or gender issues into play, since this could get you into some serious legal trouble in the workplace.
If you're really concerned about how the person will react or if you don't know him or her well, then consider going to your company's human resource department, if there is one.
If the conversation goes well, you can always tell the person about alcohol-free mouthwash and how it can help get rid of bad breath.