When Feedback Gets Personal

The expression “Something about Mary” will conjure up all kinds of memories for you according to whether you saw the movie with the same name or not. But what if Mary is part of your squad, and her peculiar and unpleasant scent is the thing about her?

It is never easy to solve a problem of personal hygiene at work. Most people are trying to ignore it or hoping it will go away wondrously. But it doesn’t, unfortunately, and it’s increasingly difficult to ignore.

Several other team members posted on it and are now waiting for anything to be done. Their own attempts to drop hints proved futile and very costly – with every Christmas and birthday, the toiletries’ gift boxes are getting bigger and the smell lingers.

To be honest, during a team meeting, you tried to approach the topic indirectly. Your order to ensure that everyone is still clean and clever for work has only disturbed the rest of the staff, though Mary did not seem to be happy to know that she was the intended aim of your remark.

If you have something to say?

Whilst everyone is on your case and is waiting for you to speak with her, you don’t even know how to say something – after all, Mary is really really good at her job and is her book so big?

There is one principal explanation why people avoid saying something, and that is always their fear of the reaction. What if she gets irritated or irritated? Or if she’s going out, what? She may do one of all these things – but she can’t do them all again.

There are three legitimate reasons for saying something to combat this. First, the team expects you to do so. Okay, maybe they should deal with the problems with their colleagues. But clearly they are not sure enough, and they wait for you to demonstrate leadership. They don’t feel secure enough. And maybe if you don’t, other team members will be disappointed or angry or begin to search for another job.

This type of problem can build enormous barriers between Members. Even if they like Mary, they can finally avoid working in close collaboration with her, particularly in confined areas. This will have an effect on the work of everyone.

This gives me the second reason to tackle the problem: BO’s bad for company. What is the effect on your customers or clients? There’s no problem when Mary just talks to them over the internet. If she sees people on the other hand regularly, she might lose job. Where your customers don’t really have any choice but to use your organisation (as is often the case with many public sectors). Well, you have much more to think about this, if that is your mentality, than the personal hygiene of Mary.

Mary herself is the last excuse to say anything. Wouldn’t you rather be told, if you were Mary, than people whispering from you? While it causes initial disquieting, most people simply prefer to be told about something like this. Even if Mary knows the issue well, you still have to deal properly with that. The tips and endless toiletries would certainly be negative and may even be regarded as bullying.

So, what do you do? What do you do?

Find a private place, where you can chat without interruption. You should think of a different place than your office – the way they look at your door to determine Mary’s reaction when she goes away could make an awkward situation even worse if the rest of the team know what’s happening.

Be transparent. Beating the bush makes you both uncomfortable. Please do something like an opening sentence in advance “I want to talk to you about something. We need to talk about it, because it is influenced by company. I found that you have a body odour problem;”

This structure of ’cause and effect’ is very helpful – it demonstrates that you raise the problem for a reason instead of only for its sake. Of course, if you have been wondering exactly what the problem is causing, it will help.

Take control of what you say – “I heard” is much better than “everybody’s noticed” behind it.

But what do you do when Mary gets upset or angry with your original fear? Obviously, it is not fun to be told that you have BO, so there should be an emotional response. It’s a good start to recognise their sentiments and then you have to look at what’s next. Something like “You’re obviously angry, let’s figure it out.”

No reaction can in some cases be even harder. You might try to ask, “What do you think about what I said just now, if you cannot judge the feelings of Mary?” You have to make it clear if she says she don’t want to talk about it that this is not an option. Give yourself time to think, and if possible set up a meeting for the next day.

It is just part of the storey to break the news. You can’t assume you told her now that Mary will do something about it. That may be the case, but maybe she needs your assistance. Especially if she knows that she has a problem already and hasn’t solved it yet, you will have to look at what she has done and then consider other options.

You may recommend that she visits the doctor, since smells can be signs. For instance, even if you can take bad breath with the mint, the underlying cause should be handled better, whether it is gum disease or anything else. Be cautious to leap to false conclusions when talking about underlying medical conditions. Alcohol smell may be caused by drinking, but diabetes can be followed by a similar smell.

Any action you agree to with ongoing help and promote should always be followed up. Tell Mary when you see changes, and ask her if the issue returns.

And last but not least, stop slipping into the chatter. If someone on your team asks what happens, let them know that you’re talking, but you’re not going to say anything.

So you can’t forget it when something’s going on with Mary (or Martin, Miguel or Meera), because it won’t go. Never mind if you want to get to the subject, but you just need to get on with it in the final analysis.

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