Q. There's a young lady I work with who wears horrible smelling cologne and drowns herself in it. The smell kills me and everyone else who works with her. How could I let her know, without offending her, that her cologne is just too loud smelling?
K.S., Red Fox, Ky.
A. Whether it's body odor, bad breath, or too much cologne or perfume, scents can be overpowering, unpleasant, and distracting. In addition, many people are allergic or sensitive to certain colognes and perfumes. As hard as it is to put up with scents and odors, dealing with the offenders can be just as difficult.
Success comes from how you deal with it. Ask a group of people: "If you have body odor, would you want no one to tell you or a manager, human resources person, or friend to tell you?" Invariably, the group will answer that they want a friend to tell them. So, be brave and be the friend.
In your situation, the person who talks with the cologne offender must be someone the young woman trusts. If there is such a person in your office who is willing to take on the task, she should ask the offender to meet in private. She could start by saying, "Susan, I asked to talk to you about something that is uncomfortable for me to bring up. But I hope that if our roles were reversed, you would be willing to come to me as a friend and talk with me. What I want to talk to you about is your cologne - it has a strong scent that can be a problem for others in the office. Were you aware of it?"
Asking her if she is aware of the problem gives her a chance to get involved in the conversation and offer her view. At first she may be defensive, but people who have undertaken this approach tell us that whether it happens during the conversation or in the next few days, once the offender has assimilated the information, they actually have thanked the person for talking with them.
Don't try tactics like leaving notes or hints like a bottle of the cologne with a big X through it or sending anonymous e-mails. They don't work and they only engender hard feelings between co-workers.
An alternative to the direct conversation by a friend is asking a manager to address the issue of scent in the workplace as a group issue without naming names, either in a department meeting or in a company newsletter. As a last resort, you can ask the offender's supervisor or a human resources staff member to talk to the person.
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